“Katie, I’m leaving the room now. While I’m gone, you can eat two cookies,” my mom said to my six-year-old, sweet-toothed self.
“Just two?” I smiled convincingly.
“Just two,” she replied, holding her ground.
The two deliciously gooey chocolate chip cookies made it from the napkin into my stomach in less than two minutes. And there I sat at the kitchen table, staring at an unfinished glass of milk, smelling the heavenly fumes of the dozen remaining freshly-baked cookies that sat still and lonely on the kitchen counter.
My stomach began to wage war on my conscience. The two cookies I had already eaten suddenly seemed inordinately unsatisfying. I looked over at the pile of uneaten cookies longingly. Is that my stomach growling…or my disobedient will?
I tiptoed over to the counter, picked up a cookie, and neatly rearranged the rest of the cookies on the paper plate to tidy up the crime scene. I wolfed down the other cookie and swashed the cold milk around my mouth, until no chocolaty evidence remained.
Suddenly, I felt sick. My stomach hurt and the cookie left a nasty taste in my mouth. It seemed like the milk had gone sour, and I sat quiet, head down on the table, hoping my mom wouldn’t come back in the room anytime soon.
No such luck. Mom comes in and looks at me. She knows. She knows! I can see it in her eyes.
“I did it!” I yelped. “I ate three cookies!”
Our culture today sees obedience as wimpy, pathetic, lame, weak, cowardly. There are few virtues more scoffed at by our secular society. Now, to clarify, I am not talking about civil disobedience, but the kind of disobedience that involves rebellion against an authority who rightly deserves respect, whether that happens to be parents, teachers, clergy, other human authorities, or God. (In paragraph 1900, the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines obedience as “the duty [that] requires all to give due honor to authority and to treat those who are charged to exercise it with respect, and, insofar as it is deserved, with gratitude and good-will.)
Doesn’t it seem strange that Hollywood filmmakers love to make the rebellious characters the most likeable, the most fun? Troublemaking looks so much more enticing than obedient behavior on the big screen.
It’s no wonder that we spend so many of our childhood years struggling with obedience. We don’t know what to think of it. Sometimes, it takes us years to realize that we only find happiness in our obedience. Why is this? If obedience is wimpy, pathetic, lame, weak, and cowardly, how can it make us happy?
Well, first of all, obedience is a virtue, so by its very nature, it is not wimpy, pathetic, lame, weak, or cowardly, because all the virtues are the opposite. They’re heroic.
Obedience is a response of love to the person seeking obedience from us. My demonstration of obedience to my mother—by not eating more cookies than she asked me to eat—is my statement to her that I respect her, that I trust her, that I love her. The merit of obedience isn’t found in servitude, but in love.
I’m sure you can think of another example of some people who ate what they shouldn’t have. Adam and Eve began the habit of disobedience. To contrast, Mary and Jesus were the most obedient creatures that the world has ever known. Which of these pairs was happier? Our culture would do itself a magnificent favor if it stopped seeing obedience as oppressive, and rather started seeing it as the way to true freedom. (I am certain you have heard time and time again that true freedom does not consist in doing whatever we want, but in doing “what we ought” to do. “The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to “the slavery of sin” [CCC 1733]).
Archbishop Fulton Sheen, in The World’s First Love: Mary, Mother of God, wrote, “Our Lord spent three hours in redeeming, three years in teaching, and thirty years in obeying, in order that a rebellious, proud, and diabolically independent world might learn the value of obedience.”
- Begin to see every act of obedience as a love letter to God. And teach your children the value of obedience. Teach them why you ask obedience of them. Children often misunderstand the value of obedience because they misunderstand the reason for it: love.
- Practice obedience to God by being obedient to His commandments, even in the smallest ways. He commands us to love others. I am certain you are being presented with countless opportunities each day to give of yourself (which often means giving of your precious time) to another. We can all learn the simple act of obedience by putting others first—putting our wills aside, and doing His will to serve.
- Pray to Mary. No wonder she had so much joy in her heart. She was perfectly obedient. A shiny apple or a tasty cookie couldn’t compete for her love. Obedience didn’t oppress her; it brought the salvation of the world. “And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word’” (Luke 1:38).