Some time ago (I believe it was a couple of summers ago, in Owen's infancy), I had one of those completely awful day with the kids. You know the kind: Everyone was out for himself. Nobody wanted to share. Aggravating one another was at the top of everyone's list. After about the 20th reprimand, I yelled, 'Okay, that's it! Everyone come to the computer! Right now!'
As they approached the computer, they found me pounding away at the keyboard, typing a list of do's and don'ts. I was determined to make a list of household rules to follow. It seems funny to me now that I actually thought that formulating such a list was going to somehow magically make them obey. After about twenty minutes, we had come up with a list of about 15 things. It included such things as: I will talk respectfully to my parents. I will not hit my brother or sister.
This list made me feel better and like I was in control--for about three hours. I soon realized that this system, just like so many other systems we so eagerly had tried to set in place, was flawed and not going to work. I soon realized that trying to remember and live under a list of rules was exhausting for both the rule-maker and rule-doer.
A few mornings later, I was reading Matthew 22:34-40. The Pharisees (the religious leaders of the day who were considered 'experts' of the law), were asking Jesus which commandment was most important to keep. He replied, 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.'
As I studied this passage, I looked over at my list of 'commands' hanging on the refrigerator. I suddenly realized how much in common I had with these Pharisees. These Pharisees were way more concerned about keeping a set of rules and enforcing these rules on those around them than they were about loving others well. My rules had put the focus on my children's behavior rather than on their hearts that were producing the behavior. Not only that, but my list of rules had made things way more complex than they needed to be. It really didn't have to be that complicated.
I walked over to my refrigerator and put a big red X over the list of rules and wrote in large, red, capital letters: THERE ARE ONLY TWO RULES IN THIS HOUSE. LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL OF YOUR HEART, MIND, SOUL AND STRENGTH AND LOVE OTHERS AS YOURSELF.
I think that summer day was a defining moment in my Christian walk. It was the beginning of a process of breaking free from some legalism that not only had been ruling over our parenting but over other areas of our lives too.
Don't get me wrong. Rules are extremely important--especially when our children are too young to reason and think through why they should or shouldn't do something. During these early years our children need a cut and dry, black and white set of rules. But as they grow and mature and are able to reason, their obedience needs to flow out of their hearts and out of a desire to please God. Currently, this is where we are with four of our five children who are old enough to grasp this. Our role as parents is to teach them how to obey out of a love for God and others rather than out of obligation.
We are learning (DAILY!) how to do this! Oh my, often we fall flat on our faces and fail horribly. But God, in is infinite grace, pulls us right back up, pats us on the back and encourages us to get back 'in the game'. With parenting, it always feels like with every small victory or step forward we make, we are simultaneously messing up and taking two steps back. I think God purposefully makes it like this. If we felt competent and like we had it going on, we wouldn't really feel the need to rely on God, would we?
What does all this have to do with 2009 and what we learned this past year? Well, EVERYTHING! Because we are still learning and feeling our way through this DAILY. And for the rest of our lives we will STILL be learning and feeling our way through this. God has been showing me that every sinful desire or motive I have can always be traced back to my obedience to these two commandments. If I am spending too much time watching TV or surfing the net, He gently asks: 'Are you truly loving ME with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength?' If I am short with my husband or children, I hear the question: 'Are you loving others more than yourself?' As God is teaching us this, we are in turn trying to teach our children to do the same.
The hardest part of all this for ourselves and our children is the fact that we will never be able to muster up in our own strength the ability to love God and others. We have to ask God to give us this ability. We have to ask God to give our children the ability. This is where the regeneration of our hearts takes place. This is the hardest part because it comes from God and not from ourselves. And so we must ask God for this, over and over and over and over...
Thus, the last and most important component of God's Way is to PRAY! We must constantly be praying to God to change our hearts and our children's! We must constantly be asking Him to give us a heart like His! To see our hearts transformed and the hearts of our childrens transformed takes many hours of being on our knees in petitiion. We don't have it in us to be who God wants us to be. Our children don't have it in them. But God, the creator of the Universe, sure does have it in Him. And He wants to supernaturally infuse us with Himself. It's there for the taking. We just have to ask.
Arise, cry out in the night,
as the watches of the night begin;
pour out your heart like water
in the presence of the Lord.
Lift up your hands to him
for the lives of your children,
who faint from hunger
at the head of every street. Lam. 2:19
16Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4:16
O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. Psalm 63:1
P.S. -- There is one more post coming in regards to 'Lessons Learned in 2009.' Seriously, will I ever finish this???