Discretion Over Restriction

Many well-meaning Christian parents mistake stringent rule-making for good parenting. Being strict does not mean you are a good parent. There is a corollary to this in the sports world. If you are an athlete or a fan, you have probably experienced a coach who was very strict but did not actually teach the game very well. I once played for a coach who made his players work very hard, and he gave us lots of rules. We were very disciplined, and many guys on the team thought that they were good ballplayers because they did everything the coach told them to do. However, they never actually developed the skills they needed to play the game well. When a game situation got tight, all the discipline in the world didn't help because those players lacked basic skill.

The Bible never tells parents to make a lot of rules for their kids and force their kids to obey them. The Bible says to train your kids. Training your children does often include making rules (I am not advocating a laissez faire approach to parenting), but the rules should never be the be-all-end-all of life. Your children need basic skills to navigate life successfully. If you are a believer, these basic skills must be based on the Word of God.

The Bible says in Deuteronomy 6:5-7 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. This says nothing about making rules. It says that you should obey God's rule-to love Him most and put Him first. Furthermore, you should diligently (big effort word) and constantly teach your children to do the same. This does not mean making a rule that you have to go to church, you have to bring your Bible, and you have to memorize your verses. Training your children means that first you model these activities for your children, and then you carefully, continuously explain the purpose and the merits of loving God in these ways.

In Proverbs 3:1, 6:20, and 7:1-2, admonitions are given to obey the commands of one's father, but they are always in conjunction with the careful teaching that was given surrounding those commands. In Ephesians 6:1 children are commanded to obey their parents, but in 6:4 fathers are warned not to drive their children to anger through harshness apart from careful instruction. The thing that scares me is that when rules are stressed apart from instruction, discretion is lost. A good illustration is driving the speed limit. I try to follow the speed limit (or pretty close to it). In fact when I am driving that is normally the primary thing about which I am concerned. This means that I constantly monitor how fast I am going. I want to stay inside the legal limit, but I want to go as fast as possible and still be legal. On more than one occasion in bad weather my wife has had to remind me that although I am allowed to go 65, I am not obligated to do so. I become so focused on the rule that my discretion is lost. Driving 65 in the pouring rain is a bad idea, but I lose sight of that fact because I am so focused on the limit.

Once again, let me stress that I am not suggesting that you jettison all rules for your children. Rather I am suggesting that you teach them life skills (such as "though you are allowed to drive 65 on this road, when it is raining, 45 might be a better idea) that make the rules you have in place make sense. In the spiritual realm it takes the form of Paul's instruction to the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 6:12. Paul says that there are some things that are allowable, but they are not helpful in certain situations...so he doesn't do them. This is difficult to teach children. It is a long, slow, and very involved process.It is much easier to make a bunch of rules and say, "I am your dad. While you live in my house, you live by my rules." The problem is that your kids won't always live in your house. They will make their own decisions one day. It is much better to train your kids to live their lives based on biblical principles and as they start to understand how to make Biblical decisions, let your children make some decisions. By allowing your children to make some choices (some of which may be regrettable), you will have further opportunity to train and help. Do not force your children to make life decisions for themselves for the first time when they are outside your sphere of influence.

Teach your children. Train your children. Show your children how to live life for God. Then, (here's the hard part) loosen your grip a little and let them show discretion based on your good training. I promise you that you will sleep better at night if your child has discretion rather than just the ability to follow rules.




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