By Diana Waring
Freedom in relationships—the amazing impact freedom brings to relationships—that’s where we are going in this column, but we have to start with a brief history lesson from Russia. When we talk about a family “living in liberty,” questions inevitably arise concerning parental—or even church—authority. So, before the questions begin, consider a real-life example of what can happen when authority and freedom collide outside the bounds of love.
In the 1800s, an ancient political theory known as anarchy—“an absence of government and the absolute freedom of the individual”—became popular, especially in Russia. Believing that authority and freedom could not peacefully coexist, and given the brutal conditions of life under the tsar, many Russian anarchists chose to use violence against rulers in their attempt to gain political freedom during an authoritarian age. It is fascinating to note that the tutor of Tsar Alexander III viewed the Western form of political liberty (defined as “free from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior, or political views”) as dangerous!1 The end result of the rising tensions between individuals and groups who were seeking “freedom” and authoritarian rulers who were keeping “control” of the masses was the destabilization of Russia, a major factor in the overthrow of the tsar and the success of the October Revolution by communists in 1917.
Assuming that you do not reign as a tsar in your home, your children are probably not going to seek the absolute freedom of anarchy! On the other hand, if your children are “born free and running wild,” will they discover the safety and joy that come from a Biblical model of parental authority? The challenge we each face is to discover the middle ground: appropriate liberty for our children with an appropriate authority for us as their parents—and to develop both of these with 1 Corinthians 13-style love.
To help with the discovery process, here’s a bit of our story—lessons learned in the homeschool “of hard knocks.” As a young parent, having never been around children much, I was astonished by all the ways my kids could find to upset my apple cart. From accidentally breaking a hand-thrown bowl (my one victory in a semester of learning how to use a potter’s wheel) to intentionally leaving a mess in the kitchen, from arguing over whose turn it was to sit in the front seat to criticizing each other’s singing, the number of things that could go wrong when kids were involved was mind-boggling. So, being the mom in a mess, I decided that what my kids needed were rules! Lots of them . . . rules for every common condition and every potential problem. If they invented a new mistake outside the current set of rules, I would quickly invent a new rule in hopes of covering every trouble and circumstance.
I was actually starting to feel good, enjoying the sense of being in control through enforcement of my limitless lists of rules. My children, however, were not feeling as good. In fact, they were being increasingly wrapped up in a straitjacket as I added new rules at every turn: “From now on, you must always . . . ” and “From now on, you will never again . . . ” and “Hurry up!” and “Slow down!” etc., etc., etc.
I’m not sure how they would have actually made it to adulthood if my husband had not wisely stepped in to deal with the situation as it was getting out of hand. Being a man of few words, Bill simply looked at me one day and said, “Diana, too many rules.”
“Too many rules.”
“I’m not getting it. Do you mean to say a person can have too many rules?????”
“Well, according to Galatians 5:14, there is really only one rule we actually need for life: Love each other.”
It was too simple. Could love actually be the one and only, the rule to cover every situation, circumstance, difficulty, disagreement? Much to my amazement, as we began talking through the concept of putting love into practice and addressing the issues I was facing in parenting—and our children began learning to put love into practice with each other, not only to solve problems now but to learn how to handle life as adults—I discovered that it was, in fact, the only rule that we actually needed.
I had to look at the children as persons made in God’s image, not as crowds to be controlled; as my dear ones, not as anarchists. Which is more relational, to scream “Slow down and don’t be so clumsy!” or to suggest “When we deal with precious things, there is a carefulness we need: me for your stuff and you for other people’s stuff”? The freedom is in learning to love, and learning to love gives rise to care for others and the things others care about.
Rules that come from truth without grace harshly demand, “Don’t touch pottery! Don’t touch!” Those kinds of rules give birth to resistance and defiance. When the question “What have you done?” is yelled with anger, the answer is hard to find. Living in liberty asks, with kindness in one’s heart, “Were you being careful and looking for a loving way to do things?” When the question is asked with the fruit of the Spirit, the answer can more easily be voiced. What we will discover over time is that using our freedom to love is powerful.
When I have shared this story at homeschool conventions, often someone raises the question of whether or not we had rules governing what time our kids went to bed and whether they brushed their teeth. Of course we had practices in place for everyday life. But what had been my ever-growing set of rules for handling conflict and resolving troubles was wisely replaced by the One Rule for human relationships: Love your neighbor as yourself.
Kenneth Scott Latourette. Christianity in a Revolutionary Age, Volume II,Michigan: Zondervan, 1959, page 451.
Diana Waring, author of Beyond Survival, Reaping the Harvest, and History Revealed curriculum, discovered years ago that “the key to education is relationship.” Beginning in the 80s, Diana homeschooled her children through high school—providing the real-life opportunities to learn how kids learn. Mentored by educators whose focus was to honor Him who created all learners, and with an international background (born in Germany, B. A. in French), Diana has been enthusiastically received by audiences on four continents.
Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the June 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.