Do you ever feel confined by rules? If you ever just want to be your own person, without anyone telling you what to do and when to do it, I can tell you I used to feel that way, too.
There were times when I didn't like the home-imposed curfew, the off-limits roads, the way my parents deemed some friends not good for me, the forbidden motorcycle riding. And there were the musts, like cleaning my room, going to church, violin practice, and other things that I felt took away my right of choice.
But somewhere along the line I did develop a respect for following rules. That doesn't mean that I didn't intentionally break some once in a while. But eventually the very same rules that once seemed so confining actually gave me freedom.
How did this happen? Well, when I got to college I found myself, like most students, surrounded by all different types of people, tastes, activities, and values. And the more variety there was, the more uncomfortable I felt. All of a sudden I had choices to make.
During these times I found myself praying, because I had learned that communion with God, listening for His guidance, was the way I could make choices with the least number of mistakes. In prayer I remembered things I knew from the Bible, such as the Ten Commandments-rules for living (see Exodus 20:3-17). I remembered that Jesus Christ was unerring in the way he lived, loving and healing mankind, because he followed the laws of God.
I realized it wasn't that the great people of the Bible weren't tempted; they were. But they had the choice either to follow the laws they knew would protect them or to disobey the laws and suffer the consequences. From this I decided that even if I were tempted, I could still choose to follow the right direction. To me the greatest opportunity of all was to be able to choose good. And here's where those same confining rules and laws became helpful.
Prayer helped me see that because I reflect God, who is entirely good, I really have only one choice-to do God's will. It's not just free moral agency-it's free moral agency to do right. Even if it seems like people are imposing rules and laws upon us, the real choice is to decide for ourselves if we're going to live in conformity with what we know to be good. Following God isn't a matter of mere human willpower. Commitment to God enables us not only to hear His guidance, but to follow it. These two always go hand in hand-the hearing and the doing.
The Bible shows this clearly. For example, Moses had to listen to God's direction and then follow it in order to save his people from slavery. In the process he was given the Ten Commandments as laws to help them, to defend them. Christ Jesus had to listen to God's direction and then follow it in order to heal those who sought him out. And he was given the Beatitudes, part of his Sermon on the Mount, which elucidate the Commandments. These rules from God guide us. They are tested methods that teach how to stay out of trouble, how to do better, how to be better, how to help ourselves and others.
Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science, confirmed the value of these Biblical laws. She made this point: "To my sense the Sermon on the Mount, read each Sunday without comment and obeyed throughout the week, would be enough for Christian practice" (Message to The Mother Church for 1901, p. 11).
One weekend a friend and I ended up at a fraternity party. There was a lot of drinking and smoking. People were jumping into bed together, and I think some people were doing drugs. My friend and I had felt somewhat mature and independent going there, because we were going against the rules we'd been raised to follow. But really I was scared. And I began to pray.
I had thought that evening was going to prove our freedom from rules. But it actually proved that what I wanted most of all was to hold to what I'd been taught was good. We left. And after that I was no longer attracted to an atmosphere that would be degrading and immoral.
I learned that obeying the Bible's rules doesn't take away your freedom or your choice. It maintains them both.