Tuesday, February 15, 2011


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

This particular post has been percolating in my mind for two weeks.  I'm still not sure exactly what I need to say, but I do know I need to write about rules to help me figure out what role they already play in my life versus what role I want them to play in my life.  It all started (as so many things do) with a conversation with one of my daughters...

Last year, A attended a wonderful camp and we were so excited to let B attend this year.  I filled out the paperwork while she was at school, then gave her two forms to fill out - one listing her preferences for activities, the other a form where she had to initial that she had read and would obey the rules.  I thought nothing of it, but in hindsight, I totally should have seen it coming.  9 year old B sat at the table, initialing each box that she had read the rule.  She went slower and slower.  She got quieter and quieter.  She finished the form and brought it to me.  Then she said, "Mom, I'm not sure I want to go to this camp.  There are so many rules."  Ahh, B.  Like I said, I really should have seen this coming.  B has never, ever been a fan of rules and having to sign a list of 15 rules in a row was just too much for her.  We talked it through - the pros and cons of going to the camp, the fact that she follows all of these rules at school every day, and more.  B decided to sign up for camp, but she got me thinking about rules that day.

The next week, I met a friend for coffee and was sharing with her my experience with B and the camp rules.  I told her that I really love this about B - her willingness to question the rules.  I asserted that some rules aren't good ones and should be broken - and that we need people like B who are willing to do that.  Then she asked for examples and I went silent.  My mind went blank and I couldn't come up with a single example.  Yet my heart still said I was right about this, that there are rules that are cultural, societal, convenient - and completely unnecessary.  I continued to ask myself, "What rules should be broken?" for the next twenty-four hours, thinking about it as I fell asleep and when I woke up.

The next morning at Bible Study, the first question our leader asked was, "How does the word obey make you feel?  Are you a rule follower or a rebel?"  I said out loud, "I can't believe we're talking about this!"  As we talked it through together, I was finally able to articulate that the unspoken rules are the ones I feel most strongly need to be questioned, challenged and maybe broken.  Rules like...

  • The bigger and stronger your faith the less you question God
  • Mothers shouldn't work outside the home
  • Christians aren't Democrats
  • Girls who wear skirts aren't tough - they're girly
  • Boys don't like to read
  • Women who want to use their gifts in the church should do so in children's or women's ministry
  • Men are leaders and women should follow
  • Drink white wine with fish
  • Never eat chocolate right before bed

You get the idea.  The rules that few people speak out loud, but our community, our families, our churches hold onto with great tenacity.  These rules are the most dangerous ones, in my opinion.  They're dangerous precisely because they are often unspoken.  That leaves room for misinterpretation, for abuse, for all kinds of wrongs.

So are we better off without rules at all?  Should we just leave it at "Love God.  Love your neighbor."?

I decided to ask two members of my own family whether they like rules and why.  I started with B.  When I started the conversation with her, I actually skipped right to, "So, why don't you like rules?"  As soon as it was out of my mouth, I realized I was making an assumption about her.  And while I have much to learn as a parent, I have come to the conclusion that it's better to never assume what my daughters are thinking and feeling - always better to ask.  I backed up, "Well.  First: Do you like rules?"  A quick "No" was the answer - almost as soon as the words had left my mouth.  "Why not?"  "Because they restrain me from doing things I want to do.  And sometimes they don't even make sense.  Like why can't I be silly in the classroom?  That's a bad rule."  Viewpoint #1.

Viewpoint #2:  On a walk with A in yesterday's lovely, spring-like weather, I asked her, "Do you like rules?"  "Yeah," she replied after a slight pause (perhaps because her position on this is not as cool for an 11 year old?  I'm not sure, but her response was not as quick and visceral as B's.)  "Why?"  "Because they restrict me from doing things that make me unsafe.  Things that I shouldn't do anyway."  A's response didn't surprise me any more than B's did.  In contrast to B's conflict over agreeing to obey a list of camp rules, A's biggest concern last year was that she follow the rules as closely as possible - she doesn't like to wear shorts and requested that I contact the camp to make sure it was OK for her to wear capris and skorts instead.

I think my wise-beyond-their-years children used some very interesting words in their answers.  Specifically restrain and restrict.  That's what rules do.  And good rules do exactly what A likes - they keep us safe, they show us where to go and what to do.  B's right, too.  Bad rules restrain us - from doing the things we want, yes, but more importantly - from being who we were made to be.  Rules that make us conform in ways that we were not made to bend are bad - for us and for society.  Rules that help us learn self-control and guide us in the better way to go are equally good.

I'm not sure I now have a definitive position on rules.  Do we need them?  Yes.  Do some of them also need to be challenged or broken?  Yes.  To go back to the question from last Wednesday, am I a rule follower or a rebel?  I've been both in my life, but I think the more I know myself, the more I realize what a rebel I am at heart.  And while I'm confessing, I'll let you in on a secret:  I don't think that's a bad thing.  The world needs people like me - and B.  People who won't blindly follow where they're led.  People who question.  People who ask questions like, "How do I feel about rules?"

My Rule Follower

My Rebel


RBMA said...

LOVE this post. I think I am both a rule follower and a rebel, it just depends on the situation. Like A, I love the structure that rules bring to our lives and to our work, but as I have gotten older I see the gray areas so much more.

I really love the rules you like to break (especially the ones about wine and chocolate). Here are a couple more I love to break:

You shouldn't own a cat if you are allergic to them.
You can't love opera and college football.
Everyone in the military is a Republican.
We are defined soley by our jobs.
Accountants are boring.

I could think of so many more . . . but we'll start there!!

The Mom said...

I love how everything "works together," don't you? I am going to post a link to this post on my blog as a continuation of the dialogue we have begun. Is that okay? I hope so because you hit the proverbial nail on the head. Why am I not surprised?!

Chris and Tiana said...

I love this, too. I think about this a lot since I'm not a rule follower at heart, but now I have a daughter who has a complete disregard for ALL rules. I'm trying to find a balance. If there's no one around, can I really turn right out of the Brentwood Target even though the sign says "No Right Turn?" That's a dumb rule. Do I really have to follow it? What am I teaching my daughter if I don't follow it? Lots to ponder...