I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free. Psalm 119:32
As a family, we rarely eat out. But on vacation in Maine a few weeks ago, we ate out at least once a day. The first few days were at very kid friendly places: places with picnic tables on an expanse of lawn with outdoor games. One restaurant even had an indoor game room next to its picnic tables. It was appropriate and okay for the kids to nibble on their pizza or chicken nuggets, go play, come back and nibble again, and repeat. It made it nice for my husband and me because, for the most part, we were eating dinner alone, like a date-night without having to pay a sitter.
But further into the week, we ended up at a more traditional restaurant in Bar Harbor where the expectation was to stay in our seats for the entire meal. I was utterly horrified by my kids’ behavior! They were extremely loud, up and down in their seats, and seemed to have forgotten every rule I have ever taught them about table manners and behavior. I got so fed up, I actually withdrew into myself, waving the white flag of defeat, leaving my husband to deal with it all, while I sulked and felt like a failure as a mother.
I was so busy stewing in my disappointment, I never made the connection: my kids were acting like they had in the previous Maine restaurants, without rules, without boundaries. They didn’t recognize the venue shift. If I had picked up on that, if I had reestablished proper restaurant etiquette, reviewed table manners, redefined what was and wasn’t appropriate behavior, I’m sure we would have had a wonderful meal: them behaving, me enjoying their company without having to scold and threaten them.
Although it sounds like a contradiction, rules can lead to freedom. But as a mother, my job is to define those rules clearly and repeatedly. I can’t presume that my children can remember them or adapt them to different situations; they’re just kids, after all. Once that is done, and once they understand and accept those rules, they behave so much better. Moreover, they feel more free. They can still be silly, imaginative, and playful without wondering if and when “Mean Mommy” is going to appear, scream and yell, punish them, or sit and sulk. They understand the boundaries because I have outlined them.
God does the same for us with the Ten Commandments. In ten straight forward steps, He establishes the boundaries, defines right from wrong, and outlines His expectations of us.
As a child, I liked the black and white of the Commandments. It took the guess work out of wondering whether I was doing what I should or not. Then I became the quintessential young adult who found those rules too confining, too strict, too suffocating. I didn’t want to be told what I could and couldn’t do. Those were the years when I tested those boundaries, stepped into the gray, floundered. I had a great deal of fun, but I wouldn’t say I was at peace.
Peace is an important element of freedom. Without it, there’s always a shadow, a cloud blocking out some of the light. Some people are okay settling for that, but I wanted more.
I wanted to walk in complete light. I wanted true peace, the kind that doesn’t crumble with hardships or challenges, because life will always be filled with plenty of both.
Consequently, I had no choice but to strive towards a more mature faith. Maturity is recognizing limits and understanding why they exist, then accepting them. Maturity is making the right choices, not the easy ones. Maturity is realizing that I have three little sets of eyes watching my every move, following my every example. It’s one thing to make a bad or selfish choice for myself, but to see that bad or selfish choice mirrored in my kids’ is unacceptable.
Thus I am conforming, or at least I am trying. Of course I stumble and back-step, I am human after all. But when I am on course, when I am making right choices within the boundaries of the Ten Commandments, I feel a wave of deep peace and freedom. Once you feel that wave, you crave more and more. Who doesn’t want more peace in their lives?
Therefore, like I need to constantly review restaurant etiquette with my kids to keep them mindful of the rules, I need to constantly review the Ten Commandments for myself, to keep me mindful of God’s rules. Sure, I had to memorize them as a kid in CCD class. But there is a great difference between memorizing something, versus ingesting it at heart level. The first leads to regurgitating rules; the second leads to a journey between the boundary lines flooded with light.
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