I Don't Expect My Kids To Obey "With A Happy Heart"!

I Don't Expect My Kids To Obey With A Happy Heart!

I have a son who is full of zest for life. He puts the “Boy” in “Boisterous” and I love that about him. He is passionate and fixated on whatever is before him. He has a hard time letting go. One day, he will be that man you can count on to follow through, no matter what. A man of integrity that is reliable. Because I know his personality, and immaturity, it has meant looking like a “bad mom” at the park or a friend’s house, many a time. But I’ve learned to be okay with that.

There is a certain philosophy of parenting that has been popular over the years. The idea is that kids should obey, “Right away, all the way, with a happy heart!” otherwise, they are in rebellion. And truthfully, when we know the right thing to do and don’t do it, that’s sin. But I was more interested in how God handles me as a sinner and how I am supposed to model that for my kids.

For a while, this idea sounded good to me. My son would obey me immediately and I could enjoy the benefits. Feel like a great mom. But the more I dug into the principal Biblically, the more I became wary. It sounded too formulaic and I was ignoring my sons’ unique personalities, as well as the Holy Spirit’s vibrancy and creativity in my treatment of my children.

I understand now that my son does not obey “Right away, all the way, with a happy heart!” because he is immature and often needs me to stop, look him in the eye to get his attention, and patiently explain my request to him. When I do, he often will acquiesce, but sometimes tearfully. No “happy heart” there.

I relate.

There was a chapter in my life, not too long ago, where I knew I needed to obey God. I loved Him and wanted to please Him. But there was NOTHING happy about it. I wrestled with God. I pleaded. I wept. I waited. There was a tug-o-war going on in my soul.

The right thing to do was before me, my heart was convicted, and the peace I sought would not come until I took action. I could have obeyed right away but I would have been bitter. Maybe even rebelled. And yet, I knew God wanted my heart. He let me have the time to sort it out and obey with a sincere desire to please Him, not myself.

So I obeyed. And it broke my heart.

I didn’t obey right away, all the way, with a happy heart. Like Noah, there was a lot of fear and trembling:

By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. Hebrews 11:7

God, full of compassion and mercy, loved me through my hard obedience and it changed the course of my life.

As an adult, I still find it difficult to do the right thing. I might even say that I more often than not delay in obeying or downright fail more often than I am quick to follow through when I am convicted about an issue. I have been working on being more patient for decades. I am not where I used to be, but there is a lot of refining of my heart still to be made.

I used to expect my own son to obey right away, all the way, with a happy heart.

The results came. He began to obey me right away, as a very immature toddler. But it was because he would be punished if he didn’t. On top of being commanded to obey me, if he broke down in tears, then he would be in effect disobeying me again because he clearly didn’t have a “happy heart”. I find it preposterous, in retrospect, to think that I expected him to be happy about obeying me at that young immature age.

I felt less and less like I was emulating how God treats me.

Sure enough, when I studied God’s Word, I found over a hundred verses that spoke specifically about obedience. God expects it, commands it, desires it, and wants it for our own good-explaining that it will go well with us, we will have longer lives, and that our obedience is evidence of our love for Him as an act of worship.

And truly, if we were quick to obey, the benefits for us are clear in Scripture and our maturity in Christ would strengthen as an act of love and worship towards God.  But my kids are NOT mature.

That’s why Deuteronomy instructs us to teach our children at every hour of every day over the course of a childhood. It takes patience and time, through a loving relationship.

But we so often want instant results-and to be able to impress others with how well-behaved our kids are as a badge of our own good parenting instead of demonstrating grace towards our kids in front of others or behind our own closed doors

Place these words on your hearts. Get them deep inside you. Tie them on your hands and foreheads as a reminder. Teach them to your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning until you fall into bed at night. Inscribe them on the doorposts and gates of your cities so that you’ll live a long time, and your children with you, on the soil that God promised to give your ancestors for as long as there is a sky over the Earth. Deuteronomy 11:18-21 The Message

When our kids are young-even as teenagers, we are to give them food they can handle-milk for their bodies and the “milk of the Word” for their souls. The solid food of obeying right away is a mature move. I believe we can choke the Holy Spirit in our kids by expecting them to handle "meat" too soon.

Because obedience is hard. It sometimes involves grieving, and pain, and wrestling with sin. Denying yourself is a mature move. Not exactly something my 4 year old has mastered in his youth. Me either. And I’m an adult.

God never tells us that we must obey with a “happy heart”. We can delight in His commands, knowing they bring life, but God understands that this is not an easy path and He extends grace to us over and over again. He is the model we must follow in relationship with our children.

You know how God treats me when I disobey? He doesn’t treat me as I deserve. He forgives me. Overlooks it-even goes a step further in Proverbs 19:11 instructing us that "it is to one's glory to overlook an offense." God Offers heaping measures of grace. He doesn't ignore it, but instead acknowledges that sin has already been paid for on the cross.  I write about what that looks like practically in our home in this post about why "We Ditched The Time Out Chair, For A Mercy Seat".

It takes time. He trains me over the course of my lifetime and never makes me feel punished because Jesus already took my punishment. He doesn’t strike me down with a lightening bolt when I don’t obey right away, all the way, with a happy heart. He rarely even allows significant consequences initially-but He doesn’t let me get away with a clear conscience. He continues to whisper truth to my heart until I can’t help but obey.

Joy always follows obedience in the end-but joy is never about being “happy”. God doesn't condemn us for our tears-instead, He saves them in a bottle and will one day "wipe away" all our tears as it tell us in the book or Revelation. What compassion!

The knowledge of God’s great patience and love is what draws my heart to obey Him more, to trust Him and His plan when I must obey by giving up my own desires, and spurs me on towards love and good deeds.

The LORD appeared to him from afar, saying, "I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness. Jeremiah 31:3

It’s been a joy for me to see my son mature lately. Just this past month, he comes to me with a twinkle in his eye. He will deliberately ask me for something he knows I will say “no” too-like candy for breakfast. In the past, I would allow him to break down, cry, and even ask again. And again.

And each time, I would firmly, but gently explain to him why candy is not acceptable for breakfast, that God tells us to be stewards of our bodies, and that he is to listen and obey Mommy. I love him through his tears and disappointment. I wait patiently for the Truth to work in his heart that he might someday obey out of a sincere heart that genuinely wants to do the right thing, simply because it is the right thing.

Not because he will get in trouble if he doesn’t do it.

And not because he has to become a kid who stuffs his emotions and learns that mommy has no tolerance for a broken heart.

 I wonder too if we are inadvertently sending a message to our children that we are not a safe place for them to fall emotionally-to shed tears, to wrestle through hard choices with a parent who will allow them to cry and grieve.

That day I have been praying for is finally dawning. When my son now asks me for that “no-no”, and before I can tell him “no” he is already grinning. Waiting for me to respond so that he can chirp, “Okay, Mommy”! He wants to please me-to please God. He asks me if I can see his “Jesus heart”. And I affirm his motives for obeying.

All those years of patiently praying, training him with Truth, and showing him grace are producing a child who has a heart that desires obedience in order to honor his parents and honor God. He fails. I fail. But I see the maturity developing in him. It’s a shaping of his heart, not his actions. It’s messy and rough and often one step forward, two steps back. And in the eyes of other moms, it may seem reckless or embarrassing. I’m getting more comfortable with that.

But I see it now. This boy with a heart that is growing in Godliness-a boy who will know how to extend patience and grace towards others too.

There is a whole lot of “happy” about that.


For further reading on this topic, please this post from Sally Clarkson, renowned author and speaker.


YOUR TURN! Has God's Word changed your initial ideas about parenting? Do you examine for yourselves, popular methods for parenting? How has the Holy Spirit led you to make parenting decisions?

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Amber Lia

A former high school English teacher, Amber is a work-at-home mom of 4 little boys under the age of 10. She is the best-selling author of Triggers: Exchanging Parents’ Angry Reactions for Gentle Biblical Responses and Parenting Scripts: When What You’re Saying Isn’t Working, say Something New. She and her husband Guy own Storehouse Media Group, a faith-friendly and family-friendly TV and Film production company in Los Angeles, CA. When she’s not building sand castles with her boys on the beach, or searching for Nerf darts all over her house, you can find Amber writing to encourage families on her blog at Mother of Knights (www.motherofknights.com).