Chesterton said somewhere (and if I knew which box the book was in, I’d go find it) that boundaries are what make art possible; breaking some boundaries will not make you free. He goes on to say that if the artist decides in his bold creative way to draw a giraffe with a short neck, what he will find is that he is actually not free to draw a giraffe.
The boundaries that we have in life are exactly the same. Have you ever heard someone complaining about all the “rules” of Christianity? As though the ten commandments exist in our lives the same way the obstacles at the dog show exist for show poodles? Are these laws abstract things that God set up just to watch us try to follow? Rules to obey for no particular reason? Something that has been set up for hobbyists and enthusiasts and otherwise unbalanced people?
If you look at the ten commandments as a boundary around something, instead of a obstacle to something, you will see that God’s laws are situated in places that make real life possible. They are rules of freedom. You may not commit adultery, as in, you are free to have functioning marriages. You may not covet, as in, you are free to live your own life, unsoured by sidelong glances. You shall not worship other gods, as in, you are free from that bondage. You do not need to not sacrifice your children in some pagan festival. You shall not murder, as in, you shall be free to live without blood guilt.
There is a huge chasm between a refuge and a prison. God’s law is a refuge; it is not a prison. You are not required to dress modestly so that God can keep you from having fun; you should dress modestly so that you can be sexually free. It is always a question of freedom or bondage, and we almost always look at the shackles like we are looking at a pair of incredible shoes that we could never afford. It is this unbelief that is so destructive as we raise our children. We are trying to pass on to them standards that we ourselves don’t think are all that great. If we had the money, we’d buy those things in a minute. But when you believe that the bleach would kill your child, do you have any trouble communicating that to them? Do they doubt you, or question your motives for telling them not to drink it?
As a body of saints we live inside the walls, but the attitudes toward the wall are extremely variant. Some people spend all their time trying to imagine the freedom outside them. Some parents are terrified of them and try to keep their children in birdcages within the garden so they will never approach the walls at all. Some have straggled in over the top of the walls, bleeding and torn, and actually know they have found a refuge. Others set up voluntary patrol committees around arbitrary lines formed inside the walls and like to hear the sound of their own whistles. And some people ignore them altogether and appear to be inside them only because they are disinterested.
But this wall of protection is not here so that we can get preoccupied with it. It is here so that we can live. We are free to do something. Grow something. Make something. Be something. It is not here to keep us from anything, it is here to give us freedom. Now as we try to teach our children to love these laws, the fundamental thing they need to be learning is to love life. We do not want them to learn to jump through certain hoops, we want them to believe.
When we fail to communicate these things to our children, it is usually because do not believe it ourselves. Our children know all about us. Are you showing them a life full of stink eyes and cold shoulders and bitterness? Are you and your husband usually distant, sometimes hostile, and periodically explosive toward each other? Do you try to put on a happy marriage face only when talking about the epic truths of modesty, purity, and courtship? If so, why would your children ever want that? They do not believe you about the death outside of the wall because you have already lied to them about the life within.
Many things about our home as we were growing up were tremendous blessings to all of us, but one is relevant here. We grew up knowing that our parents loved each other. I am thirty years old and have never heard my parents fight or speak unkindly of each other. They are visibly, obviously right with one another. When they talked to us about marriage, we listened. They knew. We trusted. We were not coming to that discussion with our eyebrows raised and our eyes rolling. They had long since established their street cred on happy marriages. They weren’t pretending, and we knew it.
So tend to your own heart first. Get your own self in order. Tend your marriage. Confess unbelief. Get it right. Love the standard yourself, and communicating that love will be easy.
And although this quote is about preaching, it certainly pertains to parenting too: “The essential secret is not mastering certain techniques but being mastered by certain convictions” (John Stott, Between Two Worlds, p. 92).