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.