Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Demanding Obedience

If you had been in my house this morning, you would have heard a grand total of about two sentences come out of my mouth.

  1. “Pick up your crayons and put them in the box."
  2. “Pick up your shoes and put them in the basket.”

The first one lasted for about twenty minutes. Claire loves to have a task to complete, but the one thing that she always balks at is putting her crayons away. So, of course, when I explained that it was time to put up the crayons before moving on to the next activity, she found plenty of excuses…She tried distraction (“Oh look Mom, it’s Daddy’s contact case…isn’t it interesting??”); she tried pouting and even throwing a minor tantrum, but it did nothing to change my response or my instructions; and she tried running away, but my arm was always too quick for her to get too far away. Finally she put them away, and even closed the box and went to put it up on the bookshelf. I felt like supermom.

That was the first one.

But the second one. Oh, the second one.

It was such a simple request…put your shoes in the basket. She loves to put her shoes in the basket. She has never refused before. I still don’t know what happened. But somehow I went from feeling like supermom to just feeling super tired.

For over an hour (don’t miss that please…OVER AN HOUR), we went round and round. Here was the script that we repeated…

Me: “Pick up your shoes and put them in the basket.”

Claire: Falls down in the floor and screams.

Me: Going about my business, trying not to reward the tantrum with attention. Washing dishes, cleaning the bathroom, vacuuming the floor, etc.

Claire: Attempts to grab a book off the shelf; tries to pull her toys out of the corner; asks for a snack; plays the piano.

Me: Pick Claire up, return her to the middle of the living room floor, and say, “Pick up your shoes and put them in the basket.”

Claire: Falls down in the floor and screams.

Etc. etc. etc.

The tears came harder. The screams got louder and longer. My prayers got more fervent. At one point I thought it was over. She actually picked up the shoes…and proceeded to throw them back to the floor. Oh, the depravity of mankind.

Yes, we did finally end this little scene. She did eventually, with angry tears still spilling from her eyes, put her shoes in the basket. And we proceeded to have major cuddle time on the couch as I reassured her of my love for her. Now everything is quiet. Claire is asleep (or at least pretending to be) and I am – well – tired. And so incredibly thankful. I am thankful that God is a teacher and that becoming a parent is the most intense lesson plan He has carried out in my life so far. (And I know that it’s only beginning.)

The entire time that we were on this merry-go-round this morning, I kept thinking, “Is this how God sees my sin?” I was so grieved over Claire’s stubbornness. I wanted so badly for her to obey so that she would stop crying and be free to play with her other toys. I was so frustrated because I knew that she understood what I was asking, and honestly I just wasn’t even asking that much. I kept putting her back in a position to obey by moving her to the middle of the floor where her shoes were, and yet even when I gently placed her right in front of her shoes, she responded by arching her back and screaming. I repeated my instructions every time so that she wouldn’t forget exactly what I was asking. And believe it or not, I didn’t get angry. I was just so sad.

Why didn’t my one-year-old get it? She caused so much distress for herself by refusing to obey one simple command. She restricted her own freedom by exerting a stubborn will.

I’m beginning to understand more and more God’s heart of love in calling us to obedience. For me, it wasn’t about the shoes. It was about my daughter hearing my voice and heeding my instruction. The shoes really didn’t matter. If they remained in the floor all day, no one would have noticed and nothing would have been harmed. But I want to train her in righteousness now, with simple commands, so that she understands the importance of obedience. I pray for her to have a teachable heart, a sensitive spirit. I want her to understand the joy and freedom brought by obedience.

When God instructed His children as they were standing at the edge of the promised land, He emphasized that obedience to His commands would bring life and fulfillment. Our holy God expects us to live righteously, and His commands are motivated by love. He wants us to enjoy life (Deuteronomy 6:2). He wants things to go well with us (Deuteronomy 6:3). But just like toddlers, we so often buck up at His commandments as if they are restrictive and hard, forgetting that Jesus’ yoke is easy (Matthew 11:30) and God’s commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5:3)!

This post may not make much sense, especially if it turns out to be as scattered as my thoughts are right now. But I wanted to write down what I was thinking before the next tantrum comes along, so I can remember in the heat of the moment God’s perfect love in demanding obedience.

And now, I think I shall go have a cup of hot tea. Or a nap.