When we brought Jude and Sophie home—before we could even speak the same language—we had two simple priorities: show them we loved them, and teach them to obey.
The first one was easy. We said “I love you” non-stop in English and Amharic. We gave lots of hugs and kisses and smiles of approval. We bought new clothes and books and bikes. We took them sledding (a first!) and played legos and put together puzzles. We made it clear, through our actions and attention, that they were every bit as much our children as our biological son and daughter.
All these things were hugely important. In hindsight, though, I think they felt our love most of all through our gracious authority.
It didn’t feel that way at the time. To train them to obey we started with a few simple guidelines that were easy to understand: No TV until right before dinner (4:45 pm to be precise), no getting up from the table until being dismissed, and no hitting or biting.
They fought back at first—pouting about no TV or sitting at the table with their legs stretched out to the side, poised to bolt. Some days we were tempted to give up. Were we being to strict? Would they grow to hate us forever? What was the harm in letting them watch a little extra TV? But a well-timed word of encouragement from Mom always strengthened our resolve.
So we kept telling them “I love you” and put the remote out of reach.
A funny thing happened. Instead of becoming more resentful toward us and unhappy with the rules, Jude and Sophie became more compliant and obedient, and what’s more, they grew happier by the day.
Recently it dawned on me. One of the main reasons Jude and Sophie seem to have bonded with our family so quickly (in addition to the sheer grace of God!) is because the clear boundaries helped them feel like they belonged. They know the rules, the way things work around here. And so they feel comfortable because they aren’t on the outside trying to understand how this family works. They are “on the in” of the Whitacre family. Because they know what is required of them, they can relax and concentrate on other important things such as soccer and coloring and learning to read.
Don’t get me wrong, like every family, we have plenty of areas that need work. But this morning, as I write, Steve is downstairs going through our Advent devotional over breakfast. And tonight we will be able to sit down at the dinner table and talk and laugh as a family.
Now that they understand our words, and can sit still long enough to listen, we can tell them the greatest news of all: through Jesus Christ, they can join the family of God.
Obedience is the gateway to understanding the gospel.
“‘For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.’ It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:6-11 ESV).