How to Obey Like an Adult

Who remembers being a kid and thinking, "Man, I can't wait to grow up! Then no one will tell me what to do!"? I remember; and I also remember that awful day when I realized that I was grown up, and that I now had to tell myself what to do. Not only did I have to pick up my dirty clothes, I had to be the heavy that insisted that dirty clothes get picked up. Wah! 

As I was reviewing the obligations of adult Catholics during Lent (here's a nice clear infographic), I felt a sense of gratitude to Mother Church. During Lent, and really any time the Church gives us clear guidelines for how we are to behave, it's an act of mercy: She gives us a chance to put the responsibility on someone else, and just relax and be obedient children again. I don't have to figure out if I'm personally being called to pray, fast, and give alms. Just do it, because your mother told you to!

Of course, now that I'm an adult, and especially now that I'm a parent, I do see these "orders" in a new light. When I was a kid, I honestly thought my parents and teachers just liked bossing me around. Now I see that the things they compelled me to do were done out of love. They insisted that I brush my teeth and learn my multiplication facts and go to bed at a reasonable hour because they cared about me, and had my well being in mind. That's the only reason they did any of it: because of love.

So now that I'm the adult authority bossing myself around, and telling myself to do this and don't do that, and now that I deliberately make the choice to put myself under obedience to the Church, it's easier to see the connection between love and obligation. When I'm the authority figure, it behooves me to make sure I'm giving orders out of love, and not just because I can. By the same token, when I'm the position of offering obedience, it behooves me to make sure I'm obeying out of love, and not just because I have to.

I've written before of the value of obeying just for the sake of obedience -- about how there is a sweetness and simplicity that is pleasing to God when we simply comply because we are we and God is God.

At the same time, there is something to be said for making an effort to obey like an adult -- that is to say, with love, rather than with reluctance, bitterness, resentment, or pouting. Fr. Aidan Kieran reminds us

Lent is not a test of endurance. It is not even a test of discipline (even though we gain discipline as a by-product). Lent is a little test of LOVE. It is quality the Lord is interested in – not quantity.

He explains, and illustrates what he means with an example from his own life, when he had a cup of hot water instead of his morning tea:

You may remember from the Gospels that on one occasion Jesus told the disciples that a particular evil spirit could only be driven out by prayer AND fasting. The two must be always occur together.

So while I was having my cup of water, I prayed.

I spoke to the Lord Jesus and told him that I was denying myself this 1 cup of tea as an act of love for him. I was doing this so that I might grow in my love for Him. I prayed for others. I asked Him to grant my intentions, but above all I asked him to help me grow in faith and love of Him.

It didn’t matter that it was only a small sacrifice. That’s not what matters to the Lord. What matters is that the sacrifice is accompanied by prayer and offered with a sincere and open loving heart. 

Obeying the Church is a very good thing. Obeying like an adult is even better.