Pool Rules and the Cafe of Sadness

Saturday, as I was having dinner with friends, the two little ones among us were remarking that the their older cousins were lucky because they get to do whatever they want.

Their assessment might have been slightly exaggerated, but the point was true. As children get older, they get to be the boss of themselves. And this was especially appealing to my 4- and 6-year-old friends.

Of course, the discussion followed an afternoon in the backyard swimming pool in which they were forced to endure a whole bevy of rules. When they were sitting on the side of the pool falling in backwards, their mom had to make a rule. “No falling in backwards.” When they were starting all the way at the other side of the yard and running and jumping into the pool, their grandma made another rule. “No running and jumping into the pool.”

When their grandma and mom were in the house getting dinner ready, and they started sitting on top of each other in the pool, I had to make another rule. “No sitting on each other.”

So, by the time we were discussing the merits of getting to do whatever you want over dinner, they were all for it. No amount of motherly and grandmotherly and friendly philosophizing about the pitfalls of self-indulgence could convince them otherwise. 

The next evening, I was at church, leading a workshop on lamenting to high school students. With four other workshops to choose from, only two teenagers and one leader chose mine. I didn’t blame them. I was being advertised as, “Sadness, suffering, and worship in the cafe.”
As I was explaining the concept of lament, unfolding for them a picture of worshiping from within our suffering, and connecting it back to sin and its effects on the world, I was disappointed that more of the students hadn’t had the chance to learn ahead of time how to reach out to God in their pain. To be honest, my pride was a little bruised, too, after all the effort I had put into the presentation. I had even thrown in the rap song, “A Dream,” as an example.

Today, as I reflected back on the two different experiences, however, it dawned on me that they were connected in an important way. These teenagers were finally able to do whatever they wanted, the explicit goal of my two little friends from Saturday, and they had not yet discovered that it only leads to pain. To them, they were finally leaving behind the “pool rules,” and it was blue skies ahead. Lamenting was the last thing on their minds.
But it won’t be too many years from now, when they discover that doing it “my way,” or being the victim of someone else doing it their way, doesn’t work. When they are at the end of themselves and decide to stop looking for meaning in every other direction, I am thankful that they can cry out to God in pain and sorrow. And He will meet them there, just like he has met me so many times. 

Whether they met me in the cafe for “Sadness, Suffering, and Worship” or not.

UPDATE: For a completely different take on “rules,” visit Mel’s “Follow the Magic” over at Mental Post-its.


Charity Singleton Craig

Charity Singleton Craig is a writer, author, and speaker, helping readers grow in their faith and experience true hope in the middle of life’s joys and sorrows. She is the author of My Year in Words: what I learned from choosing one word a week for one year and coauthor of On Being a Writer: 12 Simple Habits for a Writing Life That Lasts.

  • Charity Singleton ,

    Ann — There’s a change ALL of the youth group will be FORCED to listen to my thoughts on lamenting if the youth pastor has his way!

    But lamenting is not something we can really know a whole lot about until we are walking in the wilderness and we start to hear our own voice whispering through the sadness. Eventually, we learn to speak to God from that place. More than anything, I was hoping to give the teenagers “permission” to lament when they do find themselves there.

    • Charity Singleton ,

      Natalie — Two experience, one message. Jesus does this often in my life. I guess I need more than one version before I really get it.

      • Charity Singleton ,

        Jennifer — I can just see you and those two darling girls hurling cheeseballs at each other. Did you have orange fingers when it was over?

        I would think that some of the best rules we make for ourselves (and our children) are a result of our rule-less years at teenagers. Thankfully, Jesus redeems even adolescence!

        • Charity Singleton ,

          Laura — It’s a good point. Someone DOES have to do it. Thankfully, as we grow up, we begin to do it for ourselves. But until then, God bless moms!

          • Ann Kroeker ,

            Right in the middle of this thoughtful comparison of freedom and responsibility, lamenting and sin, these lines made me laugh:

            “With four other workshops to choose from, only two teenagers and one leader chose mine. I didn’t blame them. I was being advertised as, ‘Sadness, suffering, and worship in the cafe.'”

            You need a better marketing team, Charity! Because it sounds like it was really important and really well done (loved the rap!).

            Please know that I would love to have listened in on your thoughts on “sadness, suffering and worship in the cafe.”

            • Natalie ,

              Lovely! I loved how you connected the two experiences.

              • Jennifer @ Getting Down With Jesus ,

                I think even the children respect the necessity of rules to some degree. They find security in knowing where the “line” is.

                But … um … it’s fun to “break the rules” every now and then, too. At a picnic today with the girls, we threw cheeseballs at each other. 🙂

                On a serious note, this is an interesting connection you make to the teen years. At some point, I pray that our teens turn back to a reasonable set of rules and order. (And that they find that the only true order in the chaos comes from the Perfect One.)

                • Laura ,

                  This made me smile, Charity. Rules, rules, rules! Why is mom always the un-fun one? Someone has to do it…