I was a regular at detention in secondary school, so much so that I could be entrusted to give instructions to fellow “detainees” whenever the teacher in charge was occupied. There was sweeping, dusting, and mopping to be done on some days, and stacking, arranging, and counting on others. Tasks were mundane and most of us did them in silent defiance.
By the fifth or sixth time the discipline mistress read out my name, I was absolutely certain that she hated me with a vengeance. Every day, she would find some fault with me: unpinned fringe, socks too low, belt too loose, and so on. As I was attending a mission school, I was even made to attend extended devotions which were supposed to “build moral character.” Imagine the happiness and liberation I felt on my graduation day as I waved goodbye enthusiastically to all that I had dreaded so much, determined never to return to my alma mater.
My resentment towards discipline was made worse by my parents keeping me on a short leash at home. As the older sibling, I was made an example of whenever I did anything wrong: it could be as minor as leaving a grain of rice on my plate, or not ironing my uniform properly. As a teenager, I wanted to have my opinions heard and my feelings cared for. I dreaded discipline and anything associated with it.
Over the years, however, the Lord would deal with my rebellious ways, graciously drawing me to Himself, smoothening my rough edges and bringing me to a personal knowledge of Him. Most of these changes would come about as a result of trials and times of discipline—losing a loved one, being sent to live in a village on my own, sent into solitary confinement at a youth camp, and so on. But while these experiences led me closer to God, it was only recently that an unlikely encounter solidified the shift in my perspective of discipline.
A few months ago, I was assigned by my company to run a leadership training program in my secondary school. Of all the people tasked to liaise with me, it had to be the discipline mistress I once feared. When I found out, my hands turned clammy at the thought of having to meet her again. Images of her tapping her wooden ruler on her palm as she did her rounds came to mind, as did her booming voice reverberating across the school hall.
I prayed hard that she would not remember me, but the first thing she said when we met shook me up even more. “Amy, it’s been a long time,” she said. “I’ve been praying for you. I’m so glad to see you again and witness what God has done in your life.”
In my own selfishness and pride, I had held on to the belief that this teacher had hated me and had just been punishing me out of spite. But now, she was telling me how proud she was of me, with evident joy in her voice. In this moment of truth, I learnt that only love would bother to discipline a young, rude, and imprudent girl like me. God had used this discipline mistress to discipline me, just as a parent would do for his or her child.
“Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?”—Hebrews 12:7