Myth busting 9: Right away, all the way, with a happy heart – or it’s rebellion!

Part I: Delayed or grudging obedience is disobedience?

Scenario: You are a secretary. Your boss walks in and tells you to go check the company’s postbox because she’s expecting something important. Among the possible responses:

  1. You immediately drop everything and run to the post office.
  2. You are too focused on the job you are doing and don’t hear her. She has to walk over and touch you on the shoulder to get your attention. Then you go for the mail.
  3. You finish what you’re working on and leave 5 minutes later.
  4. You point out that if you go now, you won’t have time to finish what you’re doing and let her decide which is more important.
  5. You know that the mail sorting won’t be finished for another hour so you plan the rest of your morning accordingly.
  6. The boss actually gave you the instruction in the lunch room. You finish your tea break and head off to the post office.
  7. By the time you finish your tea break, you’ve forgotten about the important mail and get on with some other work. You remember after an hour or so and head off to the post office before lunch.
  8. You completely forget, and pick up the mail at your usual time. The boss is displeased, but, well, these things happen.
  9. You go to get the mail in a timely manner, but grumble all the way.
  10. You tell your you’re too busy and she can go get it herself if it’s that important.

Of the above, only the last could really be called disobedience. In every other case, you did what you were told – you obeyed. It’s one thing to expect or need swift compliance. It’s another thing to label the lack of swiftness, ‘disobedience’.

In a small child, it may simply be the time it takes to process the instruction. When I’m tired it can take me ten or twenty seconds to process and respond to the simple question, ‘How are you?’ – how much longer might it take a child who is still learning the language? If I need immediate action from my toddlers, I make sure that I’m there with them, helping them as I speak. And if I’m not right there, then I consider their slow compliance to be the result of my failure to get off my butt.

Even in an older child who is able to understand and respond more quickly, expecting immediate compliance every single time is, I think, a violation of personal boundaries. Yes, there are times when something must be done right now, and yes, we as parents have authority over our children. But we don’t own them. Their bodies and their souls are their own, under Christ. To expect immediate compliance to our every whim is to treat them like a slave or a robot, not a person.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a tricky balance, and one I often get wrong. On the one hand, they are members of a family and a household and each member needs to serve the others in love. None of us can selfishly do whatever we want without regard to the whole. BUT within that, I want my children to have the right to negotiate (“I’ll just finish this first”; “After I do that, may I…”; perhaps even “If I do that, will you…”). They can even have the right to procrastinate – and to make mistakes and learn from them (if you procrastinate too long, you will miss out on something) – in the context of a loving family where they are accepted no matter what.

And what about the happy heart? Is it disobedience if the secretary grumbles? Well, no, it’s still compliance. Not true obedience in the sense that God wants us to obey him: wholeheartedly, as an overflow of our love and trust for him. And of course as parents that’s what we want from our kids, too. But a grumpy face or a bad attitude is not disobedience. And if I demand my children act cheerful when they don’t feel cheerful… hmm… whitewashed tombs come to mind…

Stay tuned for Part II: Is Disobedience Rebellion?

About Claire

I'm part-time stay-at-home mum to 3 children under 10. We're trying to raise them with the gentleness and creativity God uses with us. I'm also a part-time nurse and a volunteer breastfeeding advocate. We live not far from the beach or the bush in NW Tasmania.
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9 Responses to Myth busting 9: Right away, all the way, with a happy heart – or it’s rebellion!

  1. This was much needed today 🙂 thank you. I especially like the line “then I consider their slow compliance my failure to get off my butt” Seriously-how many times do I ask my older daughter to do something because I don’t’ want to. Although-she is very good at appropriately dishing it back and saying no, she’d rather not. I appreciate how confident she is-I was not allowed to tell my parents no. Ever. So, I learned to say say “okay” or “sure” when i didn’t really mean it and then didn’t do what I said I would. THAT is disobedient. lol I’ve come a long way.

  2. April says:

    I discovered that principle in Matthew 21:28-31 a couple years ago. It is a striking example of how a son who initially refused to obey, later chose to comply – and Jesus/Yeshua himself points out – “which one was obedient?” “The first.”
    vs 32 applies directly, IMHO, to me if I choose to demand immediate obedience from others, (specifically chidren) and not show mercy – to seek to find a solution that honors the needs, desires, interests (ie: path that God has THEM on) – of others.

  3. Someone pointed out also that Jesus didn’t go to the cross “with a happy heart”. He went in agony and asked the Father if it were possible, to take it from Him. And yet His obedience was perfect. I used to use that phrase “right away, all the way, and with a happy heart” and I’ve really had to rethink it. I do ask them to do it “in a pleasant way” and am trying to give them a little space to not to things immediately, although it’s sure what I would prefer. I have one child who has a very difficult time with transitions and so I’m learning to give him more time to process, respond, and change gears. It’s not easy, but definitely more respectful and loving to who he is as a person. Thanks for this post.

  4. Claire says:

    Thank you all for those wonderful insights :). I am so glad God considers our delayed obedience, obedience ;). I hadn’t thought about Jesus’ unhappy obedience before. Thanks again!

  5. Alison says:

    This is a terrific post. I have learned – very slowly – to count to 20 before I ask a a child a second time to do the thing they need to do. 9 times out of 10 they do it within that time – but NEVER immediately. I think the pause is their way of reminding me that they are separate people with things to do, but once they have finished they are happy to then do what they need to do. Thank you for reminding us that an immediate response is not the criteria of good discipline.

  6. malakoa says:

    “And if I demand my children act cheerful when they don’t feel cheerful… hmm… whitewashed tombs come to mind…” excellent!

  7. hermanalinda says:

    Not to be pushy, but I was wondering how long it would be until you publish part 2 and if you happen to already know how many parts this series will have? ❤

  8. Pingback: Delayed or grudging obedience is disobedience? | Why Not Train A Child?

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