I am a rule follower.
I can’t help it. I really suffer from anxiety when I don’t do things the way I should. If we don’t clean up our dogs’ poop immediately I am sure the HOA will send us a letter. We went into a state park one time that had a $2 admission with an honor system box; we only had a $20 bill so we went on in and I was fairly certain that a park ranger would see us on a (probably non-existent) security camera and arrest us. Once, when we were dating, my husband and I went to the dollar theater to see a movie and when it was over we snuck into another theater to see a second movie and I worried for the entire time that an usher would storm in and bust us. Over a dollar movie.
Yes, it gets ridiculous at times. Yes, my husband laughed at all of those examples while they were happening. He is constantly saying “You’re such a rule follower.”
Like that’s a bad thing. Sheesh.
Because I’m a rule follower, I get very irritated when other people don’t follow the rules and still avoid consequences. I see co-workers slacking and get frustrated that they don’t get into trouble. I talk with friends about how (sometimes high-profile) people (often in ministry!) have treated them badly and I’m so upset that no one is seeing them for who they really are. I have conflict with people and feel like I’ve been wronged and I can’t stand that they get away with it.
It’s not fair, I think. Why do the rest of us have to follow the rules and they don’t?
Rules can be good. They keep us safe and provide boundaries that we desperately need.
Rules can also be bad. Rule-following can easily, easily, easily lead to self-righteousness, and therein lies my struggle.
I have no right to harbor ill feelings toward people who don’t get anxiety from breaking the rules like I do. This does not mean that I think everyone has the right to disregard the rules, but rather that I have no right to harbor that ill will in my heart.
You see, even though I may be a “rule follower,” I can be a pretty crummy Christ follower. I fall easily into gossip. I worry and fret about things completely out of my control. I don’t always put others first. I lose my patience. I lack self-control in so many areas. I don’t always choose joy and peace.
I fall short yet I’m forgiven.
If I consistently fall short of God’s standards, how do I have the right to expect others to live up to God’s standards?
If I need the grace of God in my life, how can I not offer that same grace that I’ve been given to others?
If I am incapable of living a sinless life, how can I hold other people to that impossible standard?
I don’t want my rule following to turn me into a self-righteous person. I’ll probably never be a person who completely disregards the rules. I’ll continue to drive right around the speed limit and I’ll make sure my library books are returned on time. I’ll keep wearing my retainer every night (embarrassing but true…sigh…) and I’ll worry when we have a few people over that we’re taking up too many parking spots and we might get into trouble.
But while I’m following all of those manmade rules I’ll remember that there’s dozens of other rules that I’m breaking on a consistent basis without even thinking about it. I’ll try to remember and appreciate the grace that has been bestowed on me, and I’ll strive a little harder to extend that grace to others. If I can’t make it through life without messing up and doing wrong, how can I get frustrated when others can’t either?
“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” — James 4:10