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2. Consequences: The Law of Sowing and Reaping

Article contributed by Probe Ministries
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Review of Lesson 1:

A boundary is your personal "property line."

It defines who you are, where you end, and where others begin.

When we know what we want and do not want, what we are for and against, what we love and hate, what is "me" and what is "not me," we are setting boundaries.

Examples of Boundaries:

1. Thelma's neighbor: "Where is your bathroom? Where is your walk-in closet? I see your lights and want to know what you're doing." Thelma put in blinds. (Setting a boundary.) "Why did you install blinds?" (Boundary violation.) Good response: "Why ever would you ask such a personal question?"

2. Curt: "If one will not work, neither let him eat."

3. Same-sex "commitment ceremony." I'm sorry, I'm not available for that. It goes against my beliefs.

4. Gene Herr: "I'm sorry, I can't fill your prescription for an abortifacient drug. It goes against my morals."

5. Girlfriends plan a vacation. One says, "I hate to do this to y'all, but I really do not have a peace about going. I don't know what that's about, but I need to bow out of our plans."

6. "I'm glad to wash your dirty clothes, but I'm asking you to turn your socks right side out. From now on, however they go into the hamper is how they're going to be washed and dried."

7. "I respect myself too much to let you be disrespectful toward me. If you start being critical, I will hang up/ leave the room. If you follow me around to keep haranguing me, I will leave the house."

Law of Sowing and Reaping

When God tells us that we will reap what we saw, he is not punishing us; he's telling us how things really are.

Sometimes we DON'T reap what we sow because someone steps in and reaps the consequences for us. Children who wait to the last minute to do their projects which the parents take over. What are they learning? People who keep calling parents to bail them out of jail: what are they learning?

Just as we can interfere with the law of gravity by catching a glass tumbling off the table, people can interfere with the Law of Cause and Effect by stepping in and rescuing irresponsible people. Rescuing a person from the natural consequences of his behavior enables him to continue in irresponsible behavior.

Establishing boundaries helps people stop interrupting the Law of Sowing and Reaping. Boundaries force the person who is doing the sowing to also do the reaping.

Just confronting someone doesn't help. Telling them what we think about their behavior and that they need to change is only NAGGING. They don't feel the need to change because their behavior is not causing them any pain. Confronting an irresponsible person is not painful to him; only consequences are.

If a person is wise, confronting them may change their behavior. But people caught in destructive patterns are usually not wise. They need to suffer consequences before they change their behavior. The Bible tells us it is worthless to confront foolish people: "Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you." (Prov. 9:8)

Examples of confronting:

1. Inform:

  • "The line starts there."
  • "This is a handicapped space and you don't have handicapped plates or a placard. Please don't park here, because it means I can't."

2. Give "I messages."

  • "I was stung by your sarcasm."
  • "It hurt my feelings when you glared at me when I made that suggestion to you."

3. Rebuke in love:

  • "My dad died and I called to let you know, but you ignored my pain. Why no card? Why no phone call?"

With foolish people (Prov 22:15: foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline removes it far from him.) we need to use reality consequences.

Life works on reality consequences.

  • If you don’t go to work, you don't have money.
  • If you cheat on your husband, you lose intimacy with him and may lose your marriage.
  • If you smart-mouth to police officers, you will end up in jail.

Psychological and negative relational consequences, such as

  • getting angry (yelling)
  • sending guilt messages (after all I've done for you!)
  • nagging (any time you say something more than 3x)
  • withdrawing love (cold shoulder, refusing to talk, refusing to touch)

usually do not motivate people to change. If they do, the change is short-lived, directed only at getting the person to lighten up on the psychological pressure. True change usually comes only when someone's behavior pattern causes him to encounter reality consequences like

  • pain (falling off the roof, getting burned, hangover, not fitting into clothes)
  • losses of time (having to do something over again)
  • losses of money (if you leave your stuff on the floor, I will pick it up and you will pay to get it back. If you procrastinate, you will pay a late fee.)
  • losses of possessions (Doors. Bikes. Car: sold for not making payments)
  • losses of things he enjoys (TV and computer privileges. Having laundry done for him.  Hot dinners. Going to the movies with friends. Freedom: Martha Stewart.)
  • losses of people he values (Therapeutic separation. Friends who refuse to play with you because you're bossy.)

When we are allowed to pay for our mistakes, we learn from them. Reality losses cause us to change our behavior.

Consequences transfer the need to be responsible to the person who makes the choices. Consequences make it the other person's problem.

I was at a friend's house one day when I asked their 9-year-old son to go outside and shoot some baskets with me.

"I can't. I have to stay inside," he said.

"How come?"

"My mom was talking on the phone and I kept interrupting her. Too bad for me." This is the lesson consequences teach a child. "My behavior becomes a problem for ME." Too many times, children's behavior does not become a problem for them. It does not coast them things they value. Instead parents allow the problem to become a problem for them instead of their children.

  • "Bummer! What are you going to do about that?"
  • "What's your plan for solving this?"
  • "I'm sure you'll think of something."
  • Austin Academy: students may not call parents to bring things to the school.

How to respond to bad choices

What does God do when we make bad choices? He gives us His love and presence and comfort as we live the consequences. He doesn't condemn us and say, "You're such an idiot. I told you that was going to happen. Now look at the mess you've made."

He says, "I love you and I'll walk through this with you."

Empathize with their loss. Avoid saying "I told you so." (Nanci: "Too bad you don't like jail. I told you when you were in Juvie that you really, really wouldn't like jail, but you wouldn't listen.")

What empathy sounds like:

Instead of this:

  • "Don't come crying to me. If you had just done your work you wouldn't be in this mess."

Empathy sounds like:

  • "That's sad not getting to play today."

Instead of this:

  • "Don't give me the 'It's not fair' thing. You made your bed, now you have to lie in it."

Empathy sounds like:

  • "I know. I feel for you missing the game. I hate it when I don't get to do something I want."

Instead of this:

  • "Well, if you would have done your chores and behaved, you would have gotten to eat with us. But maybe next time you won't be so selfish and place all of us in jeopardy of eating late."

Empathy sounds like:

  • "I bet you are hungry. I hate to miss a meal too."

The goal is not to control people and make them do what you want. The goal is to give the choice to do what they want, and make it so painful to do the wrong thing that they will not want to.

Children and immature adults want two incompatible things:

  1. They want to do things their way.
  2. They want things to go well for them.

They want to do what they want and not have to pay for it.

Real life says, you can have one or the other, but not both. Freedom means understanding this truth and making our own choices. That's how God arranges the universe: He gives us the gift of choice, and if no one interferes with the law of sowing and reaping, we learn to make wise choices.

Running Interference

Parents have difficulty allowing their children to suffer consequences. The natural tendency is to bail them out. Here is a test for you: How many late nights have you spent helping with a school project that was due the next morning, but was also sprung on you the night before? The scene usually goes like this:

"Mom, I need some glue for my project."

"Sorry, dear. We don't have any."

"But I have to have it. The project is due tomorrow."

"When did you know about this assignment?"

"Two weeks ago."

"Why didn't you get the glue before now?"

"I forgot."

"The nearest store open this late is twenty minutes away. How could you do this to me?"

"I'm sorry, Mom. But I have to have it done, or I will get a bad grade."

"Okay, get in the car."

(Sometimes Mom is frustrated and angry, but sometimes Mom might not mind at all.)

Compare this with the Mom who has an eye on the future:

"Mom, I need some glue for my project."

"Sorry, dear, I don't have any."

"But I have to have it. The project's due tomorrow."

"What teacher would call and give you an assignment at this hour without enough time to get the supplies?"

"Come on, Mom. She gave it to us at school."


"Two weeks ago."

"Oh. So you have had two weeks to get glue and your other supplies?"

"Yes, but I thought we had them."

"Oh. That's sad. Seems like I remember this happening with the felt you needed for your last project. Well, I don't have any, and it is past my bedtime. So I hope you can figure out something to make that does not require glue. Good night, honey. I'm pulling for you."

Mom number two looked into the future to see what character lesson she could teach her child today that would ensure a better future for him. She saw a pattern developing. This was not the first time her son had made a last-minute request for material. We would not have a problem with a mom helping out in a pinch with a child who normally thinks ahead, plans responsibly, and gets assignments done on time. But Mom number two was not dealing with a child like that. She saw a character pattern developing that would make life difficult for her child:

• Last minute attempts to get projects done for a boss and losing jobs

• Getting in trouble with the IRS for not having taxes done or information intact

• Destroying relationships because of the tendency to not pull one's weight and depending on others to always be responsible

So she decided not to interfere with the Law of Sowing and Reaping and allowed the law to do its work. The child sowed to procrastination and would have to pay the penalty for his lack of planning. The consequences would teach him a lesson far more cheaply than learning it later in life. Whatever school privilege he was going to lose was a lot less than the adult version resulting from the same behavior.

Parents often resist allowing the consequences of the Law of Sowing and Reaping because they overidentify with the child's pain. Let children suffer the sorrow now instead of later. Suffering is inevitable. Make sure it happens when the consequences of irresponsibility are a loss of privileges, not the loss of a career or marriage.

Recent cartoon: "Mom, where are my shoes? I can't find them?"

Mom: "Well, let's see. . . the last time I wore your shoes was. . . NEVER! I didn't wear them, so I didn't leave them anywhere!"

From Parenting With Love and Logic:

When to step in and make our children's problems our problems:

  1. Danger of losing life or limb, or of making a decision that could affect them for a lifetime.
  2. The kids know that we know that they know they can't cope with the problem, and the consequences are significant. (Sexual abuse or bullying: "Why did you not protect me?")

How to make consequences work for you:

1. Make the consequences a natural outflow of the crime.

  • Since you took advantage of the privacy of having your own room and snuck out the window, you lose the privilege of having a door. ("That's awful! I can't sleep without a door!" "OK, then take your pillow and blanket and sleep in the bathtub. There's a door on the bathroom.")
  • If you leave your bicycles in the driveway, you lose them for a week.
  • If you are ready for church at 7:45, we'll go out for breakfast on our way. If you're not ready, we won't go to breakfast.

2. Give immediate consequences.

The younger the child, the more immediate they need to be.

3. Stay away from emotional consequences: use reality consequences instead.

Anger, guilt and shame do not help people be better. Feeling the pain of loss of TV privileges, money or computer time teach them much better.

4. Use relational consequences only if they concern your own feelings.

  • Husband with a porn addiction: “You are disrespecting me as your wife and cutting me off from your heart, so I'm not going to be available for everything that makes your life easy. From now on you can do your own laundry and sleep in another bed. I am distancing myself from you to encourage you to face your sin/problem and get help and accountability for it.”
  • If someone's behavior is hurting you or others, tell them so say what you plan to do about your feelings: "It saddens me when you talk to me that way. I don't like to be spoken to like that; it makes me feel far away from you. So I won't be listening when you are sassing or disrespectful. I don’t allow myself to listen to talk like that. When you want to talk differently, I will be glad to listen.
  • "If you are going to choose to disrespect me like that, then I will not be available to do kind things for you. I will not be driving you to soccer practice today. Maybe next time I will be available if you are kind and respectful to me."

5. Think of consequences as protecting yourself and the rest of the family from the behavior of the person who is doing the offending.

  • "I do not like to eat with people bickering. Jimmy, go to your room, and when you can stop bickering, you can return to dinner. By the way, I clear the table at 7:30, and there is no more food after that. Later snacks are only for those who ate dinner."
  • "We like to use family areas like the living room for the family. We don't like to trip over your stuff there. I will impound any toys that are still out when I go to bed because we don't like a messy living room. You will have to pay to get them back."
  • "It is not safe for drivers to be distracted by people who are fighting in the car. If you fight, I will pull over to the side of the road and wait for you to stop. It may make you late, and that would be so sad."
  • "I'm not comfortable listening to gossip, so let's talk about something else."

6. Offer a choice whenever possible, even when there's only one course of action available:


  • "You can go and have fun with us, or you can go and not try. Which would you like? And by the way, if you are a pain for us to be around, we'll have to remember that when it is time to go to the movies."

7. Make sure there's a good reason someone is having behavior problems before invoking consequences.


  • With children, check for fears, tiredness, hunger, emotional pain. Stress in the family (divorce, marital disharmony, move, illness) causes kids to act out. Abuse makes kids act out.
  • PMS: Express empathy—"I know your hormones are raging, but please choose your words carefully so you don't inflict pain on the rest of us."
  • Parents may have health/medical issues making them be unreasonable, cranky.

Brenda Bird's Powerful Phrases for Adults Who Live & Work with Older Children & Teens (

  • Use these phrases when you are tempted to lecture, offer your opinion or rant and rave! Choose one and repeat it over and over if necessary.
  • How sad.
  • I know.
  • What are you going to do?
  • I respect you too much to argue.
  • I respect myself too much to listen to this.
  • You do not have permission to talk like that in my classroom (or to me).
  • How can we work together to help you succeed?
  • Bummer!
  • I’m trying to understand.
  • Try not to worry...
  • What is your plan for solving this?
  • That’s a thought.
  • I know you can handle this.
  • I’m sure you’ll think of something.

Next lesson: Boundary Myths

Related Topics: Boundaries, Christian Life, Messages, Spiritual Life, Wisdom, Women