(Not gonna lie folks...this is a long one...this is what happens when I can't find the time to get words in my brain down onto paper any sooner...I'd love to hear thoughts if you find the time to hang with me=)
Obedience. Grace. Salvation. JESUS.
These are the words God keeps rolling over my mind with a rolling pin, gently kneading me into the tasteful creation He has in mind. I'm grateful that He's still kneading and hasn't needed to start pounding yet;)
Obedience. I'm starting to realize more and more what God means when He says children are a gift from the Lord. They are not just a gift to the one's who are "ready"--the pregnant 13 year old is evidence of this. They are not just a gift to those who are prepared, healthy, financially secure, or "at the right place in life." They are not just a gift to those who want them, to those who are spiritually or in any other way mature. Children are simply, straight up, an undeserved gift from the Lord. Next to salvation, maybe one of the most profound gifts He gives to teach us about Himself and ourselves. I find this to be truer every day.
Every time I begin to grapple with the deep responsibility of raising my children in the Lord, I am faced with overcoming my own hypocrisy. If I am to teach my children to obey, I must obey. Sounds basic right? Really? Is it? What does obedience mean? Why do we obey? What's our motivation?
For me, I would go out on a limb to say obedient is probably a word I would use to describe myself growing up. I mean all kids mess up, but in comparison, overall, I think my parents would back me in saying I was a rather obedient child. Obedient to the point where friends and family constantly made fun of me for being a goodie-two-shoes or being too straight-laced and/or naive. The question I am examining now is why have I always been obedient? Sometimes it was obedience out of fear of getting caught, fear of punishment, fear in general. I think mostly I obeyed in order to gain approval, acceptance, and favor. Sometimes I obeyed blindly for no other reason than it was "the right thing to do," or it was what I was told to do. All of those reasons may be good reasons on occasions in certain situations to obey, but the problem comes in that none of these reasons captured my heart. None of these reasons reached into the core of my being and produced a heartfelt, desired obedience--a joy-filled reaction prompted out of deep devotion that lasts over time. All of these reasons produce temporary obedience where pros and cons have been weighed and obedience is volunteered. I'm beginning to believe that true obedience is involuntary.
So when I look at my children, and I try to teach them true obedience--a truly captured, heartfelt response that produces joy-motivated action--what is the key? This is the answer I have come to embrace: LOVE. When I love Jesus with all I am in all I do, when the things I say are centered around loving Him, when the things I think and do are focused around how to show Him I love Him, I end up obeying His Word without even trying!!!! And I don't know about you, but this AHA! moment is changing the burden this life can lay on my shoulders. The only thing I really have to do is love Jesus.
Throw the long lists of to-dos out the window. I don't HAVE to DO anything. I don't have to have an hour long quiet time, or go to church every Sunday, or teach three different Bible studies, or attend two other Bible studies, or pray unceasingly all the time, or do, do, do, do, do. I don't HAVE to do any of this. The only thing I HAVE to do is love Jesus. (After all, as a Christ-follower, this is the greatest commandment. Matthew 22:36) If in doing so, if in response to the Holy Spirit out of love, I feel moved to do these other things, then to God be the glory! There is no burden felt when you do things out of love. Think about that. And if there is a burden felt, it's not the same as the burden of a "HAVE to", it's the weighty joy of the burden of a "WANT to." That's what my new prayer has become--Father give me the desire to want to love You in all things.
My inmost being is captivated with my beloved Christ. I want my outward being to show that to be true.
And my kids? The only thing they really have to do is love Jesus as well, but until they can grasp that and understand that, I teach them to love Jesus by my example of loving Jesus. I love them, they learn to love me in return. If I can teach them obedience stems from love for others--a love for Christ, that would be a foundation that will answer every why in life to come.
Sidebar: (I can only hope a conversation like this goes down one day: "Savannah, why do you listen to your parents and do what they say to do all the time?" "I don't know. I guess because I love them, and I know they love me too." Really? That's a hard answer to argue, right? If only my children would be this secure in our love for each other in Christ! Oh the things they will accomplish for God out of pure love for Him!)
So in essence, Savannah learns to obey me because she loves me. Does God Himself not say, "If you love me, you will obey what I command." (John 14:15) Would it be so wrong to say the same thing to my own children, "If you love God, you will obey what I ask of you."? Whoa. Talk about some weighty words. This assumes that the things I ask of them are of God, that I'm loving God in what I ask of them to do. Gut check. I better be 100% sure of my heart motives and directly plugged into the Holy Spirit before I require obedience of my kids.
And so, what about when Savannah doesn't obey me? This is why it hurts so much--it's a form of rejection of me. She's not loving me when she disobeys. Just like I'm not loving Christ when I disobey Him. Double ouch.
Therein lies the beauty and deep undeserved blessing of grace. I do not live condemned or guilty though that is how this world will make you feel, and that is the prison in which satan will try to hold you. I am a new creation in God's sight by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. God shows the ultimate love of us all by freely offering this grace along with the gift of salvation. This makes me love Him even more!!! In all humility and unworthiness, I love Him deeper for this ultimate sacrifice and gift.
Therefore, I must learn to freely offer His grace to my children as well. Immediate obedience needs to be taught. Consistent obedience needs to be taught. But my children must also experience His grace through me, or that deep love will never grow, and involuntary (true) obedience will never be experienced.
What does this look like? Well, that's a harder question to answer. Let me retell a story to illustrate...
My babysitter caught Savannah in a lie the other night. Called her out on the carpet for it too. "Savannah, you know you just lied to me, right?" Savannah simply nodded. My babysitter extended her grace by not punishing her anymore than simply calling the sin to her attention. She moved on through the evening routine with the children. Randomly throughout the rest of the night, Savannah would come running to her, balling her eyes out for no apparent reason. Finally, during one of her random fits of crying, she confesses to our babysitter, "Miss Savannah, (yes, our sitter's name is also Savannah) I just want to say I'm really sorry for lying to you." Our sitter's heart melted, and she comforted our daughter by saying, "Ah, sweetie. It's ok. I forgive you, and I'm not mad at you. You can stop crying." And the crying stopped.
All that to say, the grace our babysitter (probably unknowingly) extended to Savannah by not punishing her for the lie ultimately allowed the Holy Spirit the time and space needed to work in her little heart. She ended up showing obedience by confessing to the lie and asking for forgiveness without any punishment needing to be given. And let me tell you, I guarantee Savannah loves and respects our babysitter even more now than she even did before--and believe me, they l-o-v-e her. My kids practically kick us out the door when she shows up.
Now obviously there is always a time and place for discipline and appropriate consequences--these build boundaries, trust, and security for our children, but every now and then, grace extended under the right circumstance reaps true obedience and captures the heart. Grace and obedience must work hand in hand with love. I'm not even sure you can really separate the three anymore.
Maybe the harder question to answer is when do you extend grace or extend discipline? Well, since we are not God, we will never do this perfectly like He does. Who are we to question His methods with certain people, right? So really the best answer is we have to be so in love with Jesus and God and His Word that the Holy Spirit is our mind's guide, not our fleshly conscience. So I'm left to circle back around to this very concept again, I must simply love Jesus. Every day I'm still learning what this looks like, feels like, and lives like.
I think I will spend the rest of my life learning this....kind of exciting...kind of thrilling...kind of gives life meaningful purpose...trying to actually love Christ as much as He loves me. The ultimate challenge. Never attainable, but isn't it human nature to at least try to attain the unattainable? I think God made us this way on purpose, so that we will never get bored in eternity trying to out-love Him=) At least this goal helps me live a life worth living in the process.
So if someone were to ask me right now, what is your purpose in life? My purpose is to love Jesus. And if they ask me why? Well! Just let me tell you what He did for me.....=)