Last night in our Shepherding a Child's Heart study we were talking about obedience and I had a couple thoughts. I have always just defined obedience as "doing what you're told to do." Tedd Tripp, however, defines it this way:
"Obedience is submission to God's authority that causes a child to do what he is told to do, without arguing, without stalling, and without challenging."
I really like his definition. We've been working to teach Eliana to obey right away, without delay, with a good attitude every day. In doing this, I have realized a couple things. First, it is a good time to train Eliana that obedience is an attitude of the heart. It is not just what she does, but the attitude with which she does it, too. We can use this as a time to talk about what is going on in her heart when she doesn't want to obey. We can also use it as a time to teach her about submission and authority. We want her to obey not because we are the parents and she needs to submit to our will, but because we all need to submit to God's will. We are all under God's authority, and in His infinite wisdom He has set up a hierarchy of authority here on earth to maintain order in His creation. Ellie's obedience isn't to us, it is to God and who He has put as the authority in her life. The same is true of us. We honor and respect and submit to our bosses and pastors and husbands and president not because they are worthy of it, but because HE is and He is the one who put them in authority over us. It is not obedience to them, it is obedience to Him. So that was one thought that I had about how this idea of obedience as more than a set of actions fulfilling a specific request will benefit our children.
The second thing I realized about teaching Eliana to obey without arguing, stalling, or challenging is that it maintains peace in our home more than I thought it would. I really thought it would cause more problems because I would have to discipline her CONSTANTLY for stalling as she "obeyed" or argued with me. We already felt like we were disciplining her a lot, and to add tighter boundaries to that seemed like it would make the discipline never ending, heightening tension in our home. As it turns out, the opposite is true, and not because she now obeys all the time right away without complaint. The change comes when we discipline her immediately. Before, I would ask Eliana to do something, and she would say, "Just a minute" and I would let her have a minute or a few. Then I would ask her again and tell her to do it right away, not in a minute. So she would get up and start to obey, but go very slowly. I would get frustrated and try to motivate her to do what I asked, sometimes trying to build her excitement about cleaning her room ("Let's play a clean-up game!") or bribing her ("When you clean up your room we can do something fun together!") or dangling consequences in front of her to remind her what she wanted to avoid ("Remember that if you don't obey I will have to spank you."). In the process of all of that, her attitude didn't change at all, but mine did. I got frustrated and irritated, and then I would have to take a time out for myself before disciplining her, which just put more distance between the offence and the consequence. Then the next time I didn't want to get frustrated, so I was tempted just to let the offence slide and ignore her stalling or arguing. What I have found in the past couple weeks of requiring immediate obedience is that she gets more spankings, but they are given in love because I want her to learn to obey for the right reasons, with the right attitude, because her submission is to God, not to me. She doesn't understand it all right now, but she is starting to form a clearer picture of how the hierarchy of authority works. I am not frustrated when I discipline her, because my desire is that she learn to love and obey God, and it's not about me or my power. She knows the consequences and does not fight them as much because they are more consistenly administered. It does not mean that there is never tension over disobedience, but it does mean that the tension is much less because we approach the discipline differently.
There is a lot more that I could say on the subject, and a lot more that I want to go into. But I still need to get ready for today and head into town, so I'll leave it at that for now. If you've never read it (or if you've read Shepherding a Child's Heart and want more), I STRONGLY recommend reading Instructing a Child's Heart by Tedd and Margy Tripp. Perhaps you won't agree with everything they have to say, but it is good food for thought.