The boy who tried to follow the rules

It seems to be a common theme in children’s stories– the rulebreaker.  The rules are clearly stated near the beginning of the story, and they are not to be broken under any circumstance.  Don’t enter the third-floor corridor.  No disturbing the Professor!

But it seems like the hero of the story always ends up breaking the rules– and that was always something that would annoy me greatly.  Bastian would steal The Neverending Story from the bookstore, only to have the old shopkeeper smile knowingly after he was gone.  Charlie and his grandpa would march in to confront Willie Wonka when they were just as guilty of disobeying his instructions as anyone else.  Shouldn’t Charlie have considered himself lucky he didn’t end up an inch tall or turned into a giant blueberry like the other kids?

The first time I saw one of his movies, I was particularly annoyed at that twerp Harry Potter for breaking all of the rules and seemingly getting rewarded for it.  He disobeys the teacher’s instruction to stay on the ground during flying lessons and ends up getting recruited as a star athlete because of it.  He even goes into the third-floor corridor, and ends up getting a bunch of bonus points for it!  It’s almost as if his instructors intended Harry to break the rules all along– that they were saying one thing, but teaching the opposite.

But maybe they were.  The day would come when the people making the rules at Hogwarts were no longer making them in others’ best interests– when doing the right thing meant thinking for yourself and having the courage to break the rules and suffer the consequences.  The fact is that it’s possible to follow the rules and be wrong.

As you can probably tell, I was a rules follower to an extreme as a kid.  If I had been the hero in any of those stories, they would have ended up being very boring!  I think it’s partly down to the way my brain works.  I have Asperger’s syndrome (more about that sometime later), and one of the effects of that for me has been approaching things in a very literal, step-by-step fashion.  Then you have the fact that I was brought up going to a conservative Christian school, which tends to stress the importance of following the rules.  I’ve only recently begun to realize how much these two things have played off each other in my life as I have grown up and grown closer to God.  (And that’s really the reason behind this blog– to help me think and reflect on what it has meant to be a Christian with Asperger’s– and hopefully to communicate with and learn from others about it as well.)

Jesus told a story once about a rulebreaker and a rule follower– two brothers.  The younger son demanded his inheritance from his father, left home, and squandered all of his father’s money on partying and sex.  Left with no money and nothing to eat except pig food, he came to his senses and realized that even his father’s servants had it better off than he did.  Surely he had ruined his relationship to his father as a son, but he could beg for mercy and ask to be accepted back as a servant.

But while he was still a long way from home, his father saw him and ran out to meet him, embracing and kissing him.  Before the son could even finish his request to be made a servant, the father was calling for his servants to bring the best robe, the best food, and to throw a party, “For this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

But all this time, there was another son– the older brother.  He would never be so insulting as to demand his inheritance from his father, or embarass him by wasting it on things that were against the rules.  When he heard the sound of a party going on, the older son was insulted!  He told his father, “These many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time.”  And yet the father was throwing a party for the rulebreaker?  He was angry with both his brother and his father– hadn’t he earned a party by all of his work and obedience?

The father said to the older brother, “Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours.  It was right that we should make merry and glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.”

“You are always with me, and all that I have is yours.” That’s the relationship that God has with his sons and daughters.  But for the rule-following older brother, it was all about earning approval by his service and “sacrificial” obedience to his father’s rules.  He was relating to his father as if he was a servant, not a son.  Whereas the younger son had demanded his inheritance to his father’s face, the older son thought that his superficial obedience entitled him to demand a reward from his father (or to demand that it be withheld from his brother).

Both rulebreakers and rule followers need to be saved.

In this case, we know that the younger brother was restored.  But Jesus didn’t tell us what happened to the older brother.  As a rule follower, I always found that scary.

But praise God, because he does save rule followers!  He has saved and is saving me.  When I look back on my life, I’m amazed at the providence and grace he has given me.  Put a boy who tries to follow all the rules in a well-meaning environment that stresses the importance of external signs of obedience, and you have the potential for a lot of miserable legalism.  I still struggle with it; it’s not ultimately an issue of upbringing or brain chemistry but of my own nature.  But God has always been with me, whispering that he loved me and that all he had was mine, not because I followed the rules (in truth, I broke them), but because I was his son.


  1. Incredible, Nathan. You have a beautiful way with words. I’m glad that you are blogging! I like it b/c it gives me a creative outlet for all that goes on in my head and in my house. 🙂

    You have a lot to share with others and I’m thankful to be one of your blog readers.

  2. Nathan,
    Thanks for sharing this. I, too, have been mainly a rule-follower. It is easy for me to get back into that rut, but so freeing when I exist in relationship with my Saviour. Keep blogging… and sharing. You do say things well.

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