Don't leave the house.
Don't answer the phone. (Unless you recognize the caller id...)
Don't turn on the stove or oven.
Stay out of the cupboards.
Don't give your little brother a bath.
Don't go on the internet.
Don't turn on the fireplace.
Don't make a mess. (Or you will most certainly clean it up.)
Don't do any experiments with electrical appliances, water, fire, the freezer, food, paint, scissors, yourself or (most especially) your siblings while I am gone!
Do be good.
And BE RESPONSIBLE!
This is just a sample of the tangent of concerns I race through before leaving one of my older kids in charge of things when I have to step out for a quick errand. I've embarked upon a stage of new freedoms, as my oldest kids cruise into further maturity and the ability to babysit. Yet there are so many considerations and areas of constraint which I need to impress upon my kids, especially considering the fact that they are not just responsible for themselves, but are helping to care for their younger siblings as well, including a very energetic, explorative toddler. That is why the majority of times I leave the toddler in one of my older children's care, it is during one of his naps so the likelihood of mishap is greatly reduced.
At some point in time, my children will grow in wisdom, and instead of following a precise, clearly defined, over-explanatory set of rules and regulations, they instead will be governed by the knowledge they possess and the reasoning that comes from internalizing a situation and thinking with their hearts. Isn't that what maturity is about? We say that a person is mature if they can think before they speak, make sound decisions and not act based on their emotions and just "living for the moment". A mature person has the ability to foresee the results and future consequences of their actions. (Unfortunately our society is populated by a rather large number of immature adults, judging from this definition.)
So, until my oldest children posses a great deal more maturity, I will continue to spell out with extreme clarity, the "Do's" and "Don'ts" of being left home alone. The last thing I want to come home to is some sort of odd science experiment gone wrong, with the firemen at my doorstep, blue smoke pluming out the doors and windows, half-naked children crying on the grass (because who doesn't love to run around the house in your underwear?) and my eldest son, Ethan, saying "I know I'm in big trouble, but that was really COOL!"
No thank you. I'll do my best to prevent that sort of unfortunate event.
This got me thinking about our growth as believers. In a state of immaturity, we long for rules and regulations, and think "If I can just follow this teaching, that prayer or this new revelation, my Christian walk will be dandy!" However, the fact is, what matters the most is what is going on inside of our hearts. The more we truly know the Lord, the more it becomes fixed in our hearts how He would like us to act. We've all seen or heard of stories where the "book knowledge" or "head knowledge" person goes up against the "life-experience" person, and just can't compete with the depth of wisdom that comes from living in the real world. How much more so with our Christian walk? We will become the type of people whom God wants to use and work through, not when we have read enough material and attained a Bible College degree, but when we have proven ourselves to be committed to a deep relationship with Him.
My daughter would like to take a babysitter's course so that she can be a "certified sitter" but does that really mean that she will be fully equipped to handle whatever situation that arises? Of course not! It takes experience and maturity to successfully and safely care for children for extended periods of time, and even I've goofed up every now and then! ....Like the time my first born was playing with a penny when she was a toddler, and I thought: "What's the big deal? She wouldn't put it in her mouth..." Moments later, she was gagging and choking, and ended up swallowing the penny. (I felt like a pretty rotten mother at that point!) Then there is the time that this same child was downstairs "helping" me do laundry. She took an empty box of powdered detergent, lifted it upside-down to peer into the "empty" bottom of the box and several granules of leftover soap powder fell directly into her eyes. Oh the screaming!!! ...and the terror that I felt as I frantically called my husband, wondering what to do. From work, he called Poison Control on his other line and instructed me to hold my screaming toddler, face up, and pour water into her eyes for 10 minutes, to rinse them out. For the first 5 minutes, she was screaming a blood-curdling "Mommmeeeey.... Mommmeeeey!!!" Until eventually, she lost hope in me ceasing this horrible activity, and she began a heart-rending plea for "Daddy...", hoping he might come and save her. Yes. That was one of the most horrific parenting moments of my life. (Just so you know, today her eyes are perfectly fine; so rinsing them and enduring the heartbreaking experience of terrorizing my poor child was worth it. Mostly.)
While I can't expect perfection from my kids as they grow up and are left home alone more and more, and likely there will be stains on the carpet, broken dishes and magic-marker war paint on the baby's face when left in the care of the older kids, this can't stop me from allowing them to walk this journey to maturity (with a reasonable amount of guidance). Over time, my rules will become less detailed, and I will simply entrust them to the care for their siblings and the home, and to uphold our family values when they are "in charge".
I think a sign of growing maturity in a Christian is the ability to walk along with less sense of the rules and regulations which "should" govern a believer's life, and instead to have more of a heart-knowledge that beats in tune with the God we love and serve. The more we love and know Him, the better we can serve Him and do His will. I can't always be explicit with my children, but if I instruct them and, most importantly, train them to think with their hearts, and perhaps even say to themselves: "Would Mom want me to do this?" then I can expect that, apart from the occasional mistake, my kids will do fine on their own.
The whole WWJD? "What Would Jesus Do?" craze was a great idea, but frankly, I think most people haven't a clue of what Jesus would do. If you wear the bracelet and then look to it before you make a decision, you might be able to come up with some random scriptures that will help direct you, but if you don't actually KNOW Jesus, and have a relationship with Him, you probably will flounder. I guess what I'm saying here is, my heart is to see Christians (and myself) holding a deeper understanding of "how to live" not based on words written on a page, but by the grace, love, hope and faith that is stamped upon our hearts. And that only comes by knowing God, and growing in your relationship with Him. That takes time and commitment. It can't be obtained by reading another book or listening to another sermon. Those things help, but as I've stressed in the past, it's all about relationship.
It may be helpful, as a Christian, to have clear guidelines and signposts, as it were, to govern your daily living. However, my challenge lies in the idea that to truly live for Christ, you must be transformed from the inside; developing a maturity that comes from a heart in tune with the Savior.
It's all part of growing up.