For all of my life I have been concerned about the rules. Attempting to analyze my child self I see a girl who believed obeying the rules was a sign of moral superiority and deserving of praise and promotion. I wanted to be the teacher's pet. I was a tattle-tale. I found security in the rules and my experience in the government schools reinforced that security.
By the rules I mean not only the laws of the state and ordinances of the town, but also the organizational guidelines put in place to make places like schools operate efficiently. For example, standing in line when told, raising a hand and waiting to be called on before speaking, putting my head down on the desk when the teacher was losing control of the classroom, and other rules like that. I could not imagine why anyone would NOT want to obey the rules. I was disgusted by other children who continually flaunted the rules.
I don't have any memories of my parents reinforcing my obsession with rules. I don't remember that they found me irritating, either. My father was a referee for high school sports competitions, and I was always very proud to have a father who was an enforcer. If he had been a cop I would have been over the moon, I suppose.
When I played house and had my imaginary children, they were always perfectly obedient. Why wouldn't they be? Don't all normal, smart children want to obey? I had many experiences baby sitting and I hated it. The children I cared for were persistently disobedient. After I actually had children of my own I always like my own children but never really liked other people's children. It wasn't really that I didn't like them, so much as I was annoyed by them. Other parents didn't make their children obey the rules. Did they want their children to grow up to be criminals?
Secretly, I believed that God was impressed with those who obey all the rules. I have always been careful to stop for a full 3 seconds at stop signs, to stay below posted speed limits and to drive the correct direction in parking lots (as determined by the arrows painted on the pavement). Then I got married to my husband. He doesn't care one wit about rules. He thinks that people who drive should be smart enough not to collide with other drivers, even in the absence of arrows painted on the pavement. He actually believes that driving safely and accident free is more important than following rules. This has caused me physical stress. In some cases, I thought I might even have a heart attack as he drove the WRONG WAY in the parking lot at the grocery store! What would the neighbors think? How can society exist in such anarchy? "We MUST obey the arrows," shouted every cell in my body.
He laughed. He occasionally poked fun at me, but for the most part, he just ignored me. I am finally starting to really see the difference between self-government and obsessive rule-keeping. And this has changed me. I can finally appreciate people who are different. People who cannot or will not conform their behavior to the acceptable societal norms. These people weren't in need of me or my acceptance of them. I was the one who was impoverished by keeping them at a distance because of my annoyance.
This brings me back to other people's children. I have noticed a near explosion in the number of children I see who are on the autism spectrum or have special personalities that are quirky. In the past, I would have been very uncomfortable around these children. I probably would have been pretty judgmental of their parents for not making them behave appropriately. (Mind you, I still get miffed with parents who don't bother to train their children how to act in public, but I'm talking about children whose issues have nothing to do with training and everything to do with how they just ARE.) But when I stop worrying about the rules, I can allow myself to get to know these children. They aren't dangerous because they speak out of turn. My day is not ruined by their intense interest in spiders and their insatiable desire to tell me about it. So what if they sit upside down on the chair? What is that to me?
What is good? And what does the Lord require from us? Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God. (see Micah 6:8)
There is nothing in there about obeying all the rules. Certainly nothing about proudly obeying. It isn't a great accomplishment at all. I was trained to obey by my schooling. That was reinforced by my military training. My husband helped me to get unindoctrinated. I am trying to humbly make a new start. I don't want to be conformed to this world (and its rules), but to be transformed by the renewing of my mind. It's a life-long journey, I'm afraid. But as the old saying goes, "I'm not what I oughta be, but thank God I'm not what I used to be."
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