When God created Adam and Eve and placed them in the Garden, the place was full of fruit and delights, and they were invited to enjoy themselves. In the midst of all those invitations to enjoyment was one forbidden tree. Only one.

When God wrote down His commandments, He gave us only ten. And those ten could be summarized in two: Love the Lord with all you have, and love your neighbor as yourself.

We parents, on the other hand, do just the opposite. Rather than imitating our Father in Heaven, we lay down rule after rule, command after command. We would do well to consider what it is we are creating, whether it is modeled after the Garden or modeled after some dungeon in the bad place.

My husband grew up in a family where his parents understood this. His father laid down three rules: obey your parents, do not lie, and do not sass your mother. Now the first one, obey your parents, could become a burden if the parents were firing off commands right and left, day and night as some parents do. I have seen it with my own eyes. “Pick up your shoe, put it on, pull up your sock, look at me when I talk to you, now stand up….etc.”

Jesus called His disciples to take up His yoke, and He said they would find rest rest there. He said His yoke was easy and His burden was light (Mt. 11:28-30).  Parents sometimes load their children up with heavy burdens, much like the Pharisees of old.

So consider how many rules in your home are not really for your children, but for yourself. Consider reducing the number. Consider reducing the commands. Lighten the load. Be like Jesus who was meek and lowly of heart, who told His disciples to learn from Him.

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15 thoughts on “One Rule

  1. I really enjoyed (was challenged) by these three posts, but would you clarify something for me? Are you speaking to people with older children? Our oldest just turned three and I feel that at this point in her life, there has to be a rule for most things. Now, I try and simplify it as much as possible for instance, “You may not write on anything but paper” as opposed to you may not write on walls, you may not write on your sister, you may not write…etc.

    Is “one rule” principle something I am supposed to be looking forward to as I train the little ones in obedience and self-control? Because I’m not able to grasp how that would look in our home at this point in time.

    Thank you,

  2. Mary,
    Bless your heart. I have the same question!
    It seems like with a 3 year old and an almost 2 year old, I am constantly giving them the guidelines for how to interact with the world- don’t put your mouth on the potty, don’t jump around on the stairs, etc. This is on top of the “moral law” of the house- don’t push your sister because it isn’t loving, etc. How DO you teach them to interact with the world around them (in a safe and sanitary fashion, one hopes) AND teach them God’s rules without making them (and you) crazy with all the instruction?

  3. This is all well and good. Makes sense and I agree. Like Mary and Tai, I have little ones and am to fully undestand how you’d effectively put this into practice. Maybe it’s just the principle of not barking at them, and letting them be kids? I understand this and have seen the weight it puts on my kids. That seems to be more about attitude and approach rather than the directives themselves.

  4. Correction: Like Mary and Tai, I have little ones and am not able to fully understand…

  5. Thank you for your post! I have four kids, ages 8, 7, 3 and 1, and I especially find that as they get older, it is hard to “let go” of my “control nitpickiness” and let them actually be themselves, within that bounds of obedience of course.
    For those asking about younger children, one thing we have done is with rules at the table. We realized that we were correcting our children for everything throughout our meals, which really diminishes our enjoyment of time together as a family. So, we boiled down the issues we felt we were dealing with to three table rules that seemed to encompass most of the issues: Rule #1: Sit straight; Rule #2: Eat your food and don’t play with it; Rule #3: Use your plate and silverware right. It got so that all we had to do was mention the number and they would usually correct themselves with a grin. 🙂

  6. We’ve heard Doug say this a few times and have also wondered how this looks in day-to-day life.

    Are the three rules rather like the roman numeral headings on an outline, with many sub-points?

    If God gave us just the two or just the ten, we, like sheep, would go astray (and do anyway). I need more than three rules because my discernment will not be perfect until heaven. So I am glad for the Scriptures that unfold the finer aspects of the summary.

    Perhaps you are giving us a big-picture principle (don’t burden your children) and we are trying to extract too much from it?

  7. Another great article! Though I find myself wondering some of the same things as the other Moms. My 17 month old loves to get in to EVERYTHING and I try to let her have freedom, but sometimes it’s simply not safe or sanitary for her to do/touch certain things. And another question: is it being overzealous or over bearing to want them to look you in the eyes when you are telling them not to do something, or when you are disciplining them? I feel like my daughter avoiding my eye contact is a way for her to avoid obeying and/or responsibility…if that makes any sense… (Probably not the best way to word it) But I don’t demand she look at me for everything, just those two aforementioned things. I always thought eye contact was very important in certain instances…but I don’t want to be overbearing either! 🙂

  8. I’ve been thinking on this more, and here is what I’ve come up with.
    I remember hearing Pastor Wilson at a conference say that when the kids were little, they lived in a totalitarian world. In other words, it sounds like there were lots of rules. As parents of youngsters, we have to have the mindset that these everyday rules are just training wheels and not meant to be permanent. Our children need the rules, just like a beginning biker needs the training wheels, but there also needs to be instruction along with those rules. As the kids grow and mature, there should be less and less need for so many rules.

    I think that the temptation for me is simply to have the rule, and administer discipline when the rule is broken, but skip over the instruction part because it often is a lengthy process and when you multiply that by the number of kids you have, it takes up a good part of the day.

    I’m still looking forward to hearing what you have to say Nancy, and hope that I haven’t missed the mark by too much.


  9. To answer some of these questions: The point here isn’t in the number of rules. The issue is always the heart of the child and whether we are bringing that child to Jesus or whether we are putting stumbling blocks before that child. Are we parenting our children the way God the Father parents us, with truth, grace, mercy and love? Or are we provoking them to anger and frustration with “house rules”? Sometimes that anger and frustration is pushed down under the surface and we don’t even know it.

    When we parent our 3 year old, or our 7 year old, or our 12 year old or our 17 year old, or our 3 month old, do they see Jesus in our face, in our tone of voice, in our physical touch, in our correction, in our spanking, in our rule making, etc. etc.? Do we parent in a grace-drenched atmosphere? I know it took me a long time to understand the grace of Christ in order for me to become a grace filled mother. I used to always say, “yes, of course there’s grace, but…”

    Ask yourself one very important question: What is the thing you want the MOST for your child? The answer as Christian parents should be for that child to love the Lord their God with all their heart, mind, and strength and to love their neighbor as themselves. That is God’s goal for His children, therefore it should be our goal for our children. How do we go about helping our children to grow in love for their God and their neighbor? Let us imitate Christ. Let our children see Jesus in us.

  10. For those tripping over “number of rules” with small children — look again at the example of Nancy’s husband’s parents’ rules.

    The first one was, “Obey your parents.” So that covers a LOT. The principle of obedience is the rule, it is non-negotiable.

    But it’s based on obeying the parents, not living up to a list. If I say go, he goes, and if I say come, he comes — but he doesn’t have to keep consulting a list of rules to keep me happy and keep me from coming down on him. As long as obedience is present and is being built into the heart, “rules” aren’t what you rely on.

  11. Yes, parents have to oversee children and watch their every move, teaching and training, correcting and adjusting. But when you have children who don’t love the standard, lower it by eliminating a bunch of the rules. Then enforce the ones you keep. Once they love those and obey those, carefully lift the standard up, making sure you are all loving them together.

  12. I think everyone should read Luma’s comment. I think she hit the nail right on the head. I was going to write my own comment, but I couldn’t have said it any better than Luma did. In our house, I honestly can’t think of any particular “rules” that we say is a “house rule”. We teach them that in the Bible it says to love the Lord your God with all your heart and that the way to show Him that you love Him is by obeying Him. In His word, He commands us to honor our parents. So, in our minds every time we need to correct a behavior with an instruction, they are to obey quickly and respectfully. All those corrections fall under the fact that we are to love the Lord our God with all our hearts. I think (I hope anyway) this helps them know in their hearts WHY they are to do whatever it is they were asked to do instead of just following rules to “not get in trouble” or something. This really helps shape the heart issue.

  13. I have only one child (11 months), who is starting to get into everything (unloading books from the bookshelves, unloading rags from the rag drawer, etc.). I’ve found that good childproofing, and a closed bathroom door, has helped reduce the number of “no touches” in my house. It definitely means more work for me, but she has a grand old time. I guess the lighter the burden is for the child, the heavier it gets for the parents?

  14. I’m loving these posts–thank you!
    I have two little girls, age 4 and 2. We repeat frequently our family rule: be kind and obedient! It pretty much sums up the requirements for little kids (love God by obeying authorities, love your neighbor). Thanks for the encouragement to keep it simple.

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