Where have you been? Where are you going? And why?
I drove down my street one afternoon this week and sure enough, there they were. My nephews, Caleb and Isaiah, zipped up and down driveways on their shiny, silver scooters. I rolled down the window to greet them, “What’s going on, guys?”
“Hey Luke!” Caleb said as he whipped past me and manually motored down the street.
Isaiah pulled to a stop at the window, his dirty blond hair blown in all directions. “How was your day at school, buddy?” I asked.
“Good. Well, not good.” His gaze drifted from me to the street. “I had to pull my clip down today.”
Ah yes, the kindergarten behavior chart of stickers and clips. I continued with my curiosity, “Oh really, I bet that made you really sad. What rule did you break?”
“I ran down the hall.”
I leaned in and softened my voice, “Was it fun?”
“No, it wasn’t fun pulling my clip down!” he yelled in disbelief at my ignorance. Why do people over six ask such stupid questions?
“No, Zay, I meant running in the hallway. Was running down the hall fun?” I asked.
His face lit with desire. “Yeah, it was really fun.”
How much do you want from your son or daughter? Tom Cruise’s passionate outburst of “I want the truth!” echoes in my head. That includes the ugly parts that would make a prison warden blush. Do you want their whole heart?
Kids don’t often get that message. The structure of our schools most often communicates that behavior is first and foremost. Most religions follow a similar path. If we can simply get people to conform, things will work. As parents know best, settling for a behavior-first approach is simply easier. It takes far less emotional investment to structure your relationship with your child around rules and discipline.
I wanted Isaiah’s whole heart. Even the part that enjoyed the thrill of running down the hallway. By caring about his heart amidst his disobedience, I put money in the bank of our relationship.
A good friend of mine plans to take his son out for a back deck cigar whenever he uncovers his son’s first use of pornography. In no way does my friend approve of pornography. But he wants his son’s whole heart. He wants to validate his son’s attraction to sin. The message is this: While sin is not okay, I completely understand your lust and enjoyment of it, and I’m with you in the struggle. Typically we look at God’s displeasure of sin and therefore determine that sin shouldn’t be fun. Sin beats Disney World and Six Flags hands down.
When Jesus encounters people filled with shame and guilt, he doesn’t chastise them or smile as they experience the natural consequences of sin. No, our Immanuel offers them a deeper, eternal drink of himself. Of course. Immanuel in Hebrew means “God with us”. Behavior is not God’s top priority; relationship brings him the most pleasure.
If God went through hell to offer us relationship with him, perhaps we as parents, mentors, teachers, and coaches can fight a little harder for the whole hearts of the kids in our care.
Relationship is always central.