"The first step on the way to humility is to obey an order without delaying for a moment. That is a response which comes easily to those who hold nothing dearer than Christ himself" (St. Benedict's Rule, Chapter 5).
Oh, how I've dreaded this post! Why, Benedict, do you use that word we all avoid? We like a lot of words in our common Christian language, but the word Obedience gets us all fidgety. We don't want to appear rigid. We prefer to think of the God of grace, not the God who commands. We have trouble with the hope of balancing grace and law, justice and mercy, wrath and kindness. Are those things opposites? Is God a god of opposites, of extremes? Or is God a god of balance, of deep breaths, rest in the midst of purpose?
(Side-note, 12 years ago I helped lead a youth camp where the t-shirts said one word: "Obedience" with the word "die" highlighted in the middle. Why are we Christians so freakishly scary?!)
As I've been studying Benedict's Rule for the past two years, the vows of stability and poverty have challenged me as beautiful possibilities for what the world could be, what I could be. But they often seem distant, vague, something beautiful because they are so far from my daily reality.
This third Benedictine vow? I know what it means. I know how to do it. And that's what's frightening. See, I never vowed to "obey" my husband. I didn't even let the preacher pronounce us as "Mr. and Mrs. Christopher Hohorst." It was too much to me. I told our minister several times, "I want you to say Mr. Christopher Hohorst and Mrs. Micha Boyett Hohorst." My husband nodded his head and smiled.
We did vow to submit to one another out of love. (Which, is a much more difficult task. That means sometimes I'm right and sometimes I'm wrong. Sometimes my husband is right and sometimes he's wrong. And we have to wrestle through the right and wrong to find the truth. That, to me, looks a lot more like the work of the Spirit than the submission of one sex to the other.)
So, if St. Benedict is calling his monks toward a constant submission to the one in authority over them--the monk in charge, or the abbott, or the bishop, or the pope--then who is in authority over me?
I think it's obvious, right? I just to don't want to say it. Women have been silenced and abused in the name of obedience for as long as this world has spun. Aren't we better off without acknowledging any kind of submission in marriage?
Last night I lay next to my spouse in bed while he read. I looked at him with my thinking face until he took his eyes off the screen and found mine. "Yes?" he said.
"Ummm. What does it mean for us to obey each other?" I asked. Then I crinkled my face and sighed and pulled the sheet up to my nose. He knows I hate this question.
Chris loves responding to deep questions. (I make him sound so serious around here, don't I?): "It means that when you ask me to get Brooksie dressed for bed, I do it immediately...not because I want to stop what I'm doing but because I love you. It means I trust what you're good at and you're good at knowing what our kids need when they need it."
"So that means I trust what you're good at too," I said, staring off at the wall. Like, when Chris tells me I'm being careless with our computer by setting my coffee right beside it when only 3 months ago we lost a computer via my coffee-spill. If I wanted to honor him, I'd think about where I sit that happy steaming cup.
Is that silly? Why have I never recognized that my willingness to listen to and honor my husband, without murmuring or rolling my eyes or resisting, is part of how I love him?
Benedict speaks of our "[carrying] out our orders...in a way that is not fearful, nor slow, nor half-hearted, no marred by murmuring or the sort of compliance that betrays resentment" (Chapter 5). And what if that was how my husband and I responded to one another?
If Chris trusts me and loves me and I love him and trust him, then I will be more careful of what I ask of him, knowing that he will do it immediately. Every request has more value when you know it will be carried out. Therefore, you treat it with more weight. Nagging is the result of us not taking seriously our requests or our response to those requests. Murmuring is nagging's nasty little love-child. Is it possible for a married couple to deliberately live life without nagging and grumbling?! Maybe.
Benedict describes obedience as the first step to humility, the practice of recognizing that I do not have it all figured out, that I am made better by another's wisdom.
Not fearful. Not slow. Not half-hearted. Not marred by bitterness or resentment. Isn't this the woman I want to be?
Perhaps it starts with a simple practice of listening to my husband, of serving him as he serves me. Because, as The Benedictine Handbook, "In monastic life obedience and love are so intimately bound together that each becomes an expression of the other."
Oh, Lord, grant this independent woman such grace that she might live in fearless, whole-hearted, bitter-free "obedience," even if I'd rather not use that word...