“I don’t feeeeel like it.”
Every parent who has ever told a child to clean up the Legos or go take a bath, has heard these words, almost always delivered in a tone of voice one could call “classic whine.”
My motherish reply might sound something like this: “I don’t care whether you feel like it or not, you are to obey Mommy.”
But according to Scripture, I should care how my children feel about picking up their toys or taking a bath or doing whatever it is I tell them to do. Scripture cares a lot about how we feel about obeying, and as a parent, I should too.
God commands us not only to give, but to give cheerfully (2 Cor. 9:7). We are not just to serve the Lord faithfully, but serve him with gladness (Ps. 100:2).
I am called to teach my children not only to obey, but how to obey cheerfully. “Cheerfulness” is one of the best places to start teaching young children how to handle their feelings.
Now, when a child is two, you are often working just to get them to pick up a toy at all, much less do it cheerfully. But by the time they reach pre-school age, or even before, a child can begin to learn how to obey with a smile.
When we were little, my parents taught us to obey “immediately, completely, and cheerfully.” Sticking with those themes, we are trying to teach our children to obey “all the way, right away, and with a happy heart.”
Notice the key role “cheerfulness” plays in this triumvirate. It isn’t obedience without it.
If we allow our children to cultivate the habit of sharing grudgingly or cleaning up grumpily or holding our hand resentfully, we are teaching them (however unintentionally) that feelings don’t matter.
But if we teach them to say “yes” in a cheerful voice and obey with a smile, we are not only showing them how to obey but how they should feel about obeying. And if they do it enough times, they eventually will!
Our goal is not to churn out a generation of Eddie Haskells, hiding devious hearts behind sickeningly sweet smiles; but rather to raise a generation of “wise sons” who learn to heed our advice to “direct your heart in the way” (Prov. 23:19).
We are not trying to mask unhappy feelings but cultivate cheerful feelings.
The more that our children obey with a smile and a cheerful attitude, the more they will begin to feel that smile and feel happy to serve.
It is in these mundane, seemingly unimportant moments, when we tell our children to put away the Legos cheerfully, that we are preparing their hearts to follow the Savior with great passion and affection, to serve the Lord with gladness (Ps. 100:2).