Please Obey...Or Else...

"Please obey." 

My children know what these words mean. It means mom is done negotiating and consequences are coming. I suppose it is my version of counting to three.

I started using these words after coming to the realization that almost all of my children's behavior is rooted in disobedience. When they take a toy, they are not only being selfish, they are disobeying, because we've told them sharing is kind and so that is what is expected of them. If they hit a sister, they are not only hurting sister, they are disobeying because we've told them to use words to communicate anger, not hands. If they lie, they are not only hiding the truth, they are disobeying, because we have told them to speak the truth always. 

I've wondered how it is that disobedience is always at the root, but then I remember that disobedience is rooted in an even deeper issue. Idolatry. Sounds too heavy? I agree, yet the immensity of our sin is usually greater than we realize when we stop long enough to dig at the roots a bit. You see, disobedience is the act of rebellion against an authority that we are expected to submit to, and allegiance to our selves. If we, as parents, were not the God-ordained authority in our children's lives, than there would be no need for them to obey us, or to obey God. Yet, by God's design, parents are meant to oversee the conduct of their children's behavior, and more importantly, the  intentions of their hearts. The thorns that we wrestle with in this work is that we have been given children who, like us, have a sinful and depraved nature, and so they will constantly try to place themselves on the throne of their life, worshipping their own desires above God. That is idolatry. Some would disagree, saying that bad behavior is learned, however, in ten years of parenting, I never once sat down with my 2-year-old and said, "Today, Sweetie, Mommy is going to teach you how to scream the word no at Mommy repeatedly, and then lay on the ground and refuse to do what Mommy has asked you to do." Never once did I do that. All of my children instinctively knew how to insist on getting their own way. How about yours? I think it's safe to say I don't agree with the theory that bad behavior is taught. 

So what is a parent, who desperately longs for their children to obey with happy hearts, to do? Pray. Pray often. Because the scary reality is that while our children our small, we can outweigh and intimidate them. We can trick, manipulate, and physically force them to obey. But one day, those tiny tots will be adult-sized and obedience will have to be the choice they make willingly. We won't be able to force them into obedience. It is so important that we pray for their hearts to be changed, and deal, not just with their behavior, but with the true issues of their hearts. A heart that has been changed by the Gospel is a heart that willingly obeys. I don't just want my children to obey, I want them to want to obey. But I am not God, and I do not have the power to change their hearts. All I can do is ask the Holy Spirit to do the work in their hearts that only he can do. When I trust his work, then I can help them understand their own hearts better, the sin that is trying to destroy them, and the hope we have in Jesus to save us from our own hearts and sin. 

One of the best books I've read and referred to again and again in the last ten years is Shepherding a Child's Heart by Tedd Tripp. He writes,

What is important in correction is not venting your feelings, anger or hurt; it is, rather, understanding the nature of the struggle that your child is having. What is important is understanding the "why" of what has been done or said. You need to understand not just what has happened, but what is going on within you child. Remember, it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks. 

Here's why this is so hard for me. It takes time! It takes more energy to sit with my disobedient child and uncover the "why" behind their disobedience. It is much quicker and immediately easier to snap out some harsh words followed by a threat. It is so tempting to just deal with the behavior and move on and never take the time to address the heart behind the behavior. But, in the long run, when I follow this principle of taking time to understand what's going on in my kid's hearts, and to help them understand it too, there is so much more joy in our relationship! I have seen repentance and real change in my children when we address the issues of sin in their heart and ask the Holy Spirit for help. 

And this isn't just true for our children, it true for us as well. When we only ever deal with our behavior in a self-help kind of way, we never really deal with our hearts, and we find ourselves very distant from our Father. But when we take the time to let him search our hearts, and put his finger on the sins that are hiding there, we find the desire to repent, experience freedom from our own natures, and joy in our relationship with him.

My prayer for you and me, today is that we will determine to pursue our children's hearts above their behavior. I pray that especially on those days when we are weary and tempted to shoot from the hip, that we press into the redemptive work of Jesus and allow him to lead us to a better way of both disciplining and discipling our children. I pray that today, you and I will receive his grace for the mistakes we've made (and will make), and move forward encouraged by the mercy that is new every morning, and teach it to our sweet babies. 

Obedience is better than sacrifice...rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols.    1 Samuel 15:22 NLT

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.   Psalm 51:10 ESV

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any devious way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!    Psalm 139:23-24