Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.
“Go get a switch from the Plum Orchard” my mother instructed me.
I moved slowly, trying to delay the inevitable pain of the spanking I had earned for my conduct at church that Sunday morning. At the plum grove, I selected a tender branch, (the smallest I believed my mother would accept) to be used to deliver my sentence. Leaving the decision of which switch I would choose added to the anticipation of the penance.
Life had a rhythm on the farm. As a child too young to really work in the field, I spent most of my days playing with my younger brother in the fields around our farm house. In the evening, we would join my older brothers and sister in family games of baseball or hide and seek. Saturday early mornings were special as we were allowed to watch cartoons on the old black and white television we had on the farm. Sundays were reserved for church and rest.
Each Sunday began with us dressing in our best clothing, being taken to church and then being marched as a group down the center aisle, pausing to genuflect before entering our pew in our rural church. The next hour (half during harvest) we would stand up, sit, and kneel in time to the chanted Latin of the Catholic Mass. It was a solemn time, punctuated by the choir singing, the priest delivering his sermon and the occasional child, being dragged out of church by a red faced parent under the watchful eye of the congregation. The child knowing his fate would be whimpering and pleading for mercy, while covering his behind with his hand. It would be to no avail, as we all knew the sound of the church door closing would soon be followed by a whack and the immediate return of the sniffing child to his mother.
I never really knew what impious mischief I did that would guarantee my secular punishment. Perhaps it was my dropping of a toy I had smuggled into church, or maybe it was the coloring of a songbook page. Whatever it was, the look delivered by my mother told me justice was coming.
After church we were loaded into our car and were driven home. If punishment were in order, we were expected to go to my parent’s bedroom to wait as mom and dad decided our fate. The punishment would be most likely an easy quick spanking with an open hand, but could be escalated with a hair brush or wooden spoon if the occasion demanded. The fetching of a switch was the ultimate punishment.
Whatever correction was administered, the pain was momentary and was followed by Sunday dinner and life would go on. As far as I knew, the same scene happened every Sunday in every home around our farm. Sunday morning – get up, get dressed, go to church and then come home and get beat! It was nothing to be excited about, simply part of our lives and the duty of a loving parent.
Stories of corporal punishment from my generation are told with the same reverence as walking uphill in a blizzard to (and from) school or having to wear hand me downs that my brothers (and sisters) all wore. The stories are remembered almost fondly as part of our colorful fabric of our lives.
It was with that history, that I read the story last week concerning Adrian Peterson and his alleged abusive punishment of his children. I hadn’t heard the word “switch” for many years, but knew exactly what it meant. I was a little startled to find out the practice had survived to this time, but I guess it didn’t surprise me that much. I was even less surprised that Adrian Peterson was totally shocked to learn that the behavior was now considered a form of torture and his career and reputation was ruined.
I understood his behavior. Isn’t discipline part of love? I had spent many years as a parent struggling with that issue. I however spent most of my adulthood around parents who believed in “sparing the rod” and considered corporal punishment horrible. But if I had lived in Peterson’s neighborhood, I could have easily gone the other direction and taken up the switch.
I truly believe that he loves his children as much as my parents loved me. Does love justify his actions?
In this case I don’t know- I just don’t know. What I do know is that it is not up to me to cast judgment on Adrian Peterson’s actions. It is my duty to live my life as best I can and leave the decision of his intention to his Lord.