the problem with rules

“Hey! I told you to pick up that scooter!” I found myself hollering at one of the kids.

“I know, but that doesn’t seem fair! You said this morning that you wanted us to be responsible for picking up the things we got out and I didn’t leave that scooter out today! And, yesterday, I had to wipe the table down when it wasn’t my job!”

My blood boils as I let this child know that: (1) this response is disrespectful and disobedient; (2) child is correct that everyone should pick up, but (3) child should pay more attention to child’s own actions than child’s sibling’s actions (as my pastor would say, “drive your own car!”); and (4) everyone is driving me stark, raving mad.

It occurs to me that I am raising a bunch of lawyers. In a typical day, I go to great lengths to define my expectations for critical happenings and then spend the next 5 to 10 minutes clarifying what I’ve just said as the kids shoot questions at me. I define words (“well, mom. You said a “while,” but how long do you mean, exactly?”) and otherwise attempt to close all loopholes (“so, no candy this morning. But, what about gum? What if Bob’s mom offers us cookies? That’s not technically candy…and it would be rude to say no…”).

As I once again fight the urge to pull my hair out in frustration, I think of the apostle Paul — the lawyer. “I would not have known what sin was except through the law…apart from law, sin is dead.” (Romans 7:7).

Parenting these days seems to be a microcosm of this particular truth. The more I set specific rules, the more technical my kids have become about meeting those requirements. It’s as if something inside them comes to life that needs to defy the rules — or, at least get as close to the line as possible, without technically breaking the rules. This time. The kids are motivated to merely meet the standard rather than embrace the spirit behind the rules.

Aren’t we all like this?

The law, it turns out, was not enacted to save us; but to show us our natures. We are unable to perfectly meet the holy standard. We fail — both intentionally and by omission in countless, creative ways.

Focusing on the transgressions only; however, does not rescue us from the cycle. I for sure issued my child consequences that day. But it doesn’t get to the root of the issue.

The root of the issue is this sin that causes the child to focus on self.

Try as I might to persuade myself that this is primarily a childhood problem — as I hear my own words and phrases and logic repeated back to me through my kids — I realize it is not. I, too, have sin that causes me to focus overly much on myself. In that space, overly focused on “me,” I experience the law – and my own internal list of “do’s” and “don’ts” – raise to life a rebellion in which I perform mental gymnastics. Test loopholes. Ask God to define words. Then feel either smugness when I am victorious or shame, when I fail.

I’m beginning to learn, friend, that to begin digging at that root we do not need more rules. No, we must change focus to Jesus.

The first and most important commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Delight ourselves fully in Him. To love Him in this way, we gaze upon Him and obedience follows naturally because we want to please Him. We act not to earn approval or mercy, but to be near Jesus. The specific do’s and don’ts lose their importance. What matters instead is the spirit behind the law.

Jesus taught: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love-” (John 15:10-11). If we remain in Jesus’ love, obedience flows from that source.

So, let us be powered by love, not legalism, friend. Our question not, “what is permitted here?” But, “what does the Spirit tell me would please Him here?”

As you begin your week, wherever it finds you: suiting up to deal with arguing kids, pouring energy into a job that sucks the life out of you, sleepless from waking with baby and a marathon of cleaning up messes and praying for nap time — let us pray together, for one another. Lord, out of your glorious riches, we ask that we, your children would be, rooted and established in love so that we may have power together to grasp how high and wide and long and deep is the love of Christ. To know this love that surpasses all understanding–that [we] may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Eph. 3:17-18). Amen.

If you could use a reminder to pray to be rooted and established in love, click here to sign up for the free graphic I created.

p.s. If you, like I, sometimes need some practical tools to deal with your kids … I recommend several books, in no particular order: Loving our Kids on Purpose by Danny Silk, How to Talk so Kids Will Listen by Faber and Mazlin and any Love and Logic books.

2 thoughts on “the problem with rules

  1. I love the contrast of the questions, “what is permitted here?” and, “what does the Spirit tell me would please Him here?” Such a great way to flip the perspective! (Oh, and I’d love the prayer download, friend!) ~T

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