When we think about stealing we usually begin with the assumption that one man takes what belongs to another without permission. But perhaps we should back up a little. Perhaps we should begin with the knowledge that all things belong to God. That would mean, ultimately, that stealing is taking that which God gave to another and making it our own. In other words, theft is a man-centered rebellion against God’s distribution of his possessions. This understanding makes the offense a bit weightier and in need of our attention.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism, a 17th century doctrinal summary of what the Bible teaches, states the positive requirements of the commandment not to steal as the “lawful procuring and furthering the wealth and outward estate of ourselves and others.” (WSC #74). What are some ways we allow our children to violate this commandment right under our noses?
- Taking without asking. Seems obvious, but so much of it happens in such a mundane way. Taking food without asking, appropriating mom and dad’s favorite wardrobe items, playing with toys. These are all be examples of theft. Hardly the equivalent of grand theft auto, but theft nonetheless.
- Cheating. The more common forms of cheating in parenting will deal with school and games. When our children cheat on tests, they are using a short-cut. They are stealing the time it took another person to study and trying to reap their benefits. Cheating in board-games and sports means the “thief” tries to further his own outward estate without abiding by the laws of the game.
- Manipulation. The manipulator is a creative thief. They convince someone to hand over their possessions. However, the reason behind their behavior is the same. When our children convince a younger sibling to trade a “little” dime for a “huge” nickel, the aggressor wants that dime. The problem for him is that it was either not given to him, or he did not work to earn it. Instead of applying proper work to obtain his own dime, the child uses a slight-of-hand approach.
- Emotional Theft. Perhaps one of our children has competed in a race and won. He comes exuberantly to show his ribbon. If his sibling’s response is to say, “You weren’t even close to the record,” or “Last year I ran this race faster,” they are stealing joy or delight from their brother or sister. This kind of behavior also manifests itself if a child is in the middle of an exciting story and the brother or sister jumps in right before the climax and finishes it off for them.
So now what? Parenting is never done well from a couch or an armchair. It requires action, wisdom, authority and time, and lots of it. Make sure your children understand the implications of the commandment not to steal. If they do, teach them to restore what they have taken, if that is possible. But also spend time giving them the opportunity to be generous and willing to share.