The term “Rebel” means different things to different people. Merriam Webster provides the verb definition as either: 1) to oppose or disobey one in authority or control or 2) to renounce and resist by force the authority of one’s government. Doesn’t sound exactly like a Christian virtue, does it? Most Bible reading that I come across that translates with Rebel doesn’t mean anything good in the Scriptures.
But…We recently went to a Dave Ramsey Leadership Conference for Business Owners where the theme was rebellion, with “Make Your Own Rules” plastered everywhere! What makes this even more funny is that I’ve been trying to get my husband to follow all the rules for years. And yet I’m the one who insisted we come to this conference because Dr. Henry Cloud, the author of the Boundaries books we love, was a speaker (this is worthy of its own post!). I literally laughed out loud and wondered if my husband hadn’t rigged this event somehow to make a point to me…
At the conference, I was surrounded by people who questioned rules, made their own path and frankly, are saving our economy with their tireless efforts to redefine the “rules” by envisioning new ways of doing things and being daring enough to go after them. And this was a group of predominantly Christian people, since Dave’s entire financial approach is based on Biblical wisdom put into practice!
We need people bold enough to think up new ways to approach something or pave a new path and sometimes too many rules can become a barrier to progress.
Innovation rarely has rules assigned to it. The innovators themselves are guided by their principles.
It took Dave Ramsey to get my husband on board with a debt-free financial approach 8 years ago. Ironically, it also apparently took Dave Ramsey to push me to finally accept a bit more rebellion in my life. Once I confirmed that my husband couldn’t possibly have set me up, I started to consider that maybe God was nudging me to acknowledge that Rebels are valuable and should be embraced. It inspired me to write out my thoughts on ways we can understand the Rebels in our lives and learn to value a Rebel in service of the Kingdom of God.
When we take the time to reflect on significant historical figures, you see a thread of rebellion in many unexpected places. Consider this quote that was referenced at the conference from Thomas Jefferson in the picture below:
You might also recognize some Rebel characteristics from Martin Luther, the proclaimed founder of the Protestant movement who boldly posted his Scriptural issues with Catholic church doctrine and was willing to fiercely oppose those beliefs, alone if he had to.
Rebels are often visionaries, change-makers, risk-takers. They are willing persevere through impossible odds. Think for a moment about where we would be without rebels…even Christian ones. Think about some of the things Christians are expected to do: stand for truth even if we’re alone, disobey man when it would cause us to disobey God, accept and address conflict directly, and share the Gospel even if people ignore or persecute you. We all need a little rebel within us to do these things. And a rebel who stands for God’s principles is just as important in the Kingdom as the one who encourages us to stay within God’s paths and principles. Rebel instincts are powerful gifts if they are honed in the likeness of Christ!
Before we start, I’d like to challenge you to think about some positive uses of the word Rebel…I’ll share mine at the end of this post!
I’ll grant you that I haven’t always used the term “Rebel” in the loving and accepting way that I do now. I’ve spent a good deal of time viewing those who are rebellious as a lost cause, always wrong, and inappropriate. I started out in complete disregard that a mindset like that could possibly be acceptable as a Christian.
Then I married a Rebel. I don’t think I truly understood how much of a rebel I married until a few years in. When we did the Enneagram personality test and compared our compatibility as a couple, the results indicated that it was much like a Pirate and a School Teacher getting married…Can you guess who is who?
I had married a Pirate. I was very concerned about the almost instinctual resistance my husband displayed towards certain forms of authority. I wrestled with the moral considerations of defying orders and breaking rules. And I struggled to see how this mindset could fit into Christianity.
I actually started a catch-phrase for my husband as we worked through certain “rebel causes.” I would express that as Christians, we would need to be “Rebels within the law [of God].” I’ll be honest, I mostly felt like God must have put us together, in part so that I could work him out of his rebellious tendencies…Not proud at all, was I? In truth, maybe God did have that in mind…in part. But I didn’t realize then how much I truly had to learn about an attitude of rebellion and how much it would affect my life going forward.
My first son is mostly like me, personality-wise. He likely fits the schoolteacher category or something close to it. No ruffled feathers there. But my second son was so innately a rebel, I’m convinced you can tell it is coming before your child turns 1 if it is strong enough within them. I’m thankful I had a 6-year head-start dealing with my rebel husband before I encountered my youngest son. I can see so clearly, even at 3.5 years old, how quickly I could have missed so much of the good in my child and lost the ability to lovingly guide his rebel heart toward Christ.
That’s part of the reason I think God gifted me some rebels in my life. It wasn’t just to stomp the rebel right out of them with my somewhat unyielding sense of right and wrong. It wasn’t to “break” my son and teach him how to obey authority at all costs or to “correct” my husband. It is not something about them I need to fix or help them get rid of.
It was for me to learn to appreciate the rebel and what unique ways that they can use my help to draw closer to God. To believe in them. To see them as good. To foster the growth of their rebellious spirit (yes, you read that right). To see them as no more in need of rescue by our Savior as the rule-follower or any other person. To realize that being a rebel is not something that a Christian needs to put away, but rather something that needs to be guided and directed towards the path of Christ, just like any other personality trait.
I needed a perspective change.
As I indicated earlier, I was always a rule-follower. I stay within the lines, both out of my own interest and as a sort of self-preservation. Those who are obedient to the authority over them are inherently well-received and encouraged in their submissiveness, perhaps to a fault.
The first time I began to question the validity of the rules placed over me was at the Air Force Academy. As a rule-follower, I felt it was important to do exactly as I was supposed to as a matter of integrity. However, I’ve never had so many rules placed on me over such inconsequential things in my life. I was very seriously told that if your bed corners weren’t perfectly folded at a 45 degree angle, people would die…
Seriously, that is just the completely wrong message. There are some kernels of truth there, sure:
– People may die if I don’t pay attention to small details.
– People may die if I act in poor judgment.
…But people don’t die from a bed corner being folded incorrectly. I should know, as we almost never make our bed anymore and no one has died from it that I’m aware of.
If I don’t make my bed up to the standards, I might fail my inspection, but I have not compromised my integrity.
Since I like to make Bible parallels, I think that this principle is also in the Scriptures…Jesus discussed with the Pharisees that their focus on rules that they had added to the law were not helping people to understand “the weightier matters of the law.” They had a habit of making a big deal about processes, food and traditions, and hadn’t recognized that God cares about the heart! Their detailed list of dos-and-don’ts was actually confusing the people and placing stumbling blocks in front of them rather than helping them to stay within the law with a dedicated heart.
Whether you are married to a Rebel, raising one, or simply need to break free from a rule-following mindset yourself, I think we can all benefit from paying attention to these “rebel” mindsets and thinking about how to handle them.
If you are regularly engaging with a Rebel, or more importantly are an authority-figure for a Rebel, then it’s valuable to consider your own approach and whether it is helping them or working against their natural wiring. I’ve included Parenting Recommendations for each mindset to help foster obedience in your Rebel child that will hopefully guide them to be a rebel within the law of Christ.
Rebel Mindset #1: Why is this rule here?
The “Why?” is important. With a Rebel mindset, the reason for the rule is probably the most important consideration. The answer to this question has a lot to do with the reaction that they will give you. When my husband doesn’t see a justifiable reason to do something, he is often very quick to dismiss it. Though this drives me crazy, we can do well to ask why we might be insisting on a certain way if there isn’t good reason for it.
I worked in an office where every time the boss noticed something he didn’t like, he went back to his office and emailed everyone a new rule. We had a rule for every single incident he found offensive. The office did not operate very smoothly because the boss had rules about every move we made. No one felt comfortable when he was around and many of the rules didn’t even make sense because they were from past experiences, so it was exhausting to have to review them.
Between making beds at school and my rule-obsessed boss, I started to realize that if you place a rule around every single scenario, you lose emphasis on where you really want the focus to be.
Developing good judgment also comes from this “Why?” question.
Living in a system of rules with no “Why?” behind them usually fuels the opposite effect. I came into the military as a rule-follower and came out questioning many of the ridiculous rules placed over me. If we implement too many rules without regard for proper emphasis, we can actually encourage rule-breaking from more people.
Boil down the rules to the ones that truly matter and have a point. They are more likely to mean something.
Parenting Recommendation: Have a good reason!
If you don’t have a good reason for what you are imposing, then you are likely to be ignored…and maybe for good reason. If we don’t need to impose a boundary, then it’s a worthy question to ask: why is it there at all? My rebel son loves to wear most things backwards or mix-matched. We draw the line at shoes since we don’t want his feet to grow improperly and we make sure he only does it with his own clothes. “Because I said so” won’t usually work too well, as they tend to view it as obeying without reason.
In order for them to understand the importance of following your rules, you will need to explain why it is important…many times if they are a child (or even a stubborn adult). There are so many things that I had to stop bringing up as instructions with my son because it wasn’t necessary, would not help me get my point across, or just frankly wasn’t important. I tend to be a perfectionist and have all kinds of ways I prefer to operate. We have to be honest enough with ourselves to admit that sometimes the rule we are trying to impose is more about us getting our way or what works for us than it is about teaching some important principle.
If you don’t have time to work through the explanation, it is better to wait until you are ready to enforce your instruction than to press a rebel to obey you when it doesn’t make much sense. Continually forcing a rebel to do something that doesn’t have a good “why” will only erode your influence and inspire disregard.
Parenting Recommendation: Decide what the lesson is.
Here’s a regular occurrence in our home: I tell my son not to climb on something. I’ve learned there are usually 2 reasons I don’t want my boys to climb: 1) They are likely to damage something and I don’t want them on it at all (especially at guests houses), 2) I want to warn them that they could get hurt.
For this 2nd reason, it is actually better addressed as a warning than as a rule. If they are allowed to do something, but you want them to exercise good judgement in the situation, it is better to be clear our the possibilities (the warning) and encourage them to think about it. If they don’t listen to the warning, they do not need punishment because what they’re doing is allowed, but it may not be wise. If they experience the natural consequence of falling, then the lesson takes care of itself (hopefully without them getting too hurt).
The Bible is filled with warnings about what is wise and what is foolish, but God does not force us to listen to Him.
Is what you are saying a suggestion, a warning, or an expectation? Do they need to do it or do you just think they should?
Overall, if this question doesn’t have a good answer, you should seriously consider throwing it out.
It is interesting that when a Rebel gets valuable answers to these explanations about rules and judgement, they often are much more willing to obey. It is a good thing in the end if we work to make sure that our “laws in the home” actually pass the sniff test of a rebel because they probably helped us to get rid of a lot of needless requirements.
Rebel Mindset #2: Does this rule violate my moral code?
After assessing the “why,” we need to assess what we are being asked to do. We are expected as Christians to discern good from evil through diligent study of the Bible. We can not use the excuse that someone told us to do something if we knew it to be wrong. We all need to develop discernment about the “weightier matters of the law.”
Rebels often need extra help developing their moral code. Our tendency is to layer on rules to suppress their rebellious tendencies. But this will not help them learn to develop their own moral code and in fact, is likely to hinder it. We need to foster opportunity to evaluate rules against our moral code. While following the rules is important, we can’t allow it to override our moral principles.
In my junior year at the military Academy, I got in pretty big trouble. While I definitely made some bad choices that night, I felt I acted within a good moral code in response to a situation about the safety of a friend, even though it meant punishment for me. My commander at the time insisted that I was a bad person and headed down a horrible path and in desperate need of a moral change when I stood by my position that I felt I acted with integrity that night despite making a bad choice about drinking.
After 4 years at that school, I left with a much different perspective about what rules were important. I felt that there was very little differentiation between moral laws and infractions (like the hospital corners).
For a Christian, these principles are found in God’s word. Jesus condemned the Pharisees for their practice of Corban: a man-made rule where a Jew could be absolved of the responsibility of taking care of their parents if they gave a lot of money to the Temple. He told them that their rules violated the commands of God! (Mark 7:8-13)
It is wise if we have an opportunity to weigh in on the rules being made and enforced to consider these things. Even so, we are expected to follow the laws of the land and those appointed over us, unless they go against God or would lead us to sin. So if we are going to go against something, we should pursue the proper channels. We will talk more about this at the end.
Parenting Recommendation: Is it really a moral issue?
You might be surprised how often we, as parents, make something a moral issue when it truly isn’t or when we have other options. Carefully consider the question for yourself before assigning morality to a situation. If the issue is more of an infraction (like the hospital corners on my bed) then you simply need to implement the consequence and move on without adding the concern of morality to it. Don’t be surprised if Rebels like “bad guys” from movies and shows. They often find relatability with rule breakers and those who go against the grain. But just breaking rules doesn’t make the Rebel a “bad guy.” Doing immoral things is what makes someone bad. It is better to tie a good or a bad choice to a specific moral issue (if there is one), rather than labeling the person. Remember God is desiring to forgive us of our wrongs and every person can choose to change and repent. It is good to remind them that what they choose to do with their God-given talents is what ultimately matters.
If they aren’t making their bed as part of their chores or expectations, then allowing them to fail and experience consistent consequences (like losing some freedom or having to pay) will help them. If it is happening repeatedly, you may need to spend some time discussing the importance the character traits of hard work and commitment. Back to rule #1 though, why do they have to make their bed? It’s worth pondering this question.
Parenting Recommendation: Natural Consequences Scaled to the Crime
As parents, we need to help a young Rebel learn to hold to their moral code, especially as Christians. A Rebel is more likely to think that everything is fine if they don’t get “caught” and we need to help them understand the real consequences of a heart of disobedience.
My husband reminds me that he might choose to accept the consequences of disobedience. In his youth, he was often waiting to be confronted over some act of rebellion before following a rule he felt was pointless. This willingness for Rebels to disobey depending on the consequences means we need to ensure as much as we can that consequences align with the seriousness of the issue at hand.
A rebel needs help understanding how serious a rule is and children (or even adults) do this by evaluating the consequences. It is especially helpful to look for and set up natural consequences that teach the lesson without any input from you.
My son only began to obey me when he understood that he didn’t like the consequence of disobeying me. If there is no consequence or even if he didn’t see the consequence as that serious, he much preferred to set his own terms (see Mindset #4). It wasn’t about objecting to me, per se.
When the problem relates to a moral issue, think about how to convey that to your child through the natural consequences and an age-appropriate explanation, if needed. Even with moral issues, there is a scale of severity so make sure serious “crimes” have serious consequences. Think of it like the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony.
A book resource that we love called “Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys” discusses how often boys will blame others for their own mistakes or wrongs. Moms are often the most likely to cross them and absorb all of their deflection. I can’t tell you how many times I have walked into a situation where I have put myself at odds with my son and lost the lesson in the process. You will do well with a Rebel to search hard for a natural consequence and stay out of the strike zone while they process it.
Rebel Mindset #3: Who are you? What is your authority to impose this rule on me?
This is actually a very important question rather than an affront to the person in question.
As a Christian, we need to consider if the person telling us to do something is a Godly leader or person. We are warned that the blind can lead the blind right into a pit. We could be led by someone towards evil. There are many examples of authorities who led people astray because the people themselves did not have sufficient knowledge to recognize it as wrong. In fact, it happened all too often to the whole nation of Israel (Hosea 4:6).
In the Scriptures, we see an explicit example of the Apostles challenging the religious authorities when they demand that they stop preaching about Jesus. They boldly respond we must obey God rather than man. (See Acts 5:29 and following)
An authority figure will lose credibility very quickly if there are not consequences to being disobeyed. If a rebel doesn’t respect an authority figure in their lives, they will often cease obeying them and ignore them entirely. In that case, you’ve lost the ability to influence them at all and they probably won’t obey any of your rules.
Now, just because a person is not a good authority over us does not give us the right to completely reject them, which is also important for a rebel to be taught. This is where the development of the Rebel’s moral code becomes crucial because it will help them discern when to push back.
The rebel needs to understand that we still have an obligation to submit to those in authority over us, but the person in authority also needs to understand their approach plays a crucial role in the outcome that the rebel comes away with. This involves a delicate balance of addressing rebellious behavior, holding them accountable for their actions, and coaching them through how to hone their judgment and character, while also giving them the freedom to fail and avoid micromanaging the process (See Mindset #4).
Parenting Tip: Stand for the right things!
It is important and valuable to teach your children to obey adults as authority figures, but it is still important and a good instinct that Rebels often have to evaluate the person over them for justification of whether to listen to them. Try not to completely stamp out this discernment of authority, but help them to understand when they should be respectful and obey.
Parenting Recommendation: What is the Boundary and who decides it?
Here’s a simple example that has come up with my rebel son. He really dislikes when people attempt to force him to hug or kiss him (I do too!). He responds very well to me when I prompt him with “How would you like to say hello/goodbye?” This not only gives him the freedom to choose his preferred way to greet someone that is still polite but also encourages his bodily autonomy and establishes a polite way to maintain his personal boundaries.
Rebels naturally have very strong personal boundaries, even if they don’t always respect the boundaries of others. This means they often need the freedom to operate within these boundaries (see Mindset #4 next) and see what happens and to learn from the consequence they receive from others when they violate theirs. This is actually a healthy exchange that we can all benefit from.
Rebel Mindset #4: Why can’t I determine my own way? The Freedom to Choose
This one I struggled with, especially with my husband, because I often took personal offense when my direction or approach was ignored. It helped me to realize that it isn’t necessarily against me, it just happens to be that I am standing in the way of setting his own path.
I am a process person. I take it personally when someone doesn’t accept my process. But a rebel needs the freedom to choose their own approach or process, even if they fail. You may even find a better way to approach the problem if you start paying attention to some of their ideas. Rebels are often good at finding a new door to the barn so to speak (also a phrase from the Conference). Focusing on the outcome that you want rather than the way to go about it can help everyone to have an easier time.
Parenting Recommendation: Do I need to control this?
As a parent, this is the area where I started to realize that I should avoid placing process on my son about how to accomplish something or exactly when to do it. One of his favorite phrases is “I can do it myself”. He responded much better when I simply told him the outcome I wanted (which can sometimes take some consideration) and by when I wanted it to be completed.
It’s a good thing for a person to have an independent mind and the willingness and drive to accomplish it on his/her own. Try not to stand in the way of developing this skill. You might find that their path to the outcome is actually better!
Avoiding direct commands unless necessary will help lessen the confrontations you may encounter with a Rebel. Rather than a list of “don’ts” like:
-Don’t say stupid, Get up off the floor, share that toy, etc.
– You are expected to be kind and respectful. If you won’t, you will need to go elsewhere.
When we need to be a Rebel…
The circumstances in the world today are changing and much of culture is becoming opposed to Christian values. We are entering a time when we may need a few of these mindsets even if it isn’t fitting in our personality (like me). All of these mindsets become important to our own judgement about how we live in this world and yet are not “of this world”.
I think that as a country, we are moving into a scenario similar to Daniel and his friends under the rule of a foreign King with different views and beliefs. America is no longer a majority Christian nation. We seem closer to captivity (to a worldly culture) than we have ever been.
Daniel didn’t just ignore the King and the rules that violated his expectations from God, he asked for an accommodation to be allowed to eat only vegetables instead of the unclean meats that the King expected. God blessed their request and they were stronger without the “best diet” that the King wanted. (Daniel 1)
Daniel was also ready to stay faithful to God when he refused to pray to the King (making him an idol)–instead praying to God towards the Temple, even with the doors open, knowing full well that he would be sentenced to death by the King. (Daniel 6)
My husband and I have almost regular conversations about how to respectfully disobey an order that is wrong. Or how to rebel against an overreach of authority in an appropriate, Christian way. Believe it or not, there are many more examples that can help us in the Scriptures.
We can’t just write off every refusal to submit as un-Christian. God places an importance on principles and the heart. Rebels (and everyone else) need help guiding their hearts towards an attitude of obedience to God first and foremost. With those in authority in our lives (governments, leaders, bosses), we need to use discernment to be willingly submissive, but also ready to resist when we are convicted of the need to do it because of our dedication to God.
“The heart is deceitful…” Jeremiah 17:9 NIV
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Proverbs 4:23 NIV
“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. ” Colossians 3:1 NIV
Notice these verses are not just to Rebels, but to all of us.
For fun, here’s my list of positive Rebels:
– Rebel Alliance from Star Wars (fighting tyranny and evil!)
– Thomas Jefferson (learned at Summit!)
– Henry Ford and the Wright Brothers (also brought up at Summit!)
– Our Founding Fathers
– Doctor Strange from the Marvel Universe
– William Wallace (Braveheart)
– Martin Luther
– Jesus! If you aren’t convinced, I can show you why from the Scriptures!
Can you think of any more? Comment below!