Rules without Relationship = Rebellion

I was a teenager in the 60’s  – part of that generation most noted for questioning authority. Some of the authority at that time needed to be questioned. The laws and traditions that discriminated against individuals based on race or gender needed to be abandoned and changed. Yet, rules that contributed to public safety, general courtesy or respect, and those that helped maintain an orderly society were also suspect and discarded by some. That left a vacuum for which families are still paying a cost. Rules in and of themselves are not a BAD thing, especially when they protect young children.

Rules within a family can build a sense of security, belonging, and give children direction. These are ALL very positive outcomes.

1) sense of security – a boundary gives children a sense of security. They will come to realize that if they stay within the boundary – obey – they will be safe from punishment or other consequences of disobedience. They also learn that someone loves them enough to require them to hold hands in a parking lot, or save the snack for after lunch.

2) belonging – as soon as children learn to talk, they will compare their privileges (or lack thereof) to those of another child. “Why can’t I have a …….. Suzy’s mom lets her have one!” “Why do I have to sit here?, Freddy gets to sit in front.”As a parent we can feel “peer pressure” to allow our children to do things that we don’t feel comfortable with. Having a clear sense of your families’ convictions about issues that arise will help you avoid the trap of giving in. Some rules apply just because your family feels it is best for them.  Many kids love to join clubs – and there are requirements for membership which the children don’t mind because they want to be a member. The membership in a family is a given, but there can be standards that each family holds as important and which differ from family to family. These can develop a sense of belonging for our children if they understand the reason the family follows those standards.

3) direction – rules that require accountability instill self-discipline in children. These rules provide direction to children letting them know that when they are asked to do something – someone will actually see if they did it! Many young people struggle with a sense of direction. They go from one interest or hobby to the next never investing the time or discipline it takes to become proficient. (see post  – “Cleats or Heels?” 5-14-11) As parents we can give clear direction on risk behaviors to avoid by setting rules.

The KEY to effective use of rules is developing a positive relationship with our children. If a child recognizes that we consistently love and care for them, they will KNOW that the rules we establish are for their good. This does not mean they will always like the rules. If they do – we are probably not doing our job as parents! Yet even very small child can understand that when we take a toy away that is thrown  – it is to protect a little brother or sister.

Proverbs – the book of wisdom – has a lot to say about rules.

Proverbs 6:20-22 NIV                                                                                                                                            20 My son, keep your father’s command
   and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.
21 Bind them always on your heart;
   fasten them around your neck.
22 When you walk, they will guide you;
   when you sleep, they will watch over you;
   when you awake, they will speak to you.

I love how these verses cover it all – “when you walk”, “when you sleep”, when you awake”. God our Heavenly Father models rules within the context of relationship for us. “While we were yet sinners” He loved us, and now that He is our Father, He requires us to walk in His ways.

When we come to know Him as Father and truly believe that He loves us, we have no desire to rebel against God. If the rules we establish in our families are not rooted in our relationship with our children, then rebellion may result.

Constraining Love


I was the kind of child that wanted to please my parents. Not all children are like that, as anyone who has more than one child knows! It is not better or worse to be compliant, easy-going, or submissive to authority. It may be easier for parents, but people pleasers like myself can get into trouble if they choose to please the wrong people!

In my case, it just made me feel good to have my parents approval and I felt very loved by them.  As I matured and began to love my parents in return, I did not want to disappoint them. I was blessed that they loved me unconditionally and I did not have to strive for their love. Because they expressed their love for me verbally as well as through actions, I grew up feeling secure and valued. Looking back at pictures of myself, I was an odd looking child. (see above photo for irrefutable proof!) Yet I thought I was attractive. Imagine! My father would tell me how nice I looked, and I believed him.

The love I had for my parents kept me from doing many things as an adolescent that would have gotten me in big trouble. By nature I am an uninhibited person and I would do silly things just for fun, or for attention. I clearly remember NOT doing certain things because I knew my parents would be disappointed in me. I think of this as constraining love. In our large old dictionary, the definition of constrain is –  to compel or oblige. The love I had for my parents, not fear of the consequences of disobedience, kept me from making some bad choices.

I hear my high school students talk about their weekends and sometimes they will say things like – “If my parents knew about this – they would KILL me!” or “My mom found out I lied, so I can’t go anywhere this weekend.” These students have no remorse for what they did – only that they got caught.

We must not get caught in the deceptive thought pattern that “if I love my child enough, they will not make wrong choices.” That is not true, look at Adam and Eve! Yet unconditional love is a powerful force for good. God so loved us that He sent His son, Jesus, to die for us. “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” God’s love came FIRST – not our feeble attempt to obey Him. When we love our children unconditionally, not based on what they do but WHO THEY ARE, we are laying the groundwork for constraining love. Love that does not want to disappoint.

2 Corinthians 5:14-15 (NIV)  

 14 For Christ’s love compels (KJV constrains) us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again.

God’s great and unconditional love for us should produce a love response from us that causes us to walk in obedience to our heavenly Father. Our love for God should be so great that we are compelled to do His will. What better example could we set for our children?

Hanging in There

I have been thinking recently about some of the marriage and parenting conferences/retreats we have attended over the years. Often a speaker will get up and share Godly principles, wisdom from life experiences, and most often – how wonderful their many years of marriage/parenting have been. Often it is very good, even inspiring. God can speak to us through those uplifting testimonies.

It is rare to hear speakers share the reality of the hard times – the times when they had to “hang in there” by faith because the circumstances were grim or even tragic. Who stands up and shares about the “all nighters” with a vomiting, pooping baby and the crabby way we deal with our children the next day because we’re so tired? Yes, God is faithful even on those days we KNOW we don’t deserve it. We must hang in there – and sometimes it feels like we are hanging by a thread.

I remember sitting at a Parenting Retreat and thinking “I am going to write an article called “Least We Forget”. This article will tell about the REALITY of having four children under 5 years old and what a  REAL evening meal is like. The family meal shared with the whole family is important and certainly a goal to attain. So are family devotions. Yet when should this take place? Do you suggest we do this before the food is put on the table so that the two-year old isn’t eating the rolls? (or crying until she gets one?) Or after the meal when the one year old wants down and the three-year old needs to use the bathroom NOW? I remember the reality of fussing at our children for not sitting quietly while daddy reads from the Bible and the children ending up in tears. How much of a blessing is that to our family and even more importantly to God? It is SO EASY to forget when the children are older just how challenging meal times are with little ones.

Again – the answer I believe is “hanging in there”.  Find what works for your family. There are many variables – but having meals together as a family is a blessing because so much can be shared at that time. If it is not possible every evening – plan for times when it will work for your family.

Try having devotions before bedtime when children are very small. Food is not an issue and the quiet before bed is a special time to talk about the day.  Meal time is difficult enough when children are small so devotions may make it more stressful. As children get older and develop patience to wait for food, or to wait at the table after a meal is finished, devotions around mealtime can be a great time for family fellowship. Once our children learned to read, we took turns reading the short, simply worded devotion. ( we did not use My Utmost for His Highest at this time!) This encouraged participation as well as supporting the child’s developing reading skills. ( I smile when I remember our children asking their dad the questions at the end of the devotion. They wanted to test him as he had tested them so many times before!) The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes by Ken Taylor is very well written and has three short questions at the end of each devotional and Scripture.

Remember – having some meals together is better than none. The same applies to devotions. Hang in there even when it doesn’t work out for a while or is interrupted. Illness, travel, vacations, all can disrupt schedules. The important thing is to resume the pattern again when possible. Creating family patterns that build relationships and share Godly truth are so valuable.

2 Timothy 4:7-9  (NIV)

7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing.

Here Paul is saying that he fought, he finished, he kept the faith. He doesn’t say he was first in the race, but that he finished. He also says he kept the faith – he hung in there. The result is a crown of righteousness – not because we deserve it – but because God is faithful. So, hang in there!

Too Busy to Play

A dear friend of mine named Joyce teaches 1st grade at a Christian school in a large city. She was telling me recently how busy these 6 and 7 years olds are with activities such as sports, dance, piano, drama lessons, gymnastics, and the list could go on. “These students and their parents tell me they don’t have time to read together or memorize their Bible verses because they are too busy,” said Joyce.

This is a common situation in our current culture. Well-meaning parents don’t want their children to “miss out” so they sign them up for every opportunity possible. They pick children up from school only to run them to the next lesson or practice, leaving little, if any, down time for the child to process their day, play outside, or…imagine this…have quiet time to think.

Children learn from play. They learn how to move their bodies, make things like forts or “play houses” out of leaves. They learn to negotiate with siblings or playmates – “May I have the next turn on the swing?”. Children also learn to problem solve when things don’t go as planned while they play. Play allows creativity as children create “meals” from hickory nuts, leaves, and pieces of gravel. Boys will make play weapons out of sticks, dried plant stalks, or pieces of bark and carry on battles with imaginary foes. I am constantly amazed to see the way our grandchildren “make-believe” with found objects collected all around our yard. This type of experiential learning does not take place riding in the car from one practice to another.

I fell victim to this malady as a mother of young children. I had visions of a string quartet practicing daily in our den and then playing for worship on Sundays. What if one of our children was a musical prodigy but never had the chance to play an instrument? Additionally, research shows that children who are musical do better in math! So I proceeded to offer (force?) each child a chance to play a stringed instrument. One by one, each quit to pursue other interests of their own choosing. Hannah was my one hold out and played the violin from six years old until she was thirteen. Then she begged to quit. My husband finally said to me, “Gayle, is Hannah taking lessons for you or herself?”  In all honesty I had to admit it was for me.

If a child has a strong interest and desire to become involved in music, sports, drama, etc. and shows a willingness to practice then this may be an important involvement for that child. But, it is essential as a parent to limit a child’s commitment of time and energy so that important things like family, fellowship, school, and PLAY don’t become neglected because of a schedule that is too busy. One of our children was a joiner – we teased that she would have joined the Communist Party if there had been one in Sylva. We had to say “no” several times until she learned to say “no” for herself.

Psalm 46:10

 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”

This verse illustrates a part of our nature as human beings. We must be quiet in order to hear God, to distinguish His voice over all that goes on around us. We are created for God’s pleasure, to worship and honor Him. Our children need to learn to be comfortable with quiet time, to learn to be still. As they mature they will be able to recognize God’s voice even when He chooses to speak in a still small voice.

Full Time Ministry

This past Saturday a memorial service was held in honor of the life of Karen Minor, the aunt of our son-in-law Matt. Our daughter shared with me that the sanctuary was filled to overflowing and that it was the most meaningful celebration of life she had ever witnessed. Karen was a wife and mother who put her ministry to her family first. The exceptional aspect is that she made everyone feel like family!

When our daughter moved out to the Seattle area, Karen and her husband took our daughter’s family in their home for three months while waiting for their household goods to arrive from Hawaii. Once, when my husband and I visited, we were included in a family gathering which involved folks from three continents. She loved cooking foods from various countries, but food from India was especially enjoyed since she grew up in India with her missionary parents and sisters.

Karen’s life impressed me because she elevated the calling of being a wife and mother by her love and devotion to her family. One had the sense that she felt her work was a high calling which she embraced with joy. One of her sons shared at the service how blessed each of the four children has been by having Karen as their mother. I was reminded of Proverbs 31: 28a “Her children arise and call her blessed.” Karen had been a nurse and with her husband had served in sort term missions, most recently in Haiti, yet our daughter shared with me that the part of her life most evident at the service was her love for God which she shared so freely with family and friends. Karen lived as one serving in full-time ministry to her family and all those around her.

As mothers of young children, you will be pulled in many directions. Sometimes the pull comes from within – “am I doing all I should to serve God?” Sometimes it may come from well-intentioned people you fellowship with who want you to “teach this class” or “sponsor the youth group”. These may all be important and valuable opportunities to serve, but are they more important then serving your husband and children?” You may be tempted to feel guilty about saying “no” yet you shouldn’t.  I am saying that your full time ministry as a wife and mother is just as meaningful and valuable to our Heavenly Father as being a children’s Bible club leader, teacher, or nurse in a  foreign country.  There may be times that you are called to lead a Bible study etc. but there are two questions you need to ask yourself first:

1) Am I where God wants me to be?

2) Am I doing what God wants me to do?

These are questions we each must ask from time to time. Sometimes the answers are very obvious. If I am married and have children, I must be a wife and mother. If those conditions no longer apply, then I must ask God what His will for me is currently.

Matthew 25:21 says

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

God is calling each of us to faithfulness. In this verse Jesus is teaching His followers that we are to be faithful with what the Master (God) gives us. As mothers of young children – you have a high calling and a full time ministry!