A few years ago, our son (then 3) kept forgetting our rule, “Do not step off our driveway into the road.” He would forget the rule, we would discipline him and say, “We don’t want you to be hurt. You could get hit by a car, and we would be sad!” Neither this reasoning nor the discipline ever seemed to sink into his three year-old mind when compared to chasing a ball or jumping in a puddle.

Until one day.

Coming home, I noticed a dead squirrel lying in the road. I said to the kids, “Oh how sad. The squirrel must have gotten hit by a car.” We got home and our son, looking sad and deeply concerned said, “Mommy, can we go look at the squirrel?” I so wanted to say no but in that moment I felt it was better to say yes.

Hand in hand with both kids, we walked down the sidewalk towards the squirrel. My daughter (5) wailed, “I don’t want to see it!” I left her at the stop sign and walked to the dead squirrel with my son. He crouched down near it, examining it closely. I tried to keep my eyes off so that I wouldn’t gag! The conversation followed:

E: That is so, so, so sad mommy.

Me: Yes, sweetheart it is.

E: Do you think it ran out in the road and a car hit it?

Me: Yes, I believe that’s what happened.

E: Mommy, it’s really dead isn’t it? Really hurt, enough to die.

Me: (aware of where this might be going) Yes, really hurt – enough to die.

E: Mommy, do you think the squirrel’s mommy and daddy are in a tree right now looking at it – crying and sad?

Me: Oh I know I would be crying if it were my child so I think they are very, very sad. No one wants to lose a child.

E: Really dead mommy. It’s really, really dead. It shouldn’t have crossed the road without his mommy or daddy.

That was the last time he has run into the road to chase a ball or jump in a puddle without permission (so far). He still remembers the squirrel.

The dead squirrel provided the perfect object lesson to teach our son that we have rules to prosper him – not hinder him.  We have standards to protect him – not deny him. We know what will give him life and what will make his life more fruitful. Limits, standards, and discipline come from a place of deep love – not shallow permissiveness.

As a mom and dad, we limit our kids’ sugar, our kids’ television, our kids’ activities, our kids’ staying up late. These “imposing limits” are set for their well-being.

Being a parent has helped me understand some of God’s reasoning for his standards much more clearly. A God of pure love, pure holiness, pure compassion, and pure justice desires to refine His followers to walk in the way of His character so that we might experience true freedom as we display His kingdom and live out His mission. (This so makes me excited – like really! I have to stop to breathe!)

We are only truly free when we follow God’s commands (John 8:31-47). Jesus in John 8 says that those who hold to his teachings are his disciples. When we know the truth, and truth sets us free (John 8:32).

Satan seeks to deceive us into believing the removal of godly boundaries grants freedom, that liberty without limits demonstrates true love. Even Christians can be confused. But in reality, throwing off God’s life-giving restraints leads to slavery and death.

Our culture may encourage and applaud people for throwing off limits, but we will end up like the flat squirrel. I love what the Psalmist states (and we will memorize this verse as a family) “I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free” (Ps 119:32).