The other day my four-year-old and I were sitting on the back porch and he dropped a couple of blueberries on the ground. He began to panic so I just popped one in my mouth. He asked me if it was ok to eat. I told him it was a little gritty and I probably wouldn’t eat another one, but I left it up to him.
This is different from how I approach things with my 14 month old. She isn’t allowed to pick things off the ground and eat them because she doesn’t know the difference. My son is older, so I can help him understand why we wouldn’t pick things off the ground, then allow him to make his own choice.
But a lot of times as I parent (and in a lot more important areas), I don’t do that.
I always told myself I would never be a “because I said so!” kind of parent, but it tends to happen more than I would like it to. Mainly because it is a lot easier to say “because I said so!” than sitting and explaining why you cannot play on the iPad for four hours straight or why you need to go potty before we get in the car or why it is not a good idea to see if your pinky fits in the bottom hole of the light socket. Getting my kids to be compliant is often much easier and faster than taking the time to teach them how to make their own choices.
Part of my job as a parent is to teach my children boundaries. I want my children to be protected and to grow up to make good choices. But if all my parenting is “because I said so,” I am robbing them of the opportunity to grow. As my children get older, they need to know why those boundaries are in place. When they know why they have boundaries, they can eventually make the decision on how they will set their own boundaries.
Our goal in making boundaries for our kids is not to make them behave like we want them to, it is to help them grow up to make good decisions without us. So sometimes our job is to help them understand why we put boundaries in place and then eventually give them the freedom to choose.
I say all this because this is what the Galatians passage is pointing towards. In church growing up, I was presented with a message of Christianity that was all about what we DO NOT do. And we do not do these things because God said so. Sometimes this is a healthy place to start. We need to know that certain activities and attitudes in life are not beneficial.
But if it stays there, it really can stunt our growth. For some people this turns into an intense legalism, for others it turns to a complete rejection of God. Either way, it creates an unhealthy way to live and a bad picture of God.
Discipleship is about growth. As I grow, I need to have people walk alongside me and show me the why’s of those boundaries. Some of those boundaries are important to keep. Others need to be rejected as we grow. We learn the difference as we learn the why’s.
We often fail at this in Church. We worry about people making decisions to commit lives to Christ and then teach them to try to not be too rowdy. We want compliant people who claim Jesus and leave us alone. Doing this keeps people from growth. Discipleship allows people to grow and think and question and expand their view of God. But we often sell our message as “Don’t drink, cuss or chew, and don’t associate with those who do.”
We need to do a better job at the why’s of Christian living. Sometimes we learn that a boundary is there to protect us from harming ourselves or others. So we learn to hold on to those. Other times we realize a boundary is there because of tradition or to help us in our immaturity. Those we can hold those a lot more loosely or let go all together. But the purpose is always growth in Christ.
May we have the patience for a discipleship that pauses in the dirty blueberry moments and allows people to grow and expand their faith.