I have been working with kids for 33 years. In middle and high school it was babysitting and teaching Sunday School. During college it was nannying and doing various placements for coursework; for 9 years it was in the classroom as a professional educator and since 2003 it has been at South Potomac Church as the Director of Children’s Ministries. As I have navigated the world of kiddos, I have learned a few key principles. One of the most sustaining, transferable, and useful principles is “the why behind the what”.
I think most people would agree that rules are good things, especially when it comes to kids. The rules are boundaries set so that everyone can stay safe and accomplish whatever the purpose is for that time and place. They tend to look different in different settings, of course. For example, when I was teaching 3rd grade the rule was that the kids had to their hands to answer a question or speak. That was not a rule when I was nannying – it would have been ridiculous in that setting. The difference? Managing 25 kids versus managing 2. But in both cases, there were rules – boundaries established that kept everyone safe and on course.
And that is the “magic” of the why behind the what. When I am dealing with a child, I can simply enforce the established rules. I can lay them out and then punish the child when they are broken. However, experience has taught me that it works much, much better to explain the “why” behind the rule from the get-go – and to remind them of it every time I enforce that rule. In the end, the child has to obey my authority either way – with or without the explanation. But if she knows my heart, my thinking, the purpose of the rule, it makes it way easier for her to follow. It is the difference between, “Be nice to your sister!” and “Be nice to your sister because she is a gift from God to you. It is a privilege to have a sister!” Big brother may not agree that his sister is a gift in that moment – but that is the bottom line reason for him to be kind. His sister was created by God and is a gift to the family and to him. Another example – The teacher says, “Stop running!” It is a command based on the rule that we don’t run in the building. But if the teacher says, “Stop running – there are too many people in here and someone may get stepped on”, it demonstrates that the rule is not there simply to make my life miserable – there is a reason behind it.
A side note – is there a time for “Because I said so”? Most definitely. And I am not suggesting that you get into a debate with any child about the rules. Hopefully they have been established, are consistent and are necessary for the time and place. But that would be a whole other post on rule-setting… There certainly is a time for a child to obey simply because you are the authority. However, when you show them your heart, when you show them that there IS a “why” behind the rule, the results are more likely to be heart-change and not just for-the-moment behavioral change.
But here is the real power in the “why behind the what” that goes well beyond working with kids. It is a powerful tool for dealing with temptation in your own life. God has set boundaries over us to keep us safe and help us to accomplish the purposes He planned in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2). Those boundaries are clearly laid out in Scripture. And He always, always tells us the “why behind the what” when it comes to those boundaries.
For example, sexual sin. Doesn’t matter what kind of sexual sin you care to discuss – adultery, sex outside of marriage, homosexuality, lust, pornography (verbal, like certain romance novels or pictorial, like certain magazines), sodomy, fantasies – every bit of it is wrong for the same reason (and all equal in the eyes of God). It distorts the object lesson that God designed marriage (and sex within marriage) to be. Marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church. Christ is the groom; the Church is His bride. The husband is the head of the family; the wife submits to him. The husband loves the wife sacrificially; the wife respects the husband. (Ephesians 5) The intimacy of the marriage bed is a picture of the exclusive relationship and ultimate community that God wants to have with you. No others in first place in your life – Him and Him alone. The one who meets your needs. The one you turn to with every emotion and every breath. That is the why behind the what. God does not say that the sins I listed above are off limits because He is against you – or against love – or freedom of expression – or because He is a celestial prude. He designed and instituted marriage to be a testimony to the watching world of who He is and the kind of relationship He longs to have with us. And when we mess with it in any way, we are messing with one of His great object lessons. And that is why all of the sins listed above are wrong. Sin means “missing the mark” – and all of those cause us and the watching world to miss the mark of His good plan for us and His object lesson.
God does not have to explain Himself to me. And I do not get to reason with Him, arguing Him out of enforcing a rule He has established. But when I realize that He is for me and not against me; when I realize that the boundaries He has established have purpose and meaning behind them; when I remind myself of that in the middle of temptation, it is easier to obey. It shuts down the lies of Satan that he started whispering in the Garden of Eden and keeps spreading to this day. He whispers to us as he said to Eve, “God isn’t good. He isn’t on your side. He doesn’t know what He is talking about. You are wiser than Him.” But the Truth is that God has given me the why behind the what in His Word – for every temptation, every time. It is why Jesus used Scripture against Satan when He was tempted in the wilderness (Matthew 4; Luke 4). And it is why the best way to battle ALL temptation is to know God’s Word. Get to know His heart. Get to know His “whys” and His ways. And then apply them when you are tempted. It will lead you to a life of blessed obedience every time.