Weeknight 10:30: A sink full of dishes exposing hard evidence of uneaten dinners, shoes and random toys decorating the kitchen floor, candy tin opened on counter, seemingly half empty, chunks of play dough making new patterns on the breakfast room floor, papers, stencils, and PERMANENT markers hiding the kitchen table, an open bag of new toys once saved for a rainy day, and even bedroom furniture resting in strange places. This is what we walked into one night last week when we returned home. The mass of clutter was no warm welcome and no, nothing in me wanted to spend the next 30 minutes cleaning it all up but I was out of sorts about something far more than a house in disarray. I had my time to fume and mutter as I picked up, put away, rinsed, wiped, crawled, swept, and finally bumped into surprise furniture in the darkness. However, when I lay my head on my pillow, I had sensible words for the situation that explained my level of frustration and disappointment. It wasn’t so much about the stuff everywhere, but about the several reminders of broken rules and poor choices the kids made out from under our authority. Yuck. Who wants to talk about that? When I told Jeff, his response was, as it always is, sound and challenging, “They have to want it for themselves.” “it” – two skinny letters standing in for a monumental goal of parenting. So that is what I had to chew on as I fell asleep....... and it became like a piece of meat full of gristle. My thoughts went where they often do- sometimes constructive, sometimes not. How, as a parent, do I help in creating that desire- to obey when authority isn’t hovering? What things have I done wrong that would cause them to SEEM not to care how we would respond to what we found? To SEEM not to care if they obeyed the rules or not? Needless to say, sleep did not come quickly. Partly, my heart was still pumping pretty good from all the cleaning and partly, because I could answer the second question far more easily than I could the first. Do I have too many rules? Am I too hard on them? Do I give them enough freedom? Do I express love to them more than I correct them? I am squirming in my seat as I type. Lord, help me.
The Biblical principle is we obey because we love and Jeff and I did not feel loved when we came home that night. We both feel this biblical principle is critical, so critical that each kid has been able to complete the verse almost as soon as they could speak. It is not about doing the right thing because “I said so” or because you get a piece of candy, but because it is your opportunity to express love whether it be to your parents or to the Lord God. So, the big question is, how can I encourage, even more, this heart matter of obedience? How do I cause them to want ‘it’ for themselves?
Obviously, lessons are learned best by being modeled and there go my thoughts. How do they see my obedience to the Lord? Out of love or out of obligation? With joy or much grumbling and complaining? Do they see me willing to seize difficult opportunities to obey just so I can express love for my Father? For Jeff? How about just simple daily opportunities? Have I modeled it that pitifully or have I even modeled it? Maybe they don’t see it in me often enough? Maybe I don’t see it in myself? Maybe. That’s MY problem and I can guarantee you, I am thinking about "it" more than ever.
The next morning I found their rooms looked even worse in the morning light. I woke them up determined not to let on that anything was bothering me. (Jeff and I wanted to talk to them together.) Before she was out from under her pink covers, Julia said, “What’s wrong, Momma? You act like something is wrong.” Then she quickly added, “We had so much fun with the babysitter last night!” Um-hmm. After they were dressed, Jeff had them come down and sit on the couch in his office. He was pulled forward on the edge of his recliner and I sat on the hearth. By the looks on their faces, they knew we weren’t about to tell them we were planning a trip to Disney World or getting a puppy. Jeff started out well going through the previous evening very systematically and letting them know how disappointed we were about their choices. His innocent mistake was in asking them to tell about the night. And so the drama burst forth from expressive eyes, passionate, loud voices, waving arms, pointing fingers……..and then, apprehensive grins. Grins?????? Confused, I looked at Jeff. Confused, no more. Jeff couldn’t keep it together. He was trying his darndest to cover his smiling mouth with his hand but his eyes told his story. He was LAUGHING!! Laughing. I was not. Even Julia said, “Daddy, we can’t take you seriously with you laughing like that!” Brighton was intrigued, turning up his expressive meter, not helping the giggling matter at all. Jeff tried to recover a couple of times, but each time, the “crack up” would erupt. You know the kind that you try to hold back in the middle of church? He couldn’t help himself. I left the room hoping maybe that would help. Next time I walked by, he had them both in his lap, doing what he does best- loving completely and thoroughly, mess and all, gently pointing them to Christ and His ways. Somehow, all frustration dissipated. The most important thing was that they felt loved, inside secure and defined boundaries, learning "it" bit by bit, hug by hug.
Lord, show me how to create an environment that spurs them on to obedience even when no one is looking. May they learn to base their decisions on what YOU would desire. Help me to not set too many rules or to say "no" too often, creating an atmosphere that craves rebellion. May my love for them be expressed in countless ways through the day whether it be in disciplining and training, in putting up their laundry, or in cuddling on the couch. I pray that my love for You would be the motivation for all I do and that this would be the lesson my kids learn. May I be prudent and careful to consider my steps when it comes to modeling your ways for my kids. My need for wisdom is great so may I fear You more and more.
(The heart above was sewn by Julia from scraps of dress materials from her sewing class.)