I have a box of old floppy disks that I keep in my office because Allison (age 16 months) loves to play with them. She comes in and takes them all out and spreads them around the room. They are brightly colored plastic and just the right size for her. I haven’t used floppy disks in years, so I don’t mind if she destroys them, which she does. Once she takes them all out of the box, she doesn’t like to play with them anymore, so she leaves, and I put them all back in the box so she can play with them again.
The kids do the same thing with their playroom- they wreck it. They spread their toys all over the floor, and then they don’t like to play in their playroom any more, so they go make messes somewhere else. But once we started training them to clean their playroom (an ongoing process), they get more enjoyment out of it. We used to clean it for them. But then they never learn. They will not clean their room as long as we are cleaning it for them. Even if we don’t clean it, they still don’t clean it themselves. They just stop using it and go junk up some other room in the house.
Kids will not do the hard thing until you force them to. Famous financial analyst John Mauldin, who has six kids, says the same thing about teenagers- they do not make hard choices until they have to. The longer parents clean their kids’ messes up for them, the longer kids will defer growing up. They will still be children when they’re 25. The problem is, that the older kids get, the bigger their messes are. A teenager can make a much bigger mess of their lives than a 16-month-old can. So what normally happens is that parents clean up their kids’ messes as long as they’re able, and then the kids have to deal with it themselves, when the messes are truly large. We’re trying to teach our kids to deal with their messes earlier before they get unmanageable. There are also important political implications of this truth- because now the government cleans up people’s messes, allowing them to defer maturity even longer.
But as I was talking to my wife about this, she observed that this should change the way we view hard times in our own lives. Maybe a hardship that comes on us suddenly should be viewed as God telling us that we are going to have to stop playing and clean up our room. My children always view it as a disaster when we order them to clean up their room NOW or ELSE, but once they get to it, they usually actually start enjoying it, and they definitely enjoy the results- a playroom that is much more fun and enjoyable to be in.
Sometimes hard times come on us without any relationship to mistakes we’ve made. Sometimes God just brings tests into His people’s lives to build their trust. But sometimes sinful habits cause consequences in our lives and God forces change. Sometimes our response to that is to try to avoid change as long as possible. But we ought to learn to view it as a great mercy and an opportunity for growth, to finally get our room cleaned up so we can start enjoying it the way it’s supposed to be.
Even though change seems painful, most of the block is just mental. So many people talk of overcoming sinful habits and afterwards say, “I’m so much happier now! Why didn’t I do that years before?” The drunk doesn’t know how to live without the bottle, but once he dries up he doesn’t know how he lived with it. It is a great and merciful God that brings hard times into our lives to force us to confront sin and deal with it. We ought not resent God for taking away such things, but to thank Him for preventing us from destroying ourselves.