As a teenager, I was part of a lively church-based youth group and it was inevitable that at some point, we’d have ‘the sex talk’.
My memories of those (single sex) sessions are tinged with red-faced embarassment; the beetroot-coloured face of our female youth leader, explaining to a group of fidgety teenage girls, what was ok and what was ‘too far’.
We left with a non-negotiable list imprinted in our heads, of things we were allowed to do and things which were banned. We were told that ‘true love waits’ and the ‘Single Ring Thing’ was a good measuring stick by which to judge our standards of behaviour.
Years later, reflecting on this with some friends, I wonder just how effective this teaching was? And as adults, how effective ‘rules’ are when it comes to making a decision about how we should behave?
In truth, not very. A study some years ago found that abstinence programmes had very little impact on reducing the amount of teenage pregnancy. And while I think we DO need guidelines, in truth, presenting humans with a list of dos and donts, is quite likely to end in failure.
There’s just something dodgy in our hearts which lends itself quite nicely to breaking rules or stretching an interpretation of what we’ve been told.
How many times (even in Soaps), have you heard a cheating partner say, ‘we didn’t actually sleep together…’even though they know in their hearts that they’ve been unfaithful on every other level? Or a person justifying why their theft was just a ‘temporary loan’.
On some level or other, we all do it. Most of us don’t want to be told what to do, and even if we manage to follow the prescribed guidelines, you can bet that we’ll try to find a work-around.
At least, most of the people in our youth group did.
What if, instead of a rule sheet, we focused instead on chasing after holiness? The first of the Ten Commandments give a super easy guide on how to do it;
God spoke all these words: I am God, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of a life of slavery. No other gods, only me.
If we put everything through a filter of ‘no other gods, except me’, I think we’re off to a pretty good start. Why? Because God says He’s a ‘jealous God’ but is also unshakeably loyal and loving to everyone who chases after Him.
Following rules has simply never worked for me, but cultivating a relationship with God and judging my standards of behaviour by what I think will please Him, has always put me (quickly) back on track.
At some point in our lives, we’ll all wander off-track (congratulations if you haven’t) but it’s not usually ‘rules’ which draw us back to God. Instead, it’s the knowledge that, like the dirty old prodigal son, home with Father God is pretty much the safest place in the world to be.
Rules are for fools (or so they say). I think there’s a better way.