My new reign of terror kicked off reasonably well yesterday. It helps when the place is basically picked up, so that you are not mincing your steps through land mines of junk. It’s easier to end the day with a clean school room if it began that way in the first place.
But there is ever the tension, in moments where you again begin paying attention, when you had been letting yourself constantly fall into distraction, between a child quickly doing what you say, and you being ready to deal if they don’t. It’s a royal hassle to give a direction and then stick around to make sure it is carried out, when there are so many other things you’d rather do, like looking at your phone. I’m saying ‘you’ but I trust we all understand that of course I’m talking about myself. If there’s a moment of hesitation on the part of the child, it must immediately be treated as disobedience. And it must be you that treats it so.
My children are terrible at counting, so I comfort myself, because I never have done it for them, the long stringing out of time to consider if they want to do what I said or not. The moment of decision, for them, needs to happen instantly. If I speak, you say, “yes ma’m”, or in the case of Four year old Baby Euodia (still trying to land on a really stellar blog name. Matt’s been objecting to Egglantine from the get go) “yes sir”, ma’m being just too many things right now, and then do it. If you have a clarifying question, it has to be asked after you said “yes ma’m”. Yes Ma’m really functions like “say uncle”, or give up and go do what I said.
That’s the ideal, whoever can meet it, certainly not me with any degree of perfection. And as an ideal, it does cut across every cultural norm of the day. The modern child should, as far as I can make out from reading the Internet, exercise his choices and his autonomy, and if he chooses not to obey you, that’s ok. Maybe he will some day. His soul needs to unfold, or something, into the delicate flower that it is. Obedience might play a part in that unfolding, but if its there, it’s a very small part.
The trouble with the view of the child as an autonomous delicate soul is that it doesn’t account for scripture or reality. Obedience, from God’s perspective, is a life or death matter. If you can’t obey God, you will die. And so we all die. We cannot obey. We are all headed down to the grave cloaked in disobedience and rebellion. At the end of Deuteronomy, instructions are given by Moses to the people about a rite they must perform, once they enter the land. Half of them will have to stand on one hill and half on another hill. And from one hill, blessings will be enumerated and cried out. And from the other hill, curses. Both the blessings and curses are substantial, material, and, if you go back over them a few times, cutting to the heart of who you are. Not only is your stuff and your body in view, but the relative sorrowing or happiness of your soul. Either you will have what you need and be happy and satisfied, of you will be broken in mind, body and spirit. Which is it gonna be? The people of Israel all promise to obey, with every good intention of the will. But they won’t be able to do it. They will disobey. They are promising to do something impossible.
Which is why the law, without the gospel, is so cruel. Practically every day I get advertisements for new Sunday school curriculum and sometimes I try to look and see what I might see. And believe me, it is hard to find a curriculum that isn’t comprised of the simple easy message, Be Good and Kind and God will Love You. Which is the ugliest trap to fall into in parenting also, as foul as not laying down the law in the first place. The message must be, God himself commands it to be: You Must be Good, You Cannot be Good, I Came to be Good on your Behalf. The extraordinary thing about the blessings of Deuteronomy is how perfectly they point forward to Jesus. The peaceful blessing of being found in Christ is the salvation, the rescuing of not only your soul, but your body also. You cannot perish, if you cling to him, if you belong to him. But you cannot cling to him if you do not know yourself to be a sinner.
Living out the full breadth of the gospel with your children is laborious and painful because you yourself are so much in need of rescue. Do you obey God? Of course not. And yet you must make your child obey you. And when you don’t make your child obey? Because certainly you do not. What then? The gospel, the being found in Christ for the salvation of your own self, the forgiveness of your own sins.
The most terrible and unloving thing in all of creation, besides the murdering of the child before it sees the lit of day, is the giving of the child over to spiritual death for the rest of their physical lives because the parent couldn’t be troubled to give the law, and then preach the gospel.
But for this parent, this failing parent, for me, Christ died and gave his life. The greatest tragedy redeemed by the blood of the cross. So, let me stop this and have another go at it.