Rules for Healthy Relationships

By Jamie Harms

When I was in teaching school, one thing that we heard over and over in regards to classroom management was “establish your rules early, say them often, and stick to them.” In order to have a productive learning environment for our students, we had to set up rules and adhere to them otherwise our classrooms would dissolve into chaos. As teachers, we could not teach our students well or develop solid relationships with them unless we had rules.

Thus, my first year teaching, I jumped right in to establish the rules for my classroom. I had a group of 12 special ed students for Algebra 1, and on the first day of class, we went over the rules and practiced each one of them together. We established patterns and habits for when they entered the classroom such as turning in their homework, sharpening their pencils, and starting their warmup. We even had a system to avoid extra “bathroom” breaks to get beverages. They would place their dollars on the overhead with their orders when they entered, so I could get the drinks for them while they focused on their warm up. We always started with the warmup followed by a hands-on lesson, a quick push-up and jumping jacks break, then some practice, and an exit ticket.

They knew what was expected of them, where to turn in their homework, and how to treat their peers to make friends and avoid a trip to the principal’s office. I ended up coming to love this class of students, and over time some of the girls would come early for me to French braid their hair. The guys would come with pictures of their new truck or hunting trophies, and we would chat about my ever-growing belly when I was pregnant or who they should ask out to the dance. Laying down the rules early and holding to them allowed for us to not only learn algebra but to have a relationship in the classroom.

In contrast, I also had a class full of fifth year seniors required to take Algebra 2, who had made it through their high school careers by manipulating teachers, and in some cases, throwing chairs and acting defiantly toward them. Just like my special ed class, I attempted to lay down the rules, but they were not specific enough. The semester started out just fine until they started to find loopholes and make excuses. As a young woman stepping into this class of students taller, bigger, and only a handful of years younger, they saw this as an opportunity to try to intimidate me into helping them pass the class with minimal to no effort. Let’s just say with this crew that my class phone was always within arms reach and the principal was on call. The lack of rules and respect for them created a space to barely learn algebra let alone create any relationship with one another.

It is common in Christianity to hear that being a Christian is not about rules but about a relationship with Jesus. While this is true that we don’t just follow rules as Christians, we do need them in order to have a relationship with Him. This summer I am excited to spend time with you in God’s Word, using Jen Wilkin’s Ten Words to Live By. We will look at the 10 most famous rules in the Bible, which were established so we would know how to have a relationship with our God and become more like Him. Not only do God’s laws provide us a framework to know Him, but as the psalmist in Psalm 19 talks about, God’s laws can become a delight as they bring us life. While we tend to see rules as a negative thing imposed upon us, they are necessary in order to develop relationships — just like I needed them in my classroom to have an ordered classroom and healthy relationships with my students.

We invite you, ladies, to join us this summer as we learn to delight in God’s laws as a way to cultivate a deeper relationship with Jesus. We plan on gathering in relaxed coffee and conversation groups around town each week to help us be accountable to be in God’s Word and to challenge and encourage one another as we learn to delight in our God. If you have not already, you can register for our weekly conversation groups here.

We will also be providing some structure on the blog to help you consistently be rooted in God’s Word over the next 12 weeks. You will find our five P’s — pause, ponder, pray, process, and practice — each Monday and Wednesday on the blog to help you regularly engage with the text and apply it to your daily lives. Thus, we encourage you to: 

  • pause (stop to read, listen, write out Scripture)
  • ponder (consider what God’s Word is saying about Himself and us)
  • pray (continue in conversation with God in response to His Word)
  • process (move what we know from our head and heart to our hands and feet), and 
  • practice (take the next step in living out God’s Word in our homes, church, and community)

While rules may seem restrictive and harsh, in reality, they bring about healthy relationships just like my students and I had in the Algebra 1 class. May we learn to see God’s laws in light of a life-giving relationship with Him as we learn to delight in and be obedient to His commands this summer.