…so we decided to leave the park, even though we’d been told not to. The prospect of spending the next 5 hours there with nothing to do was far from exciting, but the rule-follower in me was screaming at myself for doing something we’d been explicitly told not to do. Once we found out another group left because one of the kid’s moms, who was a booster, had given them permission, my trepidations were somewhat quelled, though the feeling in my chest didn’t subside much.
The six of us set off, heading further into downtown St. Louis. We didn’t have a plan and didn’t know where we were going; all we knew was the time we needed to be back by. As we walked, we came across a large fountain that was also serving as a swimming pool for young children; certainly an out-of-the-ordinary sight to behold for this group of Minnesotans. Sure it was hot, but people just let their kids swim in public fountains down here? All of the parents were right there. A strange sight for us to find.Other than this, all we found in our trip was some sort of art exhibit/sculpture garden. Leaving the park meant we were doing something, but we weren’t really finding anything much more interesting.
Discussion soon turned to food, and finding a restaurant became a top priority. Someone suggested walking down to Hooters, a suggestion I promptly vetoed. Instead, we found ourselves at T.G.I. Friday’s. We went into the restaurant, and saw the other group who’d also left the park. As we were eating, we also noticed that the parents of someone in our group were in the restaurant. He went over and talked with them, and nothing affecting the group came out of the conversation, but as we were finishing, another booster came into the restaurant, and was less than pleased to see us. As it happened, his son was in the other group. The booster (in no uncertain terms) told us to get back to the park, something we did after finishing and paying.
All in all, there wasn’t any harm done, even though we’d been caught. Our “spokesperson” told someone with the boosters that the only reason we left was because we’d heard the other group had gotten permission from a booster who also happened to have a child in that group. Even though nothing happened (aka, we didn’t get disciplined), I was still running through all of the possibilities of what could happen as we were walking back to the park. I’d already graduated, so there wasn’t anything school wise they could do; the worst they could do trip-wise was send me home, but my parents were also in St. Louis, so I wouldn’t have left the city or flown home; and that was it. I ran through the worst possibilities over and over again, pondering the “what if’s” of punishment for the rest of the night, until we covered some of the same ground we had earlier as we walked back to the hotel.
This is the way I have approached breaking the rules for as long as I can remember. I have had an unwillingness to break *explicitly* stated rules, and when I have, I’ve always played through all of the consequences that could happen because of breaking the rules. A moral imperative may have grown inside of me as I’ve gotten older, but for the most part, my focus has been on punishment. The focus on punishment is often so intense that I will question whether things I’m doing right are actually wrong, and what will happen if someone catches me doing this wrong thing that isn’t wrong at all.
This approach to the rules has really left me with a fear of breaking the rules. I didn’t cheat in school because of this, I don’t (or do my best not to) speed, I wash my hands; if there are rules to follow (that I know about), I am doing my best to follow them.
There are at least four different ways in which my approach to the rules is detrimental.
- I follow explicitly stated rules
If there’s a rule that seems more like a guideline, there is a much greater likelihood that I will challenge or break it. The closer it is to an explicitly stated rule, the guiltier I may feel about breaking the rule, but there is still a relatively high chance that I will break it. Why am I overweight? Why don’t I brush my teeth twice a day? Why do I wait months and months in between oil changes? Because “rules” around these areas seem more like “guidelines.”
- Manipulating the rules
I will manipulate rules to work to my advantage. Why do I pay such close attention to rules in games? So I know how to use them to my advantage to win. Strict adherence to the rules can often create a situation I will be able to benefit from, when approached properly.
- Questioning Authority
Who are these people to be creating rules? Why do they know what they’re doing better than I do? I’ll follow your rules, but don’t think I won’t be watching for something that doesn’t make sense or something I could improve upon.
- Approaches to Christianity
The culmination of my relationship with rule-breaking is found in how I can skew Christianity and theology in my mind. Besides character driven issues that may result from the previous three points, I can hold myself to a standard that I must completely follow all of the rules to be a “true” Christian, or to receive blessings, or to hopefully get into heaven. This has a major effect on me because, in some ways, my thoughts are true. I will never be able to follow all of the rules associated with keeping the law perfectly or with not sinning. Do I not deserve punishment for breaking the rules?
Well, yes…and no.
Is it what I deserve? Signs would seem to point to yes. However, this is where the grace of God comes in to change my understanding. The rules and the rule following are not what will save me; only the grace of God can do that. This applies to being a “true” Christian, receiving blessings, salvation; all of that and more. It is difficult as a rule-follower to understand the power of the grace of God when I continue to break the rules. This is one of the struggles I will likely continue to work through throughout my life, and will continue to grow in explaining as I work to understand all of it.
This doesn’t mean we don’t (or don’t try to) follow the rules, but the reason for doing so must be changed. Fear of the consequences is certainly a part of why rules are followed, but it shouldn’t be the main one. Following the rules because it is the morally right thing to do seems more accurate, but still seems lacking in its reasoning. This is especially true in the face of unjust laws. To be honest, I think I’m still looking for the “reason” to follow the rules; mercifully, though I may never fully grasp that reason, I’ve got someone to help me out along the way.