Have you ever had to make a decision you didn’t very much like? When was the last time you said a difficult no? In a world that likes the word yes more than no, it can feel unsettling and wrong to say no.
It was a painful decision to step down from my volunteer role as Women’s Ministry Lead last year. There were three reasons: I wasn’t paid (I could really use a paid job!), it wasn’t a perfect fit (parts were great, parts were not!), and I felt like my family needed more time from me in the upcoming season (some seasons of parenting are more consuming than others!).
Two of my kiddos especially needed above and beyond the “normal” amount of energy and brain space this past year as we have been navigating some unexpected challenges.
This time away from a specified role in ministry has forced me to face messages from my past about women and leadership. (which BTW has been difficult but GOOD. I will certainly be writing about it!) The search for a paid job has caused heartache with my lack of work experience and frustration with my limited weekly schedule as I continue to be the primary caregiver to our children, especially our two 8 year olds. The time needed and devoted to helping my kids with these challenges has humbled me and has caused me to lose my cool multiple times with regard to getting the correct support from both health care professionals and school staff.
I have made mistakes and done it imperfectly, but I have tried to seek what my kids need both from outside the home and within the home. It has been a roller coaster ride in multiple respects. We are in a much better place today but we are still navigating through it.
Recently I received a positive email about one of my children. The teacher spoke of my child with delight and commendation. Tears well up as I type right now. My child is coming along. My child is on the way. We are moving in a good direction. I am deeply thankful.
My mind immediately went to a blog post I had just read by a fellow writing community member. In https://hopehearthome.com/hi-ho-hi-ho-its-off-to-write-we-go/ she said the act of writing is obedience for her. Now, in our day and age and culture we don’t like the word obedience. Heck, I do not like the word obedience! It feels formal and sterile, suffocating and horrible. Seriously, I have an aversion to the word. But there was something beautiful about it in her story. As I read, she drew me toward an encounter between Moses and God through her writing.
It hit me, as I read the email from the teacher, the small, quiet voice of the Spirit,
“You were obedient.”
Huh, I guess I was. Wow. I didn’t quite see it that way back then. One of the most heart wrenching decisions of my life was stepping down from that ministry role and giving up a position of influence and creativity. I was enjoying leadership in this capacity even with its challenges and hardships. I sensed the prompting to step down, but it was not crystal clear. It was fuzzy at best.
There was another time recently, when I listened to a friend describe something she was stepping into as “obedience.” She was clear. I remember thinking, “I wish I had the clarity she has,” as I was still muddling through the aftermath of saying no to something without having a full yes to replace it. Because as the responsibilities with meeting my children’s needs did take up a certain amount of time, I still had idle time. Still do. Time unnamed and waiting for an assignment can wreak havoc on a soul. I have been fighting with myself (and sometimes with my husband) over what I am supposed to do with the rest of me and my time that is available. But there is an upside as well, with open time new things can sprout up or crystallize.
Clarity is beginning to bubble to the top. When the time comes I think I am going to be able to say it’s obedience when I do it. It’s the weirdest thing, this shift. I have been waiting for a long time for more clarity on next steps, but as Emily P. Freeman says in her new book, The Next Right Thing, “The middle still counts even though it’s ordinary. Maybe the middle counts most of all.” I am relearning again, the road to obedience is just as important as obedience. God has been so tender here. That’s why true, good obedience is not sterile or formal or rigid at all when it is rooted in love and relationship.
We see this as Jesus loved the Father. Jesus came to earth down obedience road. He shared deep communion with his Father through the experience. He was all in for his Father and for us. There was a call to follow, work to do, and a mission to fulfill. And we are not any different in this aspect. We can experience deep communion with God on our own obedience road. We each have a call, work and a mission.
Here is an encounter Jesus had with people who wondered who he was and what he was about:
“They said to him, ‘Just who are you anyway?’
‘What I’ve said from the start. I have so many things to say that concern you, judgements to make that affect you, but if you don’t accept the trustworthiness of the One who commanded my words and acts, none of it matters. That is who you are questioning-not me but the One who sent me.’
They still didn’t get it, didn’t realize that he was referring to the Father. So Jesus tried again. ‘When you raise up the Son of Man, then you will know who I am-that I’m not making this up, but speaking only what the Father taught me. The one who sent me stays with me. He doesn’t abandon me. He sees how much joy I take in pleasing him.’
When he put it in these terms, many people decided to believe.” [John 8:25-30, The Message]
Do you see it? The love, joy, and obedience all wrapped into one. Look and listen carefully to how Jesus describes things. Read multiple versions of the same encounter. If you read the whole book of John in the Bible, you will see it! The love relationship between Father and Son brought Jesus here to earth to love on us.
Later in John 14:31, Jesus says,
“But so the world might know how thoroughly I love the Father, I am carrying out my Father’s instructions right down to the last detail.”
Love and obedience go hand and hand as Jesus followed the Father and as we follow them as well.
As Jesus is preparing to leave the earth he reassures his followers,
“I will not leave you orphaned. I’m coming back. In just a little while the world will no longer see me, but you’re going to see me because I am alive and you’re about to come alive. At that moment you will know absolutely that I’m in my Father, and you’re in me, and I’m in you. The person who knows my commandments and keeps them, that’s who loves me. And the person who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love her and make myself plain to her.”
I am far from finishing up all the things God has for me here on this earth. At least I think so, I could drop dead tomorrow! But I am growing in the beauty and appreciation of staying close to God as I wait and make decisions. I am seeing a fresh glimpse of the beauty of obedience.
God, I do not know all the answers to the big questions of my vocational future, but I want to stay close, so close to you that I will know it when I see it. You will bring into view whatever I need to see. You will give the opportunities. The path will appear. Give me faith each day. You are good. Until I see you face to face, help me to choose obedience road.
What does obedience road look like for you? Have you experienced the connection between love and obedience? Is the word obedience sterile and formal to you? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!