Today is my 67th birthday. Looking back I realize how much life has changed. When I was younger, I did a lot of things I no longer do.
Life is so much better now.
I run in the path of your commands,
for you have set my heart free! – Psalm 119:32
There was time when it was believed among some education elites that children would learn better without boundaries, rules, or structure. The “open classroom” was an idea that despised the notion of an authority figure telling children what to do.
During this time the school board in one town decided that fences around the elementary school playground were too confining, and that the children needed to feel the freedom of an open area for their recesses.
When the fences were removed, the “experts” were surprised to find that the children tended to huddle in a space that was smaller than their original playground. Being unsure of the boundaries wasn’t making the children feel free, it was making them feel insecure. Not being sure just how far they were allowed to go to play, they stayed in the middle of the yard.
When the fence was returned, the children were back to playing right up to it, some of them leaning against the chain links, apparently feeling secure again.*
For all the world’s talk of freedom and the idea that everyone should be permitted to do what he or she pleases, there is something ingrained within us that knows that left on our own, we don’t always make the best choices. And in a world where no two people agree on everything, total “freedom” would result in utter chaos. Hence, we look for guidelines, boundaries, someone who is more experienced than we are who can advise us.
(Oh my. Did I just say we’re looking for an authority figure to tell us what to do??)
When you think of it, there are people who get paid money to do just that: fitness coaches, consultants, psychiatrists, dietitians, and teachers.
An adolescent may shout “Don’t tell me what to do!” one moment, and next moment, in a panic, whimper, “Mom, what should I do?” (Not that I would know this from personal experience…)
Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible, is a poem praising the virtues of the Law of the LORD. To some it might seem strange for someone to use words to describe the Law that are usually reserved for praising a lover or hero, or God Himself. But the writer of this Psalm was overcome with love for God’s law. (“I rejoice in following your statutes, as one who rejoices in great riches. … I delight in your decrees.”) Why such ardent devotion to and delight in old scrolls full of rules and regulations? Does anyone really love being told what to do that much?
It might help to imagine the opposite of structure and rules: a world where anything goes, and choices are infinite. I, for one, would be in a constant state of indecision. I would also be perpetually stressed out, second guessing myself at every turn. It would be the emotional equivalent to standing in quicksand or drifting in weightlessness with nothing to hold onto.
I’ve found that even living a “good” life there is such a thing as too many choices. How many things do I do simply “because I can”? How many times have I mentally clicked on “all of the above” when faced with a long list of possibilities? How often have I looked back on a myriad of activities and not been able to remember truly enjoying any of them? And how often have I become burned out from trying to cram too many things into too little time?
As I have grown older – and, I hope, wiser – I have experienced some of the typical limitations, mainly the aches, pains, and stiffness from arthritis. For about twenty years of my life I ran about 4 miles every day, not really enjoying it but thinking it was good for me. Ironically, so much running in cheap shoes on hard surfaces depleted the cartilage in my knees. Bad knees began to limit my activities. I quit playing tennis, with its sudden stopping, starting, and turning, before I quit running. But eventually it became obvious that running was counterproductive, as well. I now have more hours in the day to do things that I enjoy more and, frankly, things I am better at.
Recently I was on my way to pick up my granddaughters from school, and as I drove through the park, I saw people playing tennis. I smiled and found myself thinking smugly, I don’t have to do that any more. I used to play tennis mainly because other people liked it and thought I should, too. (“It’s a beautiful day, you should be out there.”) I didn’t mind tennis for an hour or two a week, but to be honest, it wasn’t my “thing.” Hitting a tennis ball was something I did while thinking about things that were more important to me.
(Before I get too many comments regarding the benefits of exercise – three times a week I listen to audio books at the gym while I work out on the weight resistance and ellyptical machines. My husband and I walk, bike, and/or kayak together most days. And I’m enjoying exercise more more – the scenery is better, too.)
I’ve learned to take sickness more in stride, as well. The last few times I’ve been too sick to go out, too contagious to babysit the grandkids, and too hoarse even to “get things done” on the phone, I have been forced to stay home alone with God, and after connecting with Him, I ended up getting more writing done than I ever could on a “normal” day. Since writing is my passion, these limitations turned out to be a blessing.
I’m hoping that as I continue to grow wiser I’ll have the confidence and self-discipline to make good choices based on right priorities, and God won’t have to help me out by eliminating the wrong options Himself!
Prayer: Lord, we can be foolish, blind, and indecisive. We are like sheep needing boundaries in our lives, boundaries established by Someone who loves us. Thank You for being our Good Shepherd, and thank You that though we are prone to wander, we are never lost from You. Amen