Simplifying the Ten

beachAs a Christian parent, I often puzzle over how best to instruct my children about how to behave. I take the injunction in Deuteronomy 6 seriously: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”

While I certainly want to teach my children about God’s grace and forgiveness—indeed, about his steadfast love for us (the hesed of Exodus 34:5-7 and Psalm 103)—I think it also makes good sense to provide some clear guidelines about right conduct. Without that foundation, is it even possible to understand what grace is (or how grace transcends law)?

Honestly, I’d like a rulebook—or a set of case law, where every infraction is codified and every response clearly delineated. That might help Dad navigate ambiguity while indulging his temptations to casuistry. But there’s no easier way to confuse and confound a child than with too many rules or too many conditions. The guidelines need to be clear and simple if they are to be remembered and obeyed.

One friend seemed to think he could get the list of rules down to three:

  1. Listen and obey
  2. All the way and right away
  3. And have fun.

I think that oversimplifies things and misses an opportunity to teach principles of conduct independent of parental authority.

Rev. Ben Van Arragon of First Christian Reformed Church in Detroit, Michigan, found a concise way to distill the Ten Commandments into terms that adolescents can understand.  But I think the language would still fly over the heads of my pre-K set. So I took a pass myself. Here’s my preliminary list, which begins with a pair of axioms that govern the rest and mixes positives with negatives like the original Ten:

  1. God is in charge of Mom and Dad.
  2. Mom and Dad are in charge of you.
  3. Listen to Bible stories and remember to pray.
  4. Rest on Sundays.
  5. Listen to and be respectful of Mom and Dad.
  6. Don’t hit. Know when to say sorry.
  7. Don’t complain about what your brother or sister has.
  8. Don’t take what doesn’t belong to you.
  9. Use your words. Tell the truth.
  10. Be thankful and cheerful. Have a good attitude.

What do you think? I welcome your thoughts and refinements. The revised list will be posted on my refrigerator for implementation and further testing.

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