This weekend my cousin's wife and I were talking about our kids. We both have a child who requires explicit instructions on what to do with no room for loopholes. We talked about how hard we had to think when telling those kids to do something or not do something so that we leave no room for doubt about what we mean.
My girls are polar opposites when it comes to following the rules. One of them would never intentionally break the rules. The other one likes to push the envelope to see how much of the rule she can break before she gets in trouble, then she'll try to talk her way out of whatever discipline she receives by pointing out the loophole in the rule. She often obeys the letter of the rule and not the spirit.
And that's the problem with rules: Too often they're open to interpretation. We can set all the rules we want, but if our kids don't understand the spirit and intent behind the rule, it's just a restriction.
God started out with some rules: Don't eat fruit from that tree. It didn't take long for Adam and Eve to look for the loopholes in that command and blow it big time. The Israelites had 10 basic rules to follow, and they couldn't manage that either.
Don't get me wrong, I firmly believe that we have to set boundaries for our kids. As parents, we need to expect our kids to live up to certain standards. We need rules.
But following the rules should simply be an extension of what's going on in our kids hearts. We can make all the rules we want to, but if our children don't have a reason to follow them, then they're just a restriction to push against.
We want our kids to follow the rules because they are following Jesus. God gave out rules to keep His people safe and to set them apart for Him. When we follow Jesus, our actions that honor God are an extension of the love we feel for Him.
If our kids are having trouble following rules, then they most likely have a heart problem, not a rule problem. Focus on the attitude and the heart behind their rule-breaking.
- Let your discipline be focused on creating a heart change, not just a child who follows the rule. For example, if a child breaks your "Respect others" rule, then make the discipline be about serving someone else.
- Pray for and with your kids about the areas in which they struggle. Ask your kids to point out areas where they think they struggle most, then pray with them.
- Create rules that focus on the heart. For example, instead of making a rule that says "Don't hit your sister," make the rule say, "Respect others." This gives your kids an understanding of the type of heart God wants them to have, not just on the letter of the law.
Following Jesus isn't about following rules. It's about letting our love for Him overflow so that our actions reflect Him. We want to raise kids who live lives of character because they know Jesus, not kids who follow the letter but not the spirit of the law.