If Norman Rockwell were still around, the five children of our friends. Shawn and Juanita. would be prime candidates to pose for his paintings of happy youngsters. Ranging from preschool to middle school, there are two girls on either end of that age range and three boys in between.

At first glance, there is not much to distinguish them from other youngsters of the same ages. Four of them are very involved in athletics, and the youngest is waiting her turn at organized sports. They watch DVDs. They play video games. They go on family vacations with their parents.

But there is a big difference between them and most of their peers. Although their parents love them deeply, their parents are not their friends.

They enjoy spending time with their children, but their folks are not there to be their pals. This would give the impression that parents and children are equals. They are not.

If any of the five children does not work up to his or her capabilities in school, he or she is certain to be reminded of his or her responsibility. Sometimes, this talk also results in the loss of video games or something else the child likes.

The parents do not blame teachers unless they have a very good reason. Usually, grades are the responsibility of the child.

Shawn and Juanita do not tolerate disobedience or disrespect - toward themselves or to other adults. Their kids are expected to do what they are told by a grown-up. Failure to do so carries a penalty.

In short, the parents' love for their children is seen in the way they treat their kids and what they expect of them.

This relationship stands in stark contrast with what goes on in many families. Parents give their children so many material goods that the kids are never satisfied. Parents want to be their kids' friends, waiving their responsibility to teach their children right from wrong.

And in many cases, the children in such families are not happy. They won't admit it, but "things" are not enough. They want limits set by people they respect; not parents whom they do not listen to.

When you think about it, our relationship with our Heavenly Father should be like that of Shawn and Juanita's children and their parents. God showers us with blessings and graces, but he expects us to behave as we know we should.

We can never by truly happy doing what we know is wrong. There are consequences for our sins.

It helps to remember God does not give us guidelines just because He is all-powerful. He does it because He loves us with an even deeper love than a parent has for his or her child.

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We are truly free only when we do what God wants.