November 4, 2010

Rules & Rewards

Let me begin by admitting this: I am still a recovering legalist. When you spend a great many years allowing much of your theology and worldview to be shaped - or even manipulated - by experiential and reactionary thinking, the road to recovery can be an uphill battle. I still feel like I'm in "Legalist Rehab" every time I listen to "A New Law" by Derek Webb. Still, I am grateful that in His good timing, God used His Word to begin knocking that wall down in my heart. He is still working. Still swinging. Still knocking it down. And hurts. While seeing this wall being torn down in your own life can be a painful but welcomed thing, seeing this blinding barrier going up in someone else's life may be even more paralyzing. Especially when it's your own child.

My son is a 6 year old ball of fire! In many regards I feel like I'm watching a movie of what my parents must have seen as they were giving it their best to raise me. At the same time, I know that this little man is totally his own person. We've had a few "episodes" in school already (which could be a bit disconcerting when you realize that he's only in Kindergarten), but for the most part he has actually done well. Most days when he leaves the classroom, it's still standing. But one thing we've seen that we believe actually helps him maintain his focus and contain his energy is STRUCTURE. Or let's put it another way: he lives by THE LAW! What works (at least at this point) for Nathan about school is that on the wall and in his folder are the rules. He knows, "If you do this and this and that and this and'll get a GREEN CHECK! And GREEN CHECK'S are what we live for here in Kindergarten." Apparently he would just rather know in black and white - plain and simple - what he can and can't do. He would rather EARN privileges than have them taken away. He wants something to WORK for rather than the freedom to painfully learn and experience consequences. He's 6 years old and his worldview is being shaped like Play-Doh. 

This predicament was even more exposed at home this week. Let's just say Morgan & I have been praying diligently for the Lord to show us how to teach Nathan good judgment, sound thinking, and simple obedience. What we've been experiencing would be better described as ZERO judgment and deliberate defiance. And just to be clear, those are pretty much the opposite of the desired outcome. The other night, as Morgan is asking Nathan, "Why did you make this decision? Would you make this decision at school?", he follows up the inquiry by explaining to us that at school there's a CHART. And on that chart are all the rules. And as you earn different checks on the chart you gain certain privileges. And [to use his words], "Maybe what I need here at home is a chart." 

[Please do NOT miss the DEPTH of what your child is learning, thinking, and painting into the lens with which they look at the world, their life, and how it all fits together. It runs DEEP!]

As Morgan explained to Nathan, "You understand that this means things like TV and dessert and playing on the Wii will now have to be earned?", it was as if he found great satisfaction and comfort in the fact that the rules and rewards were now going to be clear. Forget the whole idea of living by grace and principle and discipline and consequence, just give me a new law! My son doesn't want to think, he just wants to be able to look at the board and say, "Nope. Can't do that." He would rather EARN his allowance than have it taken away. And please understand, for many years in my life, on a much bigger scale, not with my parents, but with the God of the Universe...this is how I lived.

Rules & Rewards are easy.
Grace, mercy, discipline, and consequence are painful. Very painful!
But they are the road to wisdom and discernment and good judgment.
And Jesus paid the way for us to be able to walk that road. 
What road are you walking? 

We're still praying about how to walk with Nathan through this and teach him that what he's asking for is not really what he wants. At the same time, you can't make someone believe that. They simply must come to understand it and accept it. You can't drag someone down the narrow road. You can only point and lead the way.


*Inspire566* said...

I work with school-age children. I I think it's important for a child to feel empowered. I always encourage and empower them by helping them make positive choices through the asking of open-ended questions, such as "If someone calls you a name what choice can you make?" If a child has a hard time figuring out the choices I give them suggestions, "What if you used your words and told them to stop, What else could we do?" I brainstorm with the child to help them find choices to their problem. Life is about choices and allowing children to see that makes things a lot easier. They realize they have the power. :)

Brian Mayfield said...

Great thoughts! My wife & I try to parent/teach our kids this way at home as well.