Love, Freedom, and Obedience

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I have touched upon these themes before in previous postings. But given my recent notes on ownership by youth of their church life, I want to revisit the above three virtues of Christian life to see how they all work together; particularly in this area of ownership of faith and church life.

Let’s talk about obedience first. Obedience is simply doing what you are told. Children are called to obey their parents.

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may be well with you and that you may live long on the earth.” (Ephesians 6:1-3) 

It is easy to think of obedience as doing what you are told because you have no choice and you have to obey. In many cases this is true. A ten-year-old is not permitted to legally drive a car, or vote, or purchase certain substances. Children under 16 may not have the choice to attend or not attend church. Younger kids under seven are told to do something because mom and dad say so. The ongoing “whys” of kids under five can drive parents crazy at times. Kids obey because usually there are consequences if they don’t. Those consequences can be natural (learning not to touch a hot stove), or those enforced by parents, (time out, grounding, denial of privileges).

But if you look at the command from St. Paul in Ephesians, there is no “obey, or else” in the above words. Children are called to obey that “it may be well with you and that you may live long on the earth.” This is the “right” thing to do. Obedience is tied to one’s well-being and living a long life. So, a parent’s motive in forming the virtue of obedience in a child’s life is always geared towards their child’s well-being, and love for their child is the motivator.

This brings us to the reality that obedience is not something that is forced upon a child; it is a virtue that is taught. It means teaching a child the difference between making right and wrong choices in life. Even in the early years with toilet training, a parent needs to understand the power a child discovers over the choice to control over his own body in relationship to mom or dad. The parent cannot force their child to obey.

The more we back a child into a corner where it becomes a battle of wills, the more a child will come out fighting. The more a parent can address their child respecting their power to choose, they can then work to shape the virtue of obedience in them. This is done through consistency on a parent’s part in enforcing their expectations of their child. “Let your yes be yes, and your no be no.” How these expectations are enforced has a lot to do with whether obedience is experienced by a child as leading to learning and growth, or whether it is experienced as “my way or the highway.”

The blessing of the Lore be upon you,

The unworthy +Paul

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