Many things change between your first and your fourth child, and one of those things for me has been the rules.
With my oldest daughter I created and enforced many, many, many rules.
You will not talk back to me.
You will answer me when I call.
You will keep your room clean.
You will not smack at the dinner table.
You know what I mean. We all have them. Just maybe not as many as me.
I created these rules to provide a sense of safety and order and to teach obedience to my child, all of which were good things. But to be honest, I designed this system of rules to keep my world and my child under control. I liked control. It made me feel like a good mom raising good kids.
I used my rules just as the Jews used the Law to define status: if you follow the rules you are good and if you break the rule you are bad.
Check. Now you know where you stand.
And I used the rules to guide behavior: this is what you can do and what you can’t.
Period. End of discussion.
Raised in a world of right and wrong, my kiddos were always concerned about the rules, asking things like,”Can she do that? Can we do that? What’s the rule on that?” And I always felt like such a confident parent declaring the family rule as if I was reading from stone tablets brought down from Mt. Sinai.
As I look back on it now I realize that I trained my kiddos to be Pharisees always asking that question, “Is it lawful…?” Those darn Pharisees were always asking Jesus that question. Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath? Is it lawful to divorce your wife? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar.
Yada, yada, yada.
They too, grew up in a culture based on black and white regulations whose top priority was NOT to break the rules so they could look good.
But life with Jesus is more than right and wrong, or good and bad. It’s more than NOT sinning. The Christian life is not a set of rules, it is a relationship based on love.
When asked which part of the Law was the most important, Jesus told the people, LOVE: “Love the Lord your God…and your neighbor as yourself.”
Love is now the rule. Love God, love others, and love yourself.
So I had started asking myself, “Does the clean room rule fall under the LOVE rule?” Hmmm. Yes, when applied to a sister who shares your room. Love respects the space of others. No, when you have your own room and it’s been a crazy week. Love is patient. What about the smacking at the dinner table rule, does it fall under the LOVE rule? Yes, when applied to creating a non-distracting environment that is the most conducive to listening to each other. Love is kind. No, when you have a cold and cannot breathe and eat at the same time. Love bears all things.
In order to love well, we must rely on God more than the rules because as Jesus tells the Pharisees during another round of Is-It-Lawful? “I want mercy and not sacrifice.” Jesus desires love over the rules. He prefers a flexible heart to an inflexible ritual. He wants our motivation for action to be love not an avoidance of punishment.
Our family rules must have the same underlying mercy so that we do not raise children who follow all the rules, but have no love in their hearts. No matter if they give generously, speak eloquently, or know tons of verses from the Bible, if they are not motivated by love, they gain nothing.
The next time your child asks some version of “Is it lawful?” answer their question with this question “Is it loving?” And then get ready for a really good discussion.
And the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:13
By Dale Skram
Mom of four
1 Corinthians 13 Parenting Team Member
real.life.speaker, real.faith.writer, and real.life.coach