Saturday, March 3, 2012

I don't want obedient children...

Sometimes my kids struggle with impulsiveness. As I spoke to one, yet again, about an impulsive move this week, thinking in my head of how weary I am of repeating myself on this subject, the thought hit me like a ton of bricks.

"That's not how I feel about your impulsiveness". Wait. What? Are you talking to me, God? As I pondered this interfering thought worming its way through my brain, my initial resistance was "I'm not impulsive". Yeah. Right.

That was JUST the thought needed to trigger example after example of impulsive words, reactions, thoughts, actions, attitudes, decisions, purchases to come flooding into my mind... Ouch. Impulsive? Me? Mmm-hmm.

Yet, here I've been 'correcting' this behavior in my own children without having the insight of correcting it in myself. Double ouch.

We are learning how to exercise and grow the spiritual muscle of Self-Control this week in our studies (thus, my particularly long-winded talk with my boy on an impulsive move. Grab those teachable moments, right?! UGH).

But it's so easy for me to take the role of abstract teacher, above the lesson, and not apply this lesson I want my children to embrace to myself. Say it with me now - hyp.O.crite. Yep, bona fide and convicted.

So, when I begin to lecture about the benefits of shaking off impulsive choices and behavior, who am I talking to? If it is to my children ONLY and not to my own heart, what does that do but drive a wedge between my children and myself?

When the onion is peeled back, we see that what drives my motive is for my children to be seen as obedient. Yet, again, who is the audience of this obedience? Friends? Family? Strangers? Big deal. Those people, and their opinions of me and my children don't matter (no offense, family and friends; hang in here to see my point). My concern should ONLY be with the one audience that DOES matter - God. So, if I have obedient children on the outside but their hearts are standing in rebellion, is that considered successful parenting?! I think not. If I orchestrate obedient children and garner praise from others but have a disobedient heart myself? What have I gained? Nothing. I have taught my children an empty faith and an empty relationship with our Creator God.

I should want more than an obedient child. I should want more than a outward appearance of obedience but harbor rebellion in my heart. And in my children's hearts. I cannot worship at the altar of obedience as though that is THE pinnacle moment in parenting. Or in my own life for that matter.

Is obedience important? Required of us by God? You bet'cha. But more than focusing on obedience I want to embrace - for myself and my children - virtues of God. In fact, John 1:53 says "this is love for God; that we obey His commands". Obeying is important. But like God, I want it to come from a place of love and desire to do so willingly, not forcefully. And not without developing other virtues of God. It's silly to think that we can teach our children - or ourselves - obedience in a vacuum. As though it is not connected to any other action or virtue.

So, here is what I desire of me and my boys:

Think David. God wants a heart that is after His own. Does that mean he demands perfect obedience from us? No. It does mean, though, that He wants us to want what He wants? Yep. He wants us to strive, knowing we are imperfect, for obedience and self-discipline. Does he want perfection? Does he want an outward appearance of obedience but an inward slant toward rebellion? Not a chance.

Grace. If the message of grace isn't picked up from Genesis to Revelation, I think a re-reading of the Bible is needed. There isn't a book of the Bible that doesn't gush with God's undeserved grace toward us, broken sinners. He gives us chance, after chance, after chance, after.. well, you get my point. If we struggle to extend grace to others (extending understanding of imperfection - both mine and theirs), then obedience is empty and hollow. Where does that get me?? The Pharisees obeyed. Right down to the very last law yet Jesus looked down on them for their empty hearts, unable to extend grace.

Love. It seems like this has been overemphasized in our church collective lately (and I would agree) but one can't get away from God's unconditional, mercy-giving, slate-wiping, erased memory kind of love. You just can't get away from it. The greatest of these IS love.

Joy. If I have taught my children to obey (or myself) but am empty of the sweet, redeeming joy that comes from the release of sin of the great things He has done for us, then.. well, I've missed the boat, folks. To rob myself and my children of the joy only Jesus can bring in my attempt at worshiping a standard of obedience is ludicrous. Seriously. Think about it. Big deal, my kids (or I) obey but I am rude, mean-spirited, IMPULSIVE in word and deed, grumpy, impatient, negative or complaining... then I have missed Jesus' words. I've read them but not absorbed them in my heart to make the necessary changes.

And finally... obedience. (yes, it DOES seem I'm contradicting myself here). Let me explain. I want obedience from my children JUST as God wants obedience from me, His daughter. But He doesn't want the first-time, robotic obedience that a moralistic formula tells us how to train. He wants my heart. He wants my joy. He wants my love. He wants my understanding and remorse over having done wrong. VOLUNTARILY. NOT Formulaic-ly (yes, I just made that word up). He wants voluntary obedience, not dictated, empty obedience. He wants me (and my children) to get to a point in my relationship with Him that I obey BECAUSE I WANT TO. NOT because He told me to or "it's the right thing to do as a Christian" or to keep up appearances and earn praise from others. He doesn't want empty obedience.

He wants my heart. It all starts and ends with the condition of my heart.

True obedience can get messy. Matters of the heart, well, they are messy too. Sometimes I don't hear Him prompting me to obey. Sometimes - oh, I hear him alright but... I ignore Him, thinking I know better. Sometimes.. well, I just choose to openly rebel. Sometimes (often times for me, actually), it takes SEV.ER.AL times for me to learn a lesson in obedience. Several. As in 7x70. Call me thickheaded. It's ok, I won't be offended. It's not always first-time obedience. Let's get real, it often NOT first-time obedience. Yet, He waits. He engages me... if I engage back. To soften my heart. To transform meTo be open to radical change in my heart, until finally, I conform to look more and more like Him - in word and deed.

More than immediate obedience to do what I say or be appropriate, I want a heart that embraces His love, joy, grace and from that, out of a true desire to follow, obedience. In me. And my children.

I leave you with an Anthem Lights song that captures what I want me (and my response) to God to be... Who wouldn't want to move to a closer heart of voluntary obedience when you think about His love and grace?? (Pardon the big hair in this video).

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2

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