I have the ability to make my own judgments about things. I also have the less exercised capacity to set this ability aside and defer to the judgment of others. The ability to do this is intimately tied to obedience.
To obey is to deliberately put aside the capacity to make one’s own judgments and to put trust in the judgments of another. This is a real issue in one’s spiritual life since it involves the difference between trusting in oneself and obediently abandoning oneself to You and Your will. Your will may also be interpreted and expounded by others far wiser than me to whom I may owe submission and obedience.
To do or be what You or others tell us is a direct affront to our egos. Certainly I place high value on my own judgments and often convince myself that I know better, or my way is better. This “self” is erased gradually, in bits, by subordinating it obediently to the will of others as it is in harmony with Yours. After all, what is obedience but subordination of the will?
It may be said that obedience is a way of shirking responsibility, a cop out from making decisions, an escape from taking charge of one’s own life. The responsibility imposed by the will of others is often a greater challenge than what we would choose for ourselves. A decision to be obedient is just that – a decision, a major one. Rather than an escape it is a flinging of oneself headlong upon the judgment and guidance of others, with trust.
We are often repelled by the notion of conforming to a will other than our own. How often we fling up our arms in disparagement at being told to do something in one way which we know we could do better in our own way. But we must never short-change the possibility of hearing Your voice in situations where we might submit our obedience to others. There is less self in this and self is what always gets in Your way. There is so much more of You to be found in resignation such as this. There is also a great deal of faith involved here. To submit willingly to the will of another means that we have faith in the other to guide us. Michael Casey, in his book Sacred Reading: The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina, calls contemplation the “…ultimate obedience in faith.” In it, with trust, we unite with Your will.