There is True Joy in the Humble Act of Obedience
Today we breathe an atmosphere and culture that exalts personal freedom and self-determination. Our world today conditions us to find our way in life and that life is ours for the taking. There is emphasis on choice and self-identity and of achieving one’s dreams. But these messages fall short of a bigger picture we lose when we zoom in on ourselves.
The Asian and Filipino identity is always connected to the “we”. We are never apart from the people around us. They help define us and allow us to better grasp the image of ourselves. The I is also we. I am part of a whole and whole is a part of me. So we as Filipinos have our own brand of individualism too. We tend to hide it in our collectivism, tribalism, and regionalism.
But this innate search for self is not only limited to a looking in and looking with. Our Christian faith is also a looking through. We are asked to look through the eyes of God to better understand the bigger picture of who we are not only in the enclosed sacred space of the “I”, and not only in our collective identity, but above all who we are in the backdrop of God’s idea of us.
If we are to find who we really are, then we have to go back to the idea from whence we come from. Even before we were born God already thought about us, he kept us in his dreams, and relished in the thought of who we are as His masterpiece. “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:5) This itch to find who we are is found in who I am in God.
I believe this is the mystical basis of our obedience. Obedience is not the blind observance of rules and standards. Obedience is the finding of who we are in the way God dreamt about us. This identity is achieved only when we act according to best way that we are capable of, according to the design that God made for us. This blueprint of our identity is imprinted in God’s Will. It is in following God that we find our selves.
God’s Will is easily reflected in our rules and the authority around us. But these rules and authority by themselves are not God’s will. God’s Will is ultimately learned from a personal relationship with God nourished by listening and prayer. God speaks to us and in a gentle and loving way guides us in discovering who we are. We listen not to the sound of our inner voice that may speak with a tone of self-centeredness, but we listen to the voice of love speaking to us in the privacy of our inner space.
Love is the ultimate yardstick of God’s Will. God wills love.
But this voice of love is easily drowned out by the many voices in the world. Each person living right now speaks and wants to be heard. Not everyone has the courage to fall silent and listen to the whisper of God’s will.
God wills love
In our search for identity we drown ourselves in our own noise. This is the source of our own unhappiness and discontent. If we listen and truly listen then we will hear God speaking. For when we are deaf to His voice we begin to become the person we think we are but when we listen, we begin to become the person He dreamt into existence.
Obedience then is the act of listening to the voice of love. It is not just following but allowing souls to resonate once again to the primordial music that God plays for us. Love, just like music, compels us into being. As music moves you to dance, love moves you to be. By love compelled, so is the title of Blessed Philip Rinaldi’s biography.
Obedience requires humility. It requires us to let go of the false notions of who we are and to embrace God’s truth about us. Unless we let go of our own plans can we only understand God’s plan for us. Humility is the understanding that without God we are nothing, but with God we are the best version of ourselves.
There is true joy then in the humble act of obedience because it is the sole way of finding the truth of who we are. It leads us to the conclusion that first of all we are beloved, that itself is enough. But it also moves us as beloved to become love ourselves. This love-becoming is the effect of being in touch with Love Himself. Where there is love there is true happiness and contentment.
Obedience however is not always up to our taste of pleasure. It sometimes tastes bitter because it carries with it the sting of discipline. It challenges us to shed of that ugly parts that we think we are in order to make space for who we truly are. This is a painful step but a necessary step for cleansing that which is not who we are. And this is where many, in their search for who they are fail to find themselves because of their fear. They fear that letting go of their false selves they will lose who they are. But the exact opposite happens. In letting go of who we are not, we become who we truly are.
This is the very reason why St. John Bosco had always advocated for his boys to observe obedience in everything. Even in small matters, he says, one must be obedient. This was the path that Dominic Savio took and that path led him to the glory of heaven. The saint that we venerate in Dominic was the person Dominic embraced in his obedience.
It is sad that we choose to obey only in things comfortable for us. When the sting of discipline is felt, we immediately let go of obedience. Obedience is never selective. It is a faithful commitment to always listen and become what we hear.
The world tells us to define ourselves the way we want to be. The Christian message challenges us however to listen first to Jesus so we will know who we truly are.