Recently my husband and I tried an experiment with our preadolescent middle child. She has been resisting our authority to the extent that we decided that for two weeks we would give her liberty to make more of her own decisions. But we would also stop helping her in areas where we normally served her, like helping her with schoolwork and preparing her meals. The objective was to show our daughter how much she still needed our parental guidance.
I just knew that once she suffered a few negative, natural consequences, she would realize how much she had taken us for granted. Besides, I thought, I wouldn’t mind being relieved of some of my regular parenting duties. It was a deviously clever plan.
I hated every minute of it.
My daughter watched hours of TV, ate sweets for meals, and overslept several times, skipping church and even missing school after enjoying her late nights. Per the terms of our agreement, my husband and I held our tongues and let it happen. I wasn’t sure if we were awesome parents or suckers.
When the experiment was over, we debriefed together. For my daughter’s part, there were aspects she enjoyed, like newfound autonomy, but she also admitted to making some bad choices. For my part, it was painful watching my girl indulge her flesh, and I felt disappointed that the experiment didn’t have a greater sobering effect on her. It did have one on me, however.
As I waited out the two weeks, I came to a humbling realization: for all the lessons I want to teach my daughter, her behavior actually makes me look in the mirror and realize that the type of obedience I want from her is the same kind of obedience God wants from me but doesn’t always get. In evaluating my daughter’s behavior, I see a reflection of my own occasional attitude toward God—the same upturned nose, the same haughty eyes, the same shrug of the shoulders. I have to ask, how much does she, my kindred spirit, merely mimic me?
Looking at my daughter, I remember my own journey to God, the many times I have stumbled along the way before I learned to love obedience. It is God’s grace and lovingkindness that brings me to repentance, and it will be grace that brings my daughter around to what she knows is true and right in her heart. And it’s her heart that I really want to capture.
I see a reflection of my own occasional attitude toward God…I have to ask, how much does she, my kindred spirit, merely mimic me?
When my kids were younger I did my best to train them in obedience, but back then it was easy to impose my will upon them. Now, as a parent of tweens and a teen, I cannot make my kids do almost anything anymore. I can’t physically carry them to bed on time, I can’t will them to behave a certain way, and I can’t force them to appreciate the things I enjoy (although that doesn’t seem to stop me from trying).
I can’t command them to obey anymore—and I don’t want to. As my kids mature and self-differentiate from me, I want them to obey and please their parents and the Lord because they want to, not “because I said so.” And I believe God wants the same kind of obedience from me.
My daughter and I are on the same journey to delighting in obedience. I know the pleasure I feel when my children obey me because they want to. Oh, the joy God must feel when his children joyfully, willingly obey him!