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:
- You immediately drop everything and run to the post office.
- 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.
- You finish what you’re working on and leave 5 minutes later.
- 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.
- You know that the mail sorting won’t be finished for another hour so you plan the rest of your morning accordingly.
- The boss actually gave you the instruction in the lunch room. You finish your tea break and head off to the post office.
- 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.
- You completely forget, and pick up the mail at your usual time. The boss is displeased, but, well, these things happen.
- You go to get the mail in a timely manner, but grumble all the way.
- 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?