Obedience is Good for Us

Obedience is Good for Us

Michele Bachmann made headlines several years ago by stating a simple truth that Christians had agreed upon for around 2,000 years. Naturally that makes it controversial in modern America. The quote, “The Lord says be submissive. Wives, you are to be submissive to your husbands (Bachmann, 2006),” riled up quite a few commentators. She riled up other commentators when she dialed back that simple concept by stating that she simply meant “respect.”   

I am blessed to be married to a man who makes respecting him easy. That has not necessarily made obeying him easier. I am a smarty pants who has always known how smart she is. I am confident in my good ideas and like getting my own way. But I also recognize that I often am wrong in my emotional reactions to things, which are many, so I need a stable, mature, and just man to lead me. Knowing this good sense has certainly assisted me in listening to him and following his lead, but it can still be a challenge. The sin of Eve calls to me to want to rule over my husband. The sin of Adam makes Tom want to give me my way if it might avoid a debate. His virtue and diligence and my ever-growing understanding of this virtue, though, have made it possible for us to cooperate with the many graces we have received in marriage. It is sad to live in a world where so many people, even Christians, will throw this teaching out for the respect of those calling for Barabas.

When Tom and I got engaged I told him that I had two requirements for a husband: (1) He needed to be the patriarch, truly leading the family. (2) He would lead his family in the faith, most importantly. I’ve seen what happens to boys whose fathers do not practice the faith of their mothers, and that was not going to be the story of my sons. I told him he could pick the denomination and I would never question his choice. He agreed to both of these conditions, and picked the faith he grew up in, praise God. Catholicism provides a rubric for obedience that Protestantism completely lacks, and I have come to see the beauty in addition to the wisdom of it.

Obedience is a component of justice. Upon reflection it makes perfect sense that it would be. Justice requires us to live according to our role in the world, the family, and the Church. Legitimate authorities must have my obedience if I am to play my proper role and not usurp theirs. My duties and obligations as a laywoman become beautiful and joyful when they are in the service of Our Lord, The Church, and my family.

One quality of Tom’s just leadership that has certainly been helpful is his willingness to listen to the ideas of his wife and children. We all have gotten input into, especially major, decisions. But we are all clear, and often state during these discussions, that we have our 49% that we want him to hear before he casts his 51% vote.

But it’s also more than just decision-making. Headship requires making sure everybody gets to Mass each Sunday and on holy days, living the liturgical calendar, selecting the patron saint for the year, and a million other small moments throughout the days and years of family life. I recently discovered a local issue that dismayed me. Tom immediately took up the project to make phone calls and send emails to try to rectify the situation. May every woman have such a patriarch.

Nobody likes being corrected. Nobody likes being outvoted. These are things that if we allow them to, will undermine our ability to be docile and obedient. I have found that over the years I look at our discussions and Tom’s decisions on behalf of all of us less like correction or control but as service. After all, I’m to be obedient to him as he is to Christ. He is providing a difficult and beautiful service to our family by being its head. It can’t be easy to have that responsibility.  

The other component of this virtue that I have been trying to perfect is what I call “the obedience of the moment.” I would find it relatively easy and comfortable to prioritize my day by what I like the best, what is easiest, and what is most fun. Yet Christ told us to pick up our cross daily and follow him. He didn’t say once in a while, when it’s convenient, or when I feel like it.  

I would clean the bathroom 10 times ahead of doing the dishes, even though I’m blessed to have a dishwasher. But I have set out a schedule for my cleaning that asks me to prioritize the things I like the least that need the most attention. So each day, yes, I need to clean the bathroom, mop, and organize – all things I enjoy. But if I begin with a prayer for humility and obedience, I then begin with my least favorite task that is most urgent. Or if my husband has asked me to do a particular thing then I begin with that. 

This “obedience of the moment” requires that I concentrate most on the tasks I would prefer to postpone or ignore. It helps me carry out my role effectively. It works for me when I am being submissive, and it works for good leaders who must give their greatest attention to tasks they would rather ignore. All of us should strive to be the best of servants – servants of the other servants of God. This is why obedience is an essential virtue.  

Finally, in moments when Tom asks me to stop what I’m doing and join him on the sofa I should do so. This element of obedience is the one that most powerfully reminds me that obedience isn’t about rules and decisions, it is about loving trust that comes when we live our vocations. I can trust him to lead. He can trust me to obey. Love is justice and mercy fully lived, and we cannot fully love without living our proper roles in our relationships. Trusting one another assists us in trusting God fully, which is, perhaps, the point.

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Written by
Jennifer Borek