Little man was playing with daddy yesterday. I smiled as I overheard their conversation:
Daddy: "We will play with your train set, but first I want you to clean up these toys."
Little man: "Okay, daddy. Okay. I will clean them up right now."
I smiled because we have never forced our son to say, "Okay," when we make a request of him. Yes, when we have a specific request we make sure that we follow through, that our request gets headed, that our words have meaning. And our little guy does not always say, "okay," when we ask something of him. Sometimes, our requests make him upset.
So hearing, "Okay, daddy. I will," just melts our hearts. Why? Because it is a response to us that comes straight from the heart of our precious child. It is a response that we did not force or manipulate. It is a response based on our child's love for us.
That being said, I wish to clarify before going any further that my children are human. I am not any more shocked when they mess up, then when I myself do. My husband and I are not aiming to grow children who are models of exemplary behavior. We are aiming to raise children who understand that God's grace in Christ covers all our sins; children who understand that Jesus wants us to have an authentic relationship with Him.
Philippians 2:5-8 describes true obedience as exemplified by Christ himself:
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
The beauty of Jesus' obedience here? His obedience was a choice. It was a choice for Him to humble himself. It was a choice for Him to sacrifice His life for us. God did not say, "Jesus, you are my beloved son, so I am going to force you to obey, because that is the right thing for you to do." No, Jesus had a perfect, intimate relationship with God; He was God; yet, He chose obedience.
You see, integral to genuine obedience is choice. When we force our children to "hop to it" and do what we say, or else, we teach them to comply. Many children are labeled as obedient because they immediately, without question, do what their parents tell them to do; I would label these children as "compliant," because they are doing what their parents tell them to in order to a)avoid punishment and b)avoid parental disapproval.
That is not to say that I don't help my son comply with my requests. I choose to do this without the use of punishments of any type. But, to keep my children safe, to teach them to become responsible citizens, I require compliance, with the offer of help if they are having trouble complying on their own.
Yet, this leads to the question of our ultimate goal as parents: is it to have children who are compliant, or children who understand what it means to genuinely obey from the heart? Many times throughout the Bible, the following phrase is used: "the obedience of faith." It provides a wonderful example of what genuine obedience erupts from. When we choose to believe what God says, when we choose to trust Him, we are exhibiting the obedience of faith. And what brings us to this obedience? It is a confidence that God can be trusted; that in His very nature, He is good. It is a confidence that what He says is true. It is an assurance that we are perfectly accepted in the Beloved. It is the rest that is found in knowing that we do not need to do anything to please God, because Christ did it all, and we are hidden in Him.
God NEVER uses force, fear, or coercion, though He has every right to, to get us to trust Him. Instead, He first restores relationship with us through Jesus. Then He invites us to daily walk in that relationship, which involves the obedience of faith.
As we care for, protect, guide, nurture, and correct our children, we must remember that our job as parents is not to somehow force our children to obey (though we often graciously help them to comply).
You see, obedience is a choice, a decision, that God wants our children to make on their own; devoid of any coercion on our parts. Children are told to obey their parents in both Ephesians and Colossians. We as parents need to recognize that obedience to us is something that God asks our children, not us, to accomplish. We also need to ask ourselves if our behavior toward our children invites them into a freedom-filled relationship with us; a relationship based on grace; a relationship in which obedience spontaneously erupts from a heart of love. We need to make sure that we are not parenting to impress others with our compliant children.
As our Father has so tenderly extended His love toward us, let us in turn reciprocate this love to our children. It may make our parenting look more messy than some, but for me, this messiness is worth the end product: children who understand obedience as a choice, and choose to obey anyways.