Sometimes we must speak or the stones will cry out. I have cried. It is now time to speak. To speak of our family’s personal experiences applying the teachings of Michael and Debi Pearl. (As part of the CH writing team, we each may respectfully hold different opinions, yet we still have unity in hearts and fellowship through Him…regardless.)
ALWAYS OBEY—NO MERCY
I am not faithfully, unfailingly obedient. I fail…miserably. Often. You know it, Lord. The letters on the screen eddy in pools of tears, testifying.
Then why did I ever think our children could be perfectly obedient? 100% of the time?
I read and understood:
“If he [disobeys], spring into the room with your little switch and pop him on the bare legs one or two times. No anger on your part—no raised voices. Just make it more pleasant to stay in bed. Never allow him to get his way.… Train them right and they will always obey.” (NGJ, Vol 1, pg 7)
Always? Unwavering obedience? And if not, were more switches were necessary? That seemed to be the Pearl premise.
Do you not train me well enough, Lord? I don’t obey You without fail, Father. And You are an infinitely better Father to me than I am a Mother to these children. Then why did I think I could have “always” obedience from these precious ones? You discipline me, Lord— but always in the context of mercy and love—and a Cross.
I read and understood:
“Consistency on your part will break that habit in just a few days. Never threaten, and never show mercy. One squeak of a scream gets a switching.” (NGJ, Vol 1, pg 26)
Never show mercy? Oh, I am so grateful…streaming tears again….that You show me mercy. Not now and then, but over and over and over again, mercy rained down on this far from perfect soul.
I may have focused on the wrong words….and not sufficiently lived out these other Pearl words:
“Your children will begin to develop positive character only in an atmosphere of forgiveness and acceptance. The first step to recovery and the ground on which it continues is the parent’s smile…Parent you need to tie strings of fellowship through your smiles, strings of trust through a display of trust, strings of respect through mutual respect, strings of kindness, grace and forgiveness. You cannot disapprove your children into heart compliance, but you can example them in, smile them in, care them in, patience them in, and woo them in with a heart that exemplifies Christlike character.” (NGJ, Vol 1, p 44)
Powerful, beautiful words. Good words. But perhaps the reader was still back at meting out no mercy and driving after this supposedly obtainable perfect obedience: “consistently rewarding every transgression with a switching” (TTUAC, Chapter 1) .
Christlike character embodies mercy. Which I was never to show. Or was I?
“Hold that soul with compassion and understanding. Be a friend. Show mercy. Smile.” (NGJ, Vol 1, p 44)
I confess: I was confused.
CONSISTENCY and PERFECTIONISM
Yet, perfection was offered as a possibility if this parenting paradigm was followed:
“If, and only if, you are absolutely consistent, meeting every transgression with swift penalty, then they will quickly adapt themselves to the new order. They will do the incredible. They will obey.” (NGJ, Vol 1, 33)
If I only I would apply the principles with “100% CONSISTENCY” (NGJ, Vol 1, 33)., perfection was possible.
Michael Pearl’s personal life is one of supposed perfection:
“WE SHOULD AND CAN SIN NO MORE! … I have been preaching AND LIVING this gospel of sanctification for many years. It is not a theory. It is practical, Scriptural reality” (“Living Parallel Lives in the Same Space” No Greater Joy, Jan.-Feb. 2005, p. 21).
It would seem that Mr. Pearl believes that he himself has been living in complete, sinless victory for years, continually performing every biblical commandment and duty with a perfect heart.
I wanted that perfection for our family too. Michael Pearl’s doctrine of perfection suggested it was possible:
“I preach it in the prisons, and it works on men who have lived lives of total addiction and enslavement. They come unto me all the time, bubbling over with joy, and TELL ME THAT THEY ARE NOW FREE FROM ALL SIN. … walking in complete victory over sin and self” (“Living Parallel Lives in the Same Space” No Greater Joy, Jan.-Feb. 2005, p. 21).
May I humbly offer a different perspective:
1 John 1:8-10 “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.”
Perfection is a demand You Yourself do not make of me. My only holiness is Your holiness. Knowing my weakness and bondage You gave Yourself, hanging naked and bleeding on a tree, to meet the requirements of Your perfect Law in my place. It is unjust to demand of our children what You do not. You know we are but dust….
We tried Pearl’s doctrine of perfection. And after such striving after perfection, with such driven consistency, with such rewarding of transgressions, I was left, not with perfect children, but as a Mama who was frustrated, controlling, and relentlessly vigilant against any infraction. Was this what Pearl’s deemed: “aggressive child training techniques” (NGJ, Vol 3, pg. 1)?
And I have concluded: Either Mr. Pearl has a significantly different definition of sin than I have–which is very plausible–and dangerous—….or living without sin is simply not possible. And to believe that this doctrine of perfection is practically attainable not only wrung the joy out of this family, extinguishing this Mama’s heart of love and grace for my children, it led to excessive, harsh, unbiblical discipline.
Others with a different history may have read Pearl’s with more clarity and a sense of equilibrium. But each reader brings his/her own history to the page, which causes each to read the words very differently. Which means a writer, one who sets themselves in the position of a teacher, such as the Pearls, must write with great care:
“Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” James 3:1
Thus, a writer must go to great measures to painstakingly and repeatedly clarify their teachings —for s/he knows not the history and glasses with which the reader may be reading the words…and how their words may be applied.
And I offer that for a significant sector of readers the writings of Michael and Debi Pearl fail to clearly offer consistently helpful, Biblical, parenting direction.
Personally, where I come from significantly factors into my being a Type A driven personality. Other believers may read Pearl and come to different, more balanced, conclusions. But I personally need to magnify grace and mercy in my heart and mind—not any paradigm that suggests that attaining utter perfection is a practical possibility. Because that doctrine of perfection only feeds my unrelenting focus towards that goal of faultless children…at the cost of precious children. It is better if I, personally, focus more on parenting the Gospel and grace—I smile more, I embrace more, I enjoy more. My fragrance is then more of You, Jesus.
FORSAKING PERFECTION, Walking in Christ, and living COMPASSION
You ask me to lay aside practical perfection and remember that our children, like me, have an indwelling sin nature and will struggle with the flesh as Paul describes so plainly (Rom. 7:18; Gal. 5:16-17). You remind me that sanctification is not a matter of a one-time experience but of one of gradual change and growth (2 Pet. 3:18). Yes, there IS victory over sin—BECAUSE of the power of the Cross and Your Grace.
You remind me that the Christian life is an active, daily warfare against sin. You whisper that my children and I must DAILY yield (Rom. 6:16), walk in (Gal. 5:16), put off and put on (Eph. 4:22-24), put away (Eph. 4:31), mortify (Col. 3:5), flee (2 Tim. 2:22), lay aside (Heb. 12:1; 1 Pet. 2:1). My children and I can daily live free of sin’s stranglehold — by walking in You!
We are commanded to not be a hindrance to little ones – yet how can the demand of perfection NOT be a hindrance to little ones? How can one approach Abba if one is always expecting punishment for anything less than perfection?
You know how this Mama does not live out perfection, but spiritual Alzheimer’s, forgetting, forgetting. And so do my children.
So let me have compassion and teach these little lambs who daily need a Shepherd.
Mark 6:34 Jesus…had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.
Some Mamas may read Michael and Debi Pearl and wisely and lovingly understand the balance I am supposing is intended. However, others, such as myself, cannot. I thank those who believe they can read Pearl’s in balance, for considerately and carefully listening to the experiences and very different perspectives of those Mamas who are saying they can’t.
For the well-being of children is at stake.