When Obedience Is Hard

“Obedience“ is a challenging word for today’s culture. It’s right up there with “submit“ (and a whole group of women just shuddered). We don’t like the idea of relinquishing control and we don’t like the idea of becoming a doormat to someone who might take advantage of us, our talents, or our energy.

From a young age, we challenge the rules, buck up against traditions and resist systems; we find ways to skirt around the word obedience. Very few weddings contain the original vows for wives to “love, cherish, and obey her husband.” The word appears archaic and because couples see themselves as equals, it is eliminated.
But when we look at the basic definition, is it really so bad?

“To comply with the command, direction, or request of (a person or a law).”

We work under rules, commands and guidelines our entire lives: first as children at home and school, then later when we go to work. As parents we turn around and create similar rules for our children, knowing that some of them will inevitably be broken. We abide (more or less) by the laws of our lands— except when I’m speeding or texting on my way to church. (God, forgive me, I’m late!)

We listen to doctors and coaches who want to keep us healthy, strong and safe. We blindly follow the advice of experts and authors as they lead us in business and creative pursuits. Yet for some reason, we still arch our back and cock an eyebrow every time we hear or read the word “obey”.

We prefer to use words like “comply” or “observe”; they are easier on our ears. Truthfully, we are fond of expecting it from others but struggle under the constraints that it creates for ourselves.
As a parent, I am constantly asking my children to “listen and obey.” In our house, we have stressed a specific definition of obedience. My children know that there are three crucial elements:

  1. Obey the first time. When asked to complete a task, “obedience” means they complete it right away.

  2. Obey completely. If the task has two parts, and they finish the first and not the second, it means they have not fully obeyed.

  3. Obey with a good attitude. Obedience doesn’t mean doing as their told only after rolling their eyes, stomping into the next room, or having a tantrum.

The longer I am a mother, the more I realize the powerful work that God is doing inside of me, as I teach and train my children. Because so often I hear the whisper of the Spirit as I speak to them:

“Why can’t you just listen and obey?” “How many times do I have to ask you to…” “Can you hear my voice? Do you hear what I’m asking you to do?” “It hurts my heart that you are choosing not to do the thing that I asked you to do.” You get the picture.

I have literally stopped mid-sentence and had to walk away because I realize that God speaks much more tenderly, and extends more grace to me, than I do to my own children. How can I expect so much from them, when I am unwilling to do the same? Often God has to ask me to do things more than once, and I tend to ignore some of the direction and only complete the parts that are easy, or that I enjoy. Of course, there is also the whining, tantrums, and eye-rolling that occurs when He presses me to do something that I don’t want to do:

“Malinda, I need you to forgive that person.”
“Really God, are you kidding me?! Do you know what they’ve done— how they’ve hurt me?”
“Yes, I know.”
“But it’s so hard God.”
“Yes, I know. I need to you do this. For your own heart Malinda.”

Perhaps you have the eye rolls under control, and you’re less like a whining toddler than I am, but you struggle with the first time part. Don’t worry, I still don’t have that one mastered either. It tends to look like this:

“Malinda, be a blessing to that person. Yes. That person. Yes. That kid with the cardboard sign and dirty clothes that you’re trying to ignore by pretending to be on your phone.”
Other times it sounds like: “Malinda, I said, BE a blessing, not offer the bare minimum.”
“God, what do you want me to do!?”
“Sit with them. Don’t offer money. Offer dignity. Offer hope. Offer me.”

Maybe you’ve nailed the attitude and you’re compliant the first time, but you struggle with the word completely. Don’t worry, I’m with you there too: “Malinda, I’m going to give you words to share.”
“Thanks, Lord. I’ll write a blog post.”
“That’s not what I have in mind.”
“Teach a class? You got it!”
“Malinda, how many times am I going to have to ask you….?”

Maybe you’ve been hearing me chant the #obedienceoverhustle mantra these last few months and you think I’ve got it down, but the truth is, I’m still learning how to walk it out. And I get it wrong. Often.
I’m a work in progress— constantly tuning my ear to His voice and being overwhelmed by His gracious and tender ways, even when I’m not so obedient.

Perhaps you can identify with one of these things, or maybe you’re like me (and my kids!) who struggle in all the areas. Great. It means you are not alone, and we are in this thing together, choosing obedience to God over the hustle that the world tells us we need to get after. We are choosing lean in a little more to what He is leading us to do: at home, at work, in our marriages, on our streets and churches and places that we shop, visit and explore. We are giving Him access to every part of our lives, allowing Him to turn things upside down and inside out— even when it’s hard.