My 5-year-old has a mind of her own. Don’t get me wrong… a free spirit is a wonderful quality to have! With the combination of intelligence, determination, compassion, and an innate ability to make people feel special, I am eager to see the powerful woman this little girl will become. However, at 5-years-old there are rules to follow!These rules have purpose. When I ask my daughter to brush her teeth, I hear gentle parental guidance advising her of the importance of dental hygiene within a schedule designed to arrive at the bus stop on time. What she hears is me making her stop playing to perform a boring task. When her dad asks her to clean her room, he is helping her understand that we are all part of a community and must work together to keep our home clean. But my sweet daughter believes she is given an unfair task which makes her exert far too much effort!
It can be difficult for a rule-follower like myself to instruct a strong-willed child! But she is almost 6 years-old now and it is getting easier. Where last year, the examples I mentioned above might have led to anger and tears (for both of us), she now has the patience to actually listen when we try to explain why there are rules. Plus, as parents we’ve learned that she needs instruction differently than her older brother.
She still seeks reward for following the rules. This is natural – we all desire praise and gratification when we’ve done something good. (I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve convinced myself it was okay to eat that donut because I accomplished some task at work…)
My daughter and I had a good conversation about rewards this week. She wanted a piece of candy for earning all positive points at school that day. While there are times we will reward good behavior at school, this time we did not. I told my daughter we follow rules because it is good to do, not because we are rewarded for it. Following the rules at school is respectful to her teacher and her classmates, and will help her use time for learning. I also explained that any anger or disappointment I have when she is disobedient does not change my love for her!
As Christians, we come across the word “law” often in scripture. It can be confusing and intimidating to comprehend the effect of following or not following rules. “Law” in scripture seems impossible to follow wholly. I was advised to replace “law” with the word “instruction” and remember that God’s love for creation is bigger than my ability (or my inability) to follow rules. God’s law/instruction becomes a tool to live life fully to the benefit of the community I am blessed with.
Paul writes a lot about a freedom in Christ. Before, humanity was slave to law, saved by the ability to follow rules. Paul writes if justification comes through the law, Christ died for nothing (Galatians 2:21).Yet within this freedom we are still called to live “right.” For “All things are lawful, but not all things are beneficial. All things are lawful, but not all things build up.” (1 Corinthians 10:23)
With my daughter as example, humans (including Christians) can be stubborn about following rules. And when we do follow rules, we seek praise and rewards. Yet our behavior should not be guided by simply obeying rules. A lesson for my daughter, yes, but also for me, for my church, for all those preaching the Good News of God’s love and grace through Christ. Rules can be a helpful framework to live in community, but we are ultimately called to live by the Spirit through the grace we’ve been given, striving to do what is right because it is right, not just because it is required.