I expect obedience from my kids. Not “Let me take ten minutes to explain to you why it’s necessary for you to turn off that Xbox.” More like the “Turn it off now, please, or you won’t see those remotes for a week.” I know that’s an unpopular parenting philosophy today, seen as authoritarian and overbearing, but I don’t care.
Behold, our woefully oppressed offspring.
We encourage questions and conversations from them, and we value their opinions and preferences. But we expect them to do as we say first, so that we can talk later.
Yesterday my 3-year-old was running in front of the house. “Please walk!” I told her. Then told her again when she didn’t listen. And a third time, more forcefully, after that.
But why should she obey? She’s outside, isn’t she? She’s not in the street. Her sister is running. Why can’t SHE run? Surely she can just trust her own judgement and exercise her will. Why not?
Well, because she’s three. She didn’t see the sand on the driveway and put it together with the fact that she was wearing slippery shoes and that she’s the most accident prone of all of our children. Of course she didn’t, because she’s three and I do not expect her to reason like a tiny adult. If she had just stopped I could have explained about the sand and the shoes, but she didn’t, so she found out the hard way.
Lesson learned right? Sure, two skinned knees and a skinned hand might be a good logical consequence. But what if she had been about to run into the path of an oncoming car and disobeyed when I told her to stop? Letting children learn from consequences is all well and good until the consequence is getting hit by a truck. And what if you have more than one or two children. Say….six? If two children don’t obey your rule to stay by you in a parking lot, you can grab one with each hand. But if six children disobey the same rule, you’re kind of screwed. Better be prepared to make a split-second decision about which one is your favorite so you know who to run after.
Around here, most rules are about safety – physical and emotional safety. And obedience in the big things starts with obedience in the small things. My kids have freedom and choices. I definitely pick my battles, or I would all day be playing Evil Overlord to the crew. But you can bet that when I pick my battles I am going to dig my heels down deep. Resorting to “because I said so” every once in a while will not stifle their personality, kill their spirit, or leave them vulnerable to brainwashing. I don’t expect my children to “obey” themselves right into the back of a kidnapper’s car. That’s why we teach safety too, and right and wrong, and why we build parent-child trust with them. Quick and trusting obedience to your loving parents is not the same as blind obedience to anyone who tells you to do anything ever.
Which brings me to the trickier part: Do I apply this to myself?
Do I trust that God’s “rules” are meant for my safety – physical and emotional? Body and soul?
Shouldn’t I, as a child of God, obey my Father just as I expect my children to obey my husband and me? Shouldn’t I listen to Him instead of to the voices of those whose love is NOT unconditional and all-encompassing? Shouldn’t I listen even when I do not understand? Even when I disagree? Even when I do not see the whole picture – that sand on the driveway?
Sure it’s easy to be obedient when you think that obedience to God means just being nice most of the time.
But what about the harder stuff?
The Catholic Church (and every Christian church up until the Lambeth Conference of 1930) teaches that artificial contraception is a grave moral evil. This is a clear teaching, not one open to interpretation.But still, a great many Catholics ignore this teaching, or do a lot of mental gymnastics to justify their use of contraception or convince themselves that they are the exception to the rule. And I understand – I’ve been there myself.
Like my daughter running with her slippery shoes, I heard the command but decided it did not apply to me. Why should I obey something I don’t agree with? I knew the reasoning behind it, but it’s amazing what your mind can dismiss when you’re set on keeping your head in the sand.
So what changed? Well that’s a story for another day, but it can be summed up with: a novena, Adoration, and very special people who demanded I hold myself up to a higher standard.
St. Ignatius of Loyola said, “We should always be disposed to believe that that which appears white is really black, if the hierarchy of the Church so decides.”
So basically I said white and the Church said black and I kept believing I was right, until I realized I was not. Because to fully live out my Catholic faith I had to let go and trust that if the Church says black, then it’s black. So I obeyed, even though at first I didn’t want to.
I obeyed anyway.
It was scary. Obedience is not easy, especially in this climate where this particular teaching is seen as antiquated and ridiculous; this world where casual sex is no big deal and children are an inconvenience or a punishment or disposable, and people seem shocked – SHOCKED – that it is in the natural order of things for sex to make babies. It’s not easy and it’s not a one-time victory over temptation. Every once in a while I’m tempted back into those thoughts that say “Nobody follows that teaching” and “I know better” and “I’m the exception” and “God forgives anything”. And He does forgive any sin, if you’re repentant. But what if you’re not repentant, and instead hell-bent on justifying your sin, hugging it tightly and pridefully to yourself instead of trying to leave it behind?
So I obey, even when it’s not whole-hearted. I walk when I would rather run, because I trust He is keeping me from slipping on that sand on the driveway. And when it’s difficult, I talk. I talk to God through prayer, I talk to friends who I know are in the same situation, I talk to my husband. And while I know it’s something I will continue to struggle with – because simple does not mean easy – most days I am at peace with it, not just accepting but embracing it as the fulfillment of God’s plan for marriage. Humanae Vitae makes so much sense once you commit to reading it with an open heart – especially the eerily accurate predictions of how society would be affected by widespread contraception. I encourage all Catholics struggling with teachings on contraception to read it.
Maybe you have no interest in learning about natural family planning methods, or you already use NFP and are completely at peace with it, all of the time. But whatever commandment, teaching, tradition it is that you are struggling with, I encourage you to question, reasearch, talk and pray. But while you’re doing all of that, obey. Trust. “Seek first the Kingdom of God” and you might be surprised at what is revealed to you.