“If you love me, keep my commands….Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. “ John 14:15, 21
Maybe it’s because of what God is doing in my family’s life right now (you can read about that here), but I have been thinking a lot about obedience. Specifically, I have been thinking and praying about how to encourage my children to be obedient. As a family, we talk a lot about how we have decided to become missionaries because we love Jesus and want to be obedient. We hope our children catch a glimpse of what that really means as we continue to move forward and press on in obedience even when it gets hard. Interestingly, while talking to them about what the Lord is requiring of us, I feel like the Holy Spirit has been convicting me a little bit about what I expect from my kids.
Because I have studied it more than once, I know there are different theories on moral development and the reasoning stages children go through. But I’m not going to get all Piaget and Kohlberg on you. I will just say I don’t want my children to get stuck following the rules because they are afraid of getting in trouble or because they think they have to look and be “good” for me to love them (or for God to love them). Just like God wants our obedience to overflow from the love in our hearts for Him, I want my kids to obey me because they love me and know I have their best interest at heart.
Something I have come to realize lately is that when I get frustrated with my kiddos for being disobedient I’m not sure I always do have their best interests in mind. Because of that, it’s really important to check myself and the situation. Yes, I want my children to obey; but I have become aware that the things I demand of my children can sometimes be unfair, premature, selfish and prideful. In light of that, I have been learning that it’s important for me to differentiate between behavior that requires grace and behavior that requires discipline. Recently the Lord has been laying the following two areas that require grace on my heart:
Public Embarrassment – the “what will people think” behaviors
We’ve all been shopping at Target or Walmart and our kid is doing something like singing gleefully at the top of his lungs. It could be “Twinkle-Twinkle” or “Jesus Loves Me”; but whatever it is, it’s loud and jubilant and a broken record. As people’s smiles turn to glares your body temperature starts to rise and you begin to shush your soloist to no avail. After unsuccessfully trying to persuade him with the promise of a treat and asking him to stop five times, you realize it doesn’t matter how much you threaten. Johnny just doesn’t understand why singing loudly in public is not appropriate and isn’t going to stop. You are angry and feel like screaming. Why? Because what Johnny is doing is wrong or because you are embarrassed and fear people will think you are a terrible mother who has no control over her child?
Now, this might seem like a silly example, but if I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that about half the time I get frustrated with my kiddos in public it’s because I’m afraid people are looking at their behavior and judging me. That’s when I have to stop and remind myself that my most important audience is not all the strangers watching me, but the little ones watching who need my love and acceptance along with gentle instruction after we leave the store that perhaps exuberant singing is something we save for home and church.
Developmental Ignorance – the “you’re acting your age” behaviors
Another situation in which I often fail at showing grace is those times when my kiddos are doing something that is annoying, but developmentally appropriate. We would never in a million years get angry at our infant for putting his favorite rattle in his mouth and drooling all over the place. So, why do I get frustrated with my three year old when he destroys the train track I painstakingly worked for a half hour to build? Or, why do I find myself wanting to shout at my six year old for wasting hundreds of pieces of paper for drawings and “stories” that she writes? They are just acting their age.
My husband and I discuss this quite frequently. When our kids are doing something that seems silly, before we get upset we must always ask ourselves if they are just being NORMAL. If they are, they don’t need our condemnation. They just need our love, and possibly a clear explanation as to how they might do things better.
I am so grateful that we serve a God who demands our obedience but also earns it by the unconditional, grace-filled love He shows. That’s the kind of mom I want to be and am praying we can all be today. If you’d like, please join me in praying this prayer:
“Father in Heaven, thank You for the tremendous blessing of being a mom. Forgive me for the times when my demands for obedience have been selfish or unjustified. Please help me to love my children like you love today. Guide me in my discipline and correction. May it be grace-filled, life-giving and obedience-provoking, with Your help. Amen.”