This morning my son and I were planting trees again. The first part of the process was to dig eighteen holes, and pour a bucket of water into each hole. So right after breakfast we got a wagon, filled two five-gallon buckets of water, added a spade, and headed for the field where we're planting.
While I dug the holes, my son scooped water and poured it into holes so there would be plenty of moisture in the soil when we planted the trees. The temperature was already on the rise, and I was dripping with sweat, so I wasn't in a good mood to argue with my son when he told me, "Daddy, I don't want to do this. The grass is wet, and it's getting my feet wet."
"Well, it needs to get done," I said.
"Why do we have to do it now, when the grass is so wet?"
And here's where I was tempted to use that famous line, "Because I said so." It's quick and easy to say, and doesn't even interrupt the work I was doing. After a moment's thought, though, I put the shovel down and said, "Do you know why the grass is wet here?"
"Because of the dew?"
"Mmm hmm. Come here," I said, as I walked up the hill, and out of the shade. "The grass isn't wet here. That's because it's not in the shade, and it is really hot here, isn't it?"
Then I pointed back down the hill at the tree holes, which were all in the shade. "If we wait for the grass to dry off, then all of that will be in the sunlight, and it'll be hot, and that'll make the work twice as hard."
Armed with that understanding, he agreed that it was better to do it now.
Don't get me wrong, I think that there are times that "because I said so" is a legitimate answer; I do think that children should be taught and trained that obedience is important even when they don't understand the reason for it. But I also think it makes sense, in most cases, to explain my reasoning to my children when I'm able to do so.
This is a very common pattern in scripture, and if you look for it, you'll find it everywhere. God gives an instruction, and then he explains the reason for it.
Every time you find a "for" or a "therefore" or a "because" in scripture, think about it carefully. It's likely that you'll find that God is explaining himself and his instructions to his children.
To illustrate this, I randomly opened my Bible to Philippians 4, where I read this:
The command is to stand firm, but the word "therefore" precedes the command, which suggests that in the previous verses Paul explained the reason for the command:
Why stand firm? Because we have a citizenship and a glory ahead of us that outweighs any burden or struggle that faces us now.
I encourage you to read scripture looking for these kinds of pairings, and express your gratitude to God that he didn't just say, "Because I said so," but took the time to explain his commands. And, of course, always be ready to obey, out of trust and submission, whenever an explanation is not given.
When trying to teach our one-year-old about things he is (and is not) allowed to do, we run into a couple problems. One is that, since he can't communicate except in grunts, waves, and "diddle-diddle" baby-talk, it's hard to know how well he understands what we're telling him. If we tell him not to stand on the sofa, does he understand what a "sofa" is? And does he understand what it means to "stand"?
The second problem is that he has not yet developed much impulse control, so if we inundate him with rules to follow, we will be constantly correcting him. There are only so many hours in a day, and we don't want to spend them all saying to him, "We told you not to do that!"
So, as our son is developing understanding and impulse control, we are careful to keep our instructions to him at a simple and minimal level. Most of the "dos and don'ts" we give him divide into two primary categories:
1. Instructions that are for his own benefit/safety. For example, we are strict about not letting him stand on the sofa, or take things out of the trash can, because the first activity could easily result in injury, and the second activity -- well, let's face it -- the trash can is not the most sanitary object in any home!
2. Instructions for the benefit/safety of those around him. For example, we have a diabetic cat, and if he eats "people food," he gets sick. Thus, we are strict about our son not throwing his food on the floor.
There is a third category of "dos and don'ts" which we try not to delve into too deeply:
3. Instructions that are for our own convenience. For example, even though we don't let him get into the trash can, we have never told him that he's not allowed to unload the diaper bag all over the floor. There's nothing in there that's dangerous for him, and while it's a nuisance to repack the bag, we feel that there are more important "dos and don'ts" for him to learn first.
The goal in all of this is to have a set of rules that are not overwhelming for either our one-year-old or us. Are we succeeding? I don't know, and perhaps it'll be a very long time before I do know. But as I thought about all of this, it occurred to me that what we're trying to do is to emulate our Heavenly Father in the way He gives commands to us.
1 John 5:3 says that "His commandments are not burdensome." Doesn't God do for us (perfectly) what we are trying (imperfectly) to do for our son? God's commands are neither burdensome nor self-serving. His commandments to us fall -- for the most part -- into two basic categories: commands that are in our own best interest, and commands that are for the benefit of those around us.
If I can appreciate that my rules for my son are reasonable, wise (hopefully!), and beneficial to our household, can I not trust that God's rules for me are even more reasonable, wise, and beneficial?