After going a few years without reading it, I picked up The Rule of St. Benedict again last week. I remembered that it has an entire chapter on humility and because I’ve felt so drawn to that particular virtue lately, I wanted to dive in for more. Chapter 7 of The Rule is on humility. Chapter 5, however, begins “The first step of humility is unhesitating obedience…” How perfect! In considering how to practice all of the steps of humility, especially in application to marriage, I wondered how to begin. Like humility, practicing holy obedience to God and spouse is more easily said than done.
Everyone understands obedience in a parent/child sense: “Katie, please clean your room.” “But WHY?” “Because I said so.”
And I would say that most understand what obedience to God is: “Thy will be done” and “I am the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to thy word.”
But what about in marriage? When it comes to this context, I think the comprehension and mastery are not as common. Unfortunately, the secular understanding of obedience is dominated by the parent/child perspective. Try stirring this into your marriage and it’ll add such animosity and bitterness that you risk ruining the pot. Practicing true, holy obedience however, will add sweetness to your relationship and serenity to both your soul and your spouse’s. Holy obedience is dying to yourself – sacrificing the love of your own will for the love of your spouse. It’s certainly a tough way to express love, but when you do, no one can doubt it. Love gives. Love focuses on others and seeks their good, while sin focuses inward, often at the expense of others.
There is a feminist response to the idea of obeying one’s husband and it’s that a woman will become a doormat – a slave to her slacker husband who sits on the couch mumbling for another cold one. “Women nowadays are much too strong in mind and spirit to stoop to such a level. This isn’t the 1950s.” This sort of perspective is focused on oneself. Anyone more concerned with serving him/herself is bound to be disgusted by the idea making sacrifices for a spouse. “My husband’s a grown man. Let him make his own dinner.”
The Picture of Obedience: Obedience in marriage is service with an added twist of someone else’s wants and needs. If I want to check my Facebook and hang out online for while, but Andrew asks for help grading his tests or putting together music for a jam session at a coffee shop, I should assist him out of obedience. I love him more than my own will and know that in serving and obeying him, I invest myself in my vocation and in God.
But why practice obedience? Not only will this kind of humility bless your home, but in practicing it, you imitate the humility of Christ in a huge way! A Christian, by definition, is someone who subscribes to and imitates the actions of Christ. Jesus lived to do the will of the Father and sought to please the Father in everything he did. As Christian married people, we’re called to have this same enthusiasm and devotion toward honoring God through honoring spouse. Vocation.
When there is holy obedience in marriage, there’s no opportunity for a husband to walk all over his wife. When a woman’s obedience is grounded in love of God and her spouse, and a husband’s decisions are in union with the will of God, peace will wash over your home. The children in this house will respect their parents and themselves, too. What a blessing to your family!
A person might respond, “Sure – this’ll work. In a perfect world! My spouse isn’t the type to appreciate obedience” and therein lies the challenge: in order for all of this to work, a shift in mindset is necessary: you have to go all the way back to your wedding day. Holy obedience fits perfectly naturally in marriage. In fact, it’s already built-in to the marriage vows: “I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.” And not only this, but it makes sense with why you married your spouse in the first place – didn’t you get married to THIS person because you were crazy about him/her? Take up every opportunity to demonstrate this! Marriage is not about one person or the other, it’s not even about two people, but rather three. “Where a lone man may be overcome, two together can resist. A three-ply cord is not easily broken.” (Eccl. 4:12).
So! How to carry it out:
- Pray and be willing to try it. A stubborn refusal to grow in virtue will yield ZERO good in any relationship.
- Seek opportunities to practice obedience cheerfully because “God loves a cheerful giver”: “…obedience, however, will be acceptable to God and agreeable to men only if compliance with what is commanded is… free from any grumbling or any reaction of unwillingness” (The Rule 5:14). What good is an offer of service is there isn’t any love behind it?
- Practicing obedience in this way is liberating, rather than enslaving. To serve others is to serve Christ. To serve Christ is certain joy.
I appreciate any other insight into this. I’m trying to learn and practice all of this myself!
- A great feature of WordPress is that I can write a post, then schedule it to be published at a certain time (do other sites have this too?). This post is scheduled for release at 8 am, Monday the 25th. By then, I’ll be a half hour into my surgery. Please pray that God blesses and guides the hands of my surgeon and the rest of my doctors.
- Because of my surgery, all my extended family in the area are helping with Liam and my mom is even flying in from Omaha this coming Saturday. I can’t wait. I’m blessed with such a generous family!
- Our electric bill was a whopping $30 cheaper this month than last! I relish in omitting the thermostat. While living frugally can be a chore or a depressing burden, it can be a great game. How many ways can I avoid using electricity for the sake of bringing our bill down? It’s like playing Don’t Spend a Penny.
- I started reading Jane Eyre for the first time. Just reading the first few pages was like taking a deep, refreshing breath. This is exactly the sort of book I’ve been seeking to read under our down comforter before bed.