An Internet dictionary has these two definitions for obedience (n.):
- compliance with someone's wishes or orders or acknowledgment of their authority
- submission to a law or rule
As a child, I thought of obedience as “being told to do something and doing it.” When mother would give an order, the expectation is that it would be obeyed and not questioned, out of respect as much as out of authority.
As I got a little older into my teenage years, obedience became something to be defied or at least challenged. The question was no longer, “What should I do?” but “Why should I do it?” Often the person in authority was a parent, military supervisor, or boss at work and they didn’t know exactly “why” something needed to be done except that many years ago it had been rooted in reason and was now firmly locked in tradition.
Everything about obedience seemed to be militaristic: a command is issued that must be obeyed without question.
The Rule of St. John the Evangelist separates immature from mature obedience: “Where obedience is immature there will be passivity, complaining, resentment, reluctance to be held accountable, rigidity, and lack of candor. Where obedience is emerging from a growing freedom we will recognize the fruits of the Spirit in frankness, initiative, generosity, and flexibility.”
I’ve realized that my obedience has been of the immature variety where I felt constrained by submission rather than recognizing it as a “freedom”. The Rule of St. John continues:
“My judgment is just, because I seek to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me. On our own we are powerless to act in selfless freedom in response to God’s desire…Obedience is also a path of detachment. We have our own ideas of how best to serve God, our dreams of serving in particular ways. God’s actual call will often be to follow in other ways; as our vocation unfolds we will find that obedience requires us to lay aside again and again the plans we had made for ourselves.”
“Grace makes it possible for our obedience to one another to transcend mere acquiescence and to express instead the power of brotherly love and unity.”
I pray that our mature obedience to others is not out of blind and resentful acquiescence, but instead we can accept the grace that makes our obedience an expression of unity with others.
Blessings, my friend,
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