When to break the rules


Some people have the gift. Some don’t. Fran does. She runs Manna House, a food distribution center. (Well, she and God—she gives God all the credit so God gets all the glory.)

When the poor and homeless come to Manna House, Fran sees the person hiding underneath the need, underneath any scam. She loves. She listens to sob stories then says, “Sure we can help. Let’s see what we have.” Especially when kids are involved. Fran has the gift of mercy.

But others aren’t so generous. . . .

I’m a rule-follower from way back. I like to do things right, in order, as they should be.

So when the rules at Manna House are one toothbrush, one shampoo, one deodorant per family representative, that’s what I *try* to give out on the Wednesdays I volunteer.

But sometimes I just can’t.

A few Wednesdays ago two people side by side asked for a roll of toilet paper each. But a fellow rule-keeper handing them out got suspicious. Perhaps these two people were in the same family, she thought, in which case they should only get one roll, not two. She questioned the couple, “Aren’t you two together?”

It bothered me.

Even if they were together, there stood two bodies that had already stood in a long line in the cold to get help, so hand over two rolls! (It’s one reason I started buying extra toilet paper myself to give away. If somebody asks for tissue, I want to be able to say, “Yes!” even if it’s only for an hour until we run out again.)

I need to remember this lesson:
People are more important than policies. That’s what Jesus teaches me. He chose people over the Sabbath. Relationship over rules. Love over laws.

The only reason we have rules and policies is to better love people, right? But if occasionally those need to be broken to keep the greater law of love, then break them.

And if that means now and again giving away two rolls of toilet paper to two people even in the same family, I think Fran would approve. Because I know Jesus would. May I remember to do likewise.

* * *

Do you ever struggle with knowing when to break a rule, too? Please share in the comments.

revised from the archives

16 thoughts on “When to break the rules

  1. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

    Hope you had a wonderful Christmas, Lisa!

    My all-time favourite quote is from Keith Richards – “When you’re going to kick authority in the teeth, you may as well use both feet.”

    I’m not much of a rule-follower.

    Lisa, a personal request – if you have time, would you be able to have a look at my blog post today? I think that I finally figured out some of the “why” of my circumstances, but am hoping I did not leap off a theological cliff in the process.


    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I did have a wonderful Christmas, Andrew…and one more event today.

      The Keith Richards’ quote is perfect coming from you. Why does it not surprise me that you’re not much of a rule-follower? 🙂 We need people like you in this world. Heading over to your blog now.

  2. Melody

    God bless you Lisa for buying toilet paper to be able to give an extra roll. If they eat they “need” it! I was “BLESSED” to share Christmas with a woman that has had one after another medical problems enter her life in 2015, including not being able to drive or work due to seizures. Her husband can afford the rent, son still in school can pay the utilities, with very little left over for food. Included in a couple of meal planned shopping trips will be enough laundry soap, toilet paper and paper towels! Always have to think “but by the Grace of God there I would be”… Keep doing the love them thing and you’ll be blessed in the end, even if you’re corrected here by policies and procedures people : )

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      “If they eat, they need it.” ha. Love that, Melody! Truth. 🙂 I’m glad you were blessed as you were a blessing to this woman! Yes, there but by the grace of God go each of us. Thank you, Lord, for the way you’ve blessed us…may we pass it on to others!

  3. Jean Wise

    I work once a month at our local food pantry and when the “bosses” aren’t there I know I am a little more lenient. The trouble is though, does that cheat someone later one out of something? I guess I just try to follow my heart and believe God will take care of it. Usually, I am a rule follower too usually but lean more towards grace than law I guess. Happy New Year, Lisa.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Your question is one I think of too, Jean: If I give an extra here, does that mean someone else won’t get it there? Grace and guidance, Lord. Even in small matters like toilet paper (which doesn’t feel like such a small matter to me when I run out!). Happy New Year, Jean!

  4. Julie Joiner

    I am often conflicted by this. I am a therapist and there are all kinds of necessary rules, but sometimes we must make judgement calls. It is a challenge for me, though I am not literal or rigid in my personal life about rules (at least I do not think so), I struggle when it comes to my work. Though I don’t think I am overly black and white in my personal life, I often have guilt about not doing things the way “I think I should,” at least by somebody’s rules. Maybe I need therapy. : ) One thing I have to remind myself of is the heart’s intent. When our intentions are right “relationship before rules” then there must be grace for ourselves and others as we try our best to serve flexing rules as needed. The expectation of perfection can paralyze us and rob us of the joy in serving. Julie

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      If this is a struggle for you too, Julie, then I feel okay struggling with it myself. 🙂 You’re so right that we need to give grace to ourselves as well as others. We’ll never find the perfect balance but God fills in the gaps with his own grace on us.

  5. June

    I’m sure it’s very difficult to discern when there is a legitimate need and when people are trying to take advantage. Jesus, of course, knew the heart of a man. We have to rely on the Holy Spirit to guide us. And because our “self” is involved in that process, we don’t always hear, or listen. In this case, I think I’d rather err on the side of giving someone more TP than they really need (can you ever have too much TP?) 😉 Great reminder, Lisa, God isn’t confined to a box and sometimes we shouldn’t be either.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Excellent, June—err on the side of giving too much instead of too little. (And you’re right…you can never have too much TP, ha.) Thankful that Jesus knows our hearts! And gives us grace every day when our hearts are pure and when they are not.

  6. Caleb Suko

    Yes the struggle is huge especially here in Ukraine where you’re expected to break the rules and to pay bribes or take bribes in almost every sphere of life. It’s a huge tension and it requires a lot of wisdom.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Ooh, I bet you do have tons of these kinds of situations in Ukraine! Such a different context so I’d be totally lost in how to negotiate them. I’m glad God has you there because I know you lean into his wisdom. Blessings to you, brother!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yeah, legalism is still a struggle for me, both within and without. It’s easier for me to spot legalism in others; harder to spot in myself, but I know it’s ugly in both places….

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