When I was young, I loved the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House series. (Men, please stick with me.) At the end of the series when Laura and Almanzo are talking about their upcoming wedding vows, they discuss their desire to take out the promise of obedience of Laura to Almanzo. She didn’t like the idea of obeying someone. Although this promise of obedience isn’t heard at Catholic weddings, obedience is not foreign to our lives. Yet, much like Laura Ingalls, the idea of living obediently makes us (men and women) bristle.
Obedience to God
The often-quoted Philippians 2 passage says that Christ “humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” Christ was obedient; it only makes sense that we will need to be obedient too.
Obedience to God is one thing (sometimes difficult, but understandable); obedience to others is a whole different story. When it comes to submitting to other people we struggle. God is perfect; we are not. Yet, I think our discomfort with submission comes more from feeling like we are giving up control rather than a desire to actually do the disobedient or contrary actions. We want to be in charge of our world; when we are a called to function under authority, we think we are losing our freedom. Instead, it can be quite the opposite: submission can bring great freedom and joy. The freedom we experience by obeying God can also be experienced by submitting to those in authority over us.
Obedience in Our Lives
All of us are called to submit to authority in some way. What this looks like will be different depending on the relationship of the parties involved. We obey traffic signals. Priests make a promise of obedience to their bishops. Children should obey their parents. (Before I go on, it’s a given that this assumes we are not asked to do something immoral or sinful; I am also assuming we aren’t dealing with unhealthy power-mongering authoritarians who rob of us sharing our own God given gifts.) Most of the time someone or some organization in authority over us isn’t asking us to do anything that would lead us from holiness. We are given a choice in small matters and big ones: to obey or not to obey.
At the 2011 Life Teen Training Convention, Fr. Dan Beeman briefly talked about the role of obedience for priests and lay people who work for the church. He said it better than I ever could, so if you missed it, you can watch it here: “How to Work with Priests: Fr. Dan Beeman
During the summer, I got to see this idea played out. Although my reality check with obedience wasn’t in the context of my parish, I got to see it from both sides — as the one in authority and the one under authority. After my experience with the first, I was in a better place to say “yes” to the second.
I was leading a work camp experience for multiple parishes. As the leader, setting up the expectations for the week, I hoped that all of the adults would be on the same page and follow my lead. You can guess what happened; one of the adults wasn’t so keen on submitting to my authority. We had a difference of opinions. Although there is a time and place for discussion about other options, the lack of simple obedience to my expectations caused all sorts of issues for me as the leader. Dissention and division led to frustration and made leadership even more difficult.
I recently transitioned to a new job and a new boss, and I was given many new opportunities to choose to either gracefully submit or not. After dealing with the work camp experience, I knew what choice I wanted to make.
Where does the joy and freedom come in? When we submit to those in authority, we are released from being the one to have to make all the decisions. We are also then given covering; the person in authority will have our back as we follow their lead. As we support their vision, trust is built. As trust is built, more freedom is given to make decisions and give input. There is a joy is letting go and simply submitting. Where do you struggle to joyfully submit? Where have you experienced the freedom of obedience? As we learn to obey those in authority, may we also joyfully obey our Lord and His lead.