“You’re going to have to live with rules for the rest of your life, Jack. You might as well get used to it now.” I didn’t say the words in love. They came without forethought from my mouth, as I responded to the accusing tone of the six-year old standing in front of me. Little Jack was a neighbor boy, who came to visit my children once in awhile, when they were also young. On this occasion, he stood there in my living room, staring at me, speechless. For just a fraction of a second, I felt remorse at the words, suddenly harsh-sounding and almost callow. That feeling quickly passed and I thought that perhaps the young man might actually learn something from them.
Jack’s parents weren’t quite the disciplinarians the Lovely Lady and I were. Being more lenient, they allowed the child to set most of his own limits. We were happy to allow them that freedom as parents; he was, after all, their son and not ours. But when he came to our house, we had rules which the children followed. Rule number one? Knock at the door before entering the house. The first few times he visited, he walked right in, without being admitted. More rules followed…We say “please”, and “thank you”, and “excuse me” at appropriate times. On this day, one of my children had ripped a toy from the hands of the other. In this situation, the rule of saying “I’m sorry” was enforced, to the incredulity of the youngster. He had had enough. Drawing himself up to his full three feet and seven inches, he got it off his chest. “You have a lot of rules, don’t you?” From a young father’s perspective, it was the wrong time for the question to be asked, seeing that I was disciplining my child. Without thinking, I retorted the words which you read earlier.
Jack stared at me for twenty seconds without speaking. His eyes screamed his skepticism. Surely, this grownup couldn’t be correct! Who tells him what to do? Who makes him obey? His mouth moved, but he never uttered a word. Without breaking his silence, he spun on his heel and stalked out of the house, slamming the door as he went (Another rule: Close the door; we’re not in a barn). I’ve often wondered about the conversation as he arrived home. What a monster must they have thought I was! I also will admit that I have shared the anecdote a few times myself, just to get a laugh. Over the years though, the lesson of the episode has been reinforced again and again to me, not always in pleasant situations. I can only speculate about whether the young man had to learn the lesson the hard way, or if he remembers any of the words I directed in his direction that day.
On so many planes, we live out the truth I shared rather heartlessly with the boy on that occasion. We choose to live in situations that demand compliance with certain sets of rules. Our employment, educational institutions, churches, and even owner’s associations, all have rules within which we agree to operate, simply because we wish to live at peace with others in those groups. No one bullies us to obey; we do so because we have opted to accept the benefits of the body. We also live in a society which has laws by which we abide. They are enforced if we step outside the boundaries, but overall, we can choose to live unmolested by not challenging the norm. I won’t discuss at any length the issues of civil disobedience, but suffice it to say that sometimes participants in society disagree about the set of rules and either change them by breaking them or are broken themselves by them. Even after this process, rules exist, nonetheless.
Without getting into a doctrinal argument, I wish to make this last point…I love the freedom that Grace provides for all of its recipients. Oh, it’s not a freedom from rules, it’s a freedom to enjoy, to exult in, The Rules. A friend today remarked on this and his comment brought an old song-title to my mind. My friend’s reminder was straight from the Savior’s words, “If you commit sin, you are a slave to that sin.” The song it reminded me of was called, “Gotta Serve Somebody”. I was also reminded in a strong way that Grace makes it a joy to serve, to practice The Rules. How could it be otherwise?
All of life has rules. As a child, at times I was dragged, kicking and screaming (literally), to obedience. As a teenager, more than once, I walked away in defiance. Truth, though, has a way of removing all barriers. And now, as I observe the battle many others are still fighting, I sometimes wish I could authoritatively state the obvious, as I did to that boy so many years ago. It doesn’t work that way, though. Frequently, the truth can only be learned in the school of hard knocks. The lessons learned there seem to carry more weight than those handed us in times of ease.
Of course, I’d like someday to actually graduate from the hard knock course, myself. Evidently, there are still a few more lessons this hard-headed student has to learn. I’ll keep studying…
“But, as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride,
You may be a city councilman taking bribes on the side,
You may be workin’ in a barbershop, you may know how to cut hair,
You may be somebody’s mistress, may be somebody’s heir
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.
(“Gotta Serve Somebody”~Bob Dylan~American songwriter/singer)