Friday, August 27, 2010


1 a: a prescribed guide for conduct or action
b: the laws or regulations prescribed by the founder of a religious order for observance by its members
c: an accepted procedure, custom, or habit

Are you a rule-follower?  Or do you look for little ways to break life's rules?   I recently read a very good book.  It was beautifully written, flawlessly executed and had a gripping plot.  But I found myself comparing it to my favorite book: a book with less flowing descriptions, fewer classic lines, a style all its own.  One of the many things I love about The Book Thief is that the author breaks the rules.  He plays with narrative technique, bends the rules of grammar, plays with readers' expectations about how a story should progress and is an expert at making abstract concepts concrete.  I love the story of the book thief, but even more, I love the way her story is told.  I remember reading it the first time and feeling such freedom.  This book taught me to tell the story the way it needed to be told - regardless of the rules.

The Book Thief

You see, I think I'm a rule breaker at heart.  I'm not your classic rebel, but the older (wiser?) I've become, the more I've resisted blindly following the rules.  I have a deep desire to carve my own path, even if it means hacking my way through the weeds, seeing the occasional snake or stepping in a hidden puddle.  A character on a television show I enjoy recently said that the reason countries who were formerly part of the British empire excel is because the British imposed order.  Are rules really the foundation for success?  Or are they stumbling blocks to creativity, a multi-faceted society and freedom?  I really don't know.

I'm certainly not an anarchist.  I pay taxes (well, my husband does since I make no money!), I drive under the speed limit, we have order in our home.  But I think it's worth pondering the role that rules play in my life versus the role that rules should play in my life.  I would never suggest that we should each do what is right in our own eyes - that is a recipe for disaster.  But where do we impose or follow rules simply because they make our lives easier, not because they are right?

I've sometimes caught myself telling my children to stop doing something not because it was wrong (hurtful, unkind, unsafe), but because it was inconvenient to me (loud, annoying, would make me late).  I'm not sure that's right.  In fact, I'm pretty sure it's wrong.  I don't mean I shouldn't ever ask K to talk more quietly, I shouldn't ever ask A to clean her room, I shouldn't ever ask B to take her shoes and socks to her room.  None of these infractions break the rules of our home, but I do think it's OK to encourage personal responsibility and appropriate boundaries.  Where I think the path veers into a territory I dislike is when these common courtesies overshadow other aspects of my relationship with my daughters.  I don't want to be the enforcer.  I want to be their mother.  And while I think it's perfectly acceptable for me to express my needs and desires to them (being a doormat of a mom does not teach them a lesson I want them to learn), I want to be careful not to hand out consequences based on actions that are inconvenient, but not wrong.

As I've pondered this, I've reflected on the difference between guidelines, rules and laws.  In my mind, guidelines are strong suggestions, rules are man-made and laws are God-given.  The definitions, by the way, do not fully affirm these distinctions.  Rule and law are very similar words by definition.  I like guidelines best because they allow some interpretation by the participants while still providing clear information about expectations.  Perhaps I classify rules as man-made because that gives me the freedom to bend or break rules as I see fit.  But I wouldn't argue that it's ever OK for me to bend God's laws.  I just think there are an awful lot of rules our there that go far beyond those laid out in the ten commandments and well beyond the two laws Jesus says are most important.  Love God?  I'm trying to do that well.  Love others?  Yes, with God's help.  But no running in the hallways?  I'm pretty sure there are enough natural consequences to take care of that one.

Finding their own path

I guess my stance on rules comes down to this:  I want to be moving towards mystery, not rigidity.  I think this is consistent with Jesus' reply on what matters:  love is one great big mystery.  And I long for my children to do the same.  I hope they will embrace the things in life we will never understand.  I want them to trust their inner voice even when it contradicts a rule set by someone in power somewhere.  I think they were each made without a mold and I hope they will refuse to conform to rules that will alter the shape of who they are, even if that rocks the boat sometimes.

1 comment:

Chris and Tiana said...

This is a great post and something I've been thinking about a lot lately regarding my non-rule-following daughter. I'm not a rule follower by nature either, so I understand where she's coming from. But I'm trying to help her understand that there are some limits she needs to learn to live within. And submitting to God's authority is highest on that list. It's a hard thing to accept for a little girl who couldn't care less about doing what she's "supposed" to do!