Green: The pros and cons of following the rules


I am a rule follower. One of the unfortunate misbeliefs that we rule-followers hold is that if we do everything right, nothing bad will happen to us, and good things will come. That’s the way life is supposed to play out. If you study and work hard and do your homework on time, you make the honor roll. If you eat nutritious foods, avoid processed sugars and chemicals, if you don’t smoke or drink excessively, and if you exercise, you won’t get some gosh-awful disease.


At your job, if you always do what’s expected and perform with excellence, if you always give a little extra, you get promoted. In marriage, if you put 100% into loving your spouse, you’ll have a great marriage. And if you pour your heart and soul into raising your children, teaching them right from wrong, good from bad… well, if you do all those things, your children will grow up to be mini yous. They’ll be productive, kind, respectful, hard-working, rule-following citizens.

The older I get, the more my beliefs are challenged. I continue to learn, through experience, that life doesn’t follow the rules. Sometimes we can do everything right… we can do and be our best… we can go above and beyond to live with excellence… and life still sucks, stinks. (My mother taught me sucks was a bad word, so my rule-following self just can’t seem to type the letters here.)

Recently, I’ve asked myself, What’s the point? Why have I spent my life living by a strict code of ethics if it’s not going to pay off for me? Why did I spend my teen years saying no to alcohol and drugs and avoiding wild parties if the rule-breakers end up pretty much at the same place in life that I am, only with better stories to tell? Why do I eat healthier than anybody I know, only to still (constantly) fight that extra 10 (20) pounds?  Why do I work hard and do my best and give more than expected, and I still can’t get ahead?

I don’t know the answer. But as I’ve searched for wisdom, it’s brought me to other, more pointed questions.

I’m not fool-headed enough to think I’m any better than the rule-breakers. Even at my best, I fall painfully short. But as I ponder my own life choices, I’ve had to redirect my thoughts from the results to the rules themselves. What is their purpose? Why do they exist? Why do I follow them, really?

They exist because they are good. They exist because they offer principles, not promises. They exist because when we follow them, statistically, our lives are better.

Rules protect us. If I drive like a bat out of Hades, I might not get hurt. But statistics tell me I’m more likely to harm myself or another person if I drive too fast. If I dine on Dunkin’ Donuts and smoke a pack a day, I might live to be 100. But I’ll probably get diabetes and emphysema, and maybe something worse, and I’ll be miserable the last few decades of my life.

I’ll be honest. In recent weeks and months, my faith has been shaken. I know I don’t deserve God’s blessings—not a single one of them. But y’all, I’ve loved God and served Him for as long as I can remember. And deserving or not, I still want God to bless me. I want there to be a payoff. And that’s where I’ve gone astray.

I’ve had to re-evaluate my motives. And I’ve had to remind myself that I love God and serve Him because of who He is, not because of what He does.


The payoff is that I get to talk to Him any time I want. The payoff is that He considers me a friend. The payoff is that He calls me His child.

I obey Him because His ways are good, and I trust that His rules are in place to protect me. Even when the rules don’t pay off like I want them to, I’ll still do my best to follow them.

Because they are good.

Because they are right.

And because I love Him.

“The Law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, bringing joy to the heart; the commandments of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes” (Psalm 19:7).

Renae Brumbaugh Green is a bestselling author and award-winning humor columnist. She lives in Stephenville with her handsome, country-boy husband, nearly perfect children, and far-too-many animals. Connect with Renae at www.RenaeBrumbaugh.com