{Practicing Benedict} When love is obedience

Welcome to Mama:Monk’s weekly Wednesday series examining St. Benedict’s Rule and what it’s teaching me about motherhood and the praying life…

“The first step on the way to humility is to obey an order without delaying for a moment. That is a response which comes easily to those who hold nothing dearer than Christ himself” (St. Benedict’s Rule, Chapter 5).

Oh, how I’ve dreaded this post! Why, Benedict, do you use that word we all avoid? We like a lot of words in our common Christian language, but the word Obedience gets us all fidgety. We don’t want to appear rigid. We prefer to think of the God of grace, not the God who commands. We have trouble with the hope of balancing grace and law, justice and mercy, wrath and kindness. Are those things opposites? Is God a god of opposites, of extremes? Or is God a god of balance, of deep breaths, rest in the midst of purpose?

(Side-note, 12 years ago I helped lead a youth camp where the t-shirts said one word: “Obedience” with the word “die” highlighted in the middle. Why are we Christians so freakishly scary?!)

As I’ve been studying Benedict’s Rule for the past two years, the vows of stability and poverty have challenged me as beautiful possibilities for what the world could be, what I could be. But they often seem distant, vague, something beautiful because they are so far from my daily reality.

This third Benedictine vow? I know what it means. I know how to do it. And that’s what’s frightening. See, I never vowed to “obey” my husband. I didn’t even let the preacher pronounce us as “Mr. and Mrs. Christopher Hohorst.” It was too much to me. I told our minister several times, “I want you to say Mr. Christopher Hohorst and Mrs. Micha Boyett Hohorst.” My husband nodded his head and smiled.

We did vow to submit to one another out of love. (Which, is a much more difficult task. That means sometimes I’m right and sometimes I’m wrong. Sometimes my husband is right and sometimes he’s wrong. And we have to wrestle through the right and wrong to find the truth. That, to me, looks a lot more like the work of the Spirit than the submission of one sex to the other.)

So, if St. Benedict is calling his monks toward a constant submission to the one in authority over them–the monk in charge, or the abbott, or the bishop, or the pope–then who is in authority over me?

I think it’s obvious, right? I just to don’t want to say it. Women have been silenced and abused in the name of obedience for as long as this world has spun. Aren’t we better off without acknowledging any kind of submission in marriage?

Last night I lay next to my spouse in bed while he read. I looked at him with my thinking face until he took his eyes off the screen and found mine. “Yes?” he said.

“Ummm. What does it mean for us to obey each other?” I asked. Then I crinkled my face and sighed and pulled the sheet up to my nose. He knows I hate this question.

Chris loves responding to deep questions. (I make him sound so serious around here, don’t I?): “It means that when you ask me to get Brooksie dressed for bed, I do it immediately…not because I want to stop what I’m doing but because I love you. It means I trust what you’re good at and you’re good at knowing what our kids need when they need it.”

“So that means I trust what you’re good at too,” I said, staring off at the wall. Like, when Chris tells me I’m being careless with our computer by setting my coffee right beside it when only 3 months ago we lost a computer via my coffee-spill. If I wanted to honor him, I’d think about where I sit that happy steaming cup.

Is that silly? Why have I never recognized that my willingness to listen to and honor my husband, without murmuring or rolling my eyes or resisting, is part of how I love him?

Benedict speaks of our “[carrying] out our orders…in a way that is not fearful, nor slow, nor half-hearted, no marred by murmuring or the sort of compliance that betrays resentment” (Chapter 5). And what if that was how my husband and I responded to one another?

If Chris trusts me and loves me and I love him and trust him, then I will be more careful of what I ask of him, knowing that he will do it immediately. Every request has more value when you know it will be carried out. Therefore, you treat it with more weight. Nagging is the result of us not taking seriously our requests or our response to those requests. Murmuring is nagging’s nasty little love-child. Is it possible for a married couple to deliberately live life without nagging and grumbling?! Maybe.

Benedict describes obedience as the first step to humility, the practice of recognizing that I do not have it all figured out, that I am made better by another’s wisdom.

Not fearful. Not slow. Not half-hearted. Not marred by bitterness or resentment. Isn’t this the woman I want to be?

Perhaps it starts with a simple practice of listening to my husband, of serving him as he serves me. Because, as The Benedictine Handbook, “In monastic life obedience and love are so intimately bound together that each becomes an expression of the other.”

Oh, Lord, grant this independent woman such grace that she might live in fearless, whole-hearted, bitter-free “obedience,” even if I’d rather not use that word…

  • Alva Lee Harley

    Oh Micha, You’ve done it now–hit my sore spot. It took me much longer than you to deal with the whole obedience thing in marriage. And that coffee by the computer thing? My husband had been talking to me about that issue and I stubbornly continued my practice until my computer had to be replaced because of my coffee spill–only it was at work. Much more public. Much more embarrassing. It took me longer than you to realize that my husband loved me enough to try to help me correct practices that could be destructive. Thankfully, God continues working on my stubborn, prideful, independent spirit. Obedience, immediate obedience, is a lot less pleasant to talk about than grace, though–isn’t it?!

  • d

    Once again, so good! And perfect timing as well. My husband will do whatever I ask when I ask it, but I fail to do the same in return. I felt convicted about this last week. We pulled up to our house to quickly grab something before heading to our next destination. My husband asked me to bring the things in the back seat real quick. It didn’t make sense to me- just seemed like a waste of time, so I said no. Then it hit me. If it pleases him, why wouldn’t my immediate response be, “sure, why not?” I grabbed the things, and tossed I grabbed the things, and tossed them in the house. He was shocked that I noticed my stubbornness so quickly. ha. Oh dear… The Lord has allowed this moment to linger in my mind all week, and now your post! Yes, Lord. May I be more obedient!

  • http://mommymonk.wordpress.com Micha Boyett Hohorst

    Thank you d and Alva. I’m walking around all morning feeling this heavy pit in my stomach about this post. And I think it’s more than how much I dislike the word “obey” when referring to marriage. I think it’s the idea of women talking about “obeying” their husbands. If men were leaving comments about obeying their wives I’d feel better.

    Here’s why: There is too much abuse in this world, too much bullying, too many men asserting authority over women in ways that destroy lives. When I talk about mutually obeying each other, I’m talking about a loving relationship. It’s such a slippery slope isn’t it? Understand: I get that and I’m hesitant about it.

    • Alva Lee Harley

      Don’t beat yourself up. Usually women are the ones who read blogs so you’ll get more women responding. But I understood what you were saying. My husband of 45 years listens to me, is sometimes corrected by me, asks for my opinions, sacrifices for me, loves me. He also submits to God and His plans for our lives. I was only speaking from my perspective. I’m sure you get that too. :)

      • http://mommymonk.wordpress.com Micha Boyett Hohorst

        You are the greatest, Alva. Thank you for your kindness. I’m sorry if my comment sounded a little on the harsh side. I was writing it not as much in response to you and d but to the general readers out there out of fear that my post may be misunderstood. I’m so thankful that it wasn’t by you. :) And I’m really grateful to have you reading and responding to what I write. I love hearing from you!

  • http://drgtjustwondering.blogspot.com Diana Trautwein

    Now here’s a weird little factoid for you – I was married so long before you were and I had this strange little attraction for liturgy even back then at the tender age of 20, that I hunted for a wedding liturgy that INCLUDED the word obey. Oy vey. We have, over the past 46 (on the 18th of this month) years worked our way to a very different kind of relationship than the one we thought we were entering back in 1965. We did do the ‘traditional’ thing for a long time – although neither of us was ever comfortable with the term ‘obey’ for what transpired between us as a couple. And over time, we worked our way, through lots of biblical study, prayer and a little professional help at about the midway point, to a thriving partnership. Not perfect, but pretty darn good. But…I will admit, after reading your good words tonight, that I can lean a bit toward the eye-rolling when I’m asked to do something for him when I’m in the middle of something else. And that’s generally when those requests come – when I’m settled in with computer or book or television or recipe…After reading this and allowing the convicted emotional response to settle a bit, I’m going to work on that bit. I do trust him, I do love him. And sometimes, that means doing something immediately, without complaint, without murmuring. (LOVED that line about the nasty little love child.) Thanks, as always for this, Micha.

  • http://drgtjustwondering.blogspot.com Diana Trautwein

    Now here’s a weird little factoid for you – I was married so long before you were and I had this strange little attraction for liturgy even back then at the tender age of 20, that I hunted for a wedding liturgy that INCLUDED the word obey. Oy vey. We have, over the past 46 (on the 18th of this month) years worked our way to a very different kind of relationship than the one we thought we were entering back in 1965. We did do the ‘traditional’ thing for a long time – although neither of us was ever comfortable with the term ‘obey’ for what transpired between us as a couple. And over time, we worked our way, through lots of biblical study, prayer and a little professional help at about the midway point, to a thriving partnership. Not perfect, but pretty darn good. But…I will admit, after reading your good words tonight, that I can lean a bit toward the eye-rolling when I’m asked to do something for him when I’m in the middle of something else. And that’s generally when those requests come – when I’m settled in with computer or book or television or recipe…After reading this and allowing the convicted emotional response to settle a bit, I’m going to work on that bit. I do trust him, I do love him. And sometimes, that means doing something immediately, without complaint, without murmuring. (LOVED that line about the nasty little love child.) Thanks, as always for this, Micha.

  • http://everydayawe.wordpress.com Stephanie Spencer

    In my marriage, I’ve realized a difference in how my husband and I respond the other asking, “Can I ask a favor?”
    He responds with, “Sure, what is it?”
    I respond with, “Depends, what is it?”
    Quick obedience reflects trust- knowing you don’t need to take the time to question what was asked of you. I often question not only people, but God when something is asked of me. I talk to my son about practicing “first obey” or being “quick to obey”- I’ve learned that’s a lesson I need as well. (I wrote about this at http://everydayawe.com/2011/10/14/slow-to-obey/)
    Thanks for your reflection! I thought about this concept with God- you’ve challenged me to think about it with people.

  • http://everydayawe.wordpress.com Stephanie Spencer

    In my marriage, I’ve realized a difference in how my husband and I respond the other asking, “Can I ask a favor?”
    He responds with, “Sure, what is it?”
    I respond with, “Depends, what is it?”
    Quick obedience reflects trust- knowing you don’t need to take the time to question what was asked of you. I often question not only people, but God when something is asked of me. I talk to my son about practicing “first obey” or being “quick to obey”- I’ve learned that’s a lesson I need as well. (I wrote about this at http://everydayawe.com/2011/10/14/slow-to-obey/)
    Thanks for your reflection! I thought about this concept with God- you’ve challenged me to think about it with people.

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  • stephanie

    I just discovered your blog and practicing Benedict series and this is spot on! I hate the word “obey” and I am fiercely protective of women’s rights . That last sentence of your post is beautiful and resonates within me, it is going to be my prayer for a while.

  • Alva Lee Harley

    Don’t beat yourself up. Usually women are the ones who read blogs so you’ll get more women responding. But I understood what you were saying. My husband of 45 years listens to me, is sometimes corrected by me, asks for my opinions, sacrifices for me, loves me. He also submits to God and His plans for our lives. I was only speaking from my perspective. I’m sure you get that too. :)

  • http://mommymonk.wordpress.com Micha Boyett Hohorst

    You are the greatest, Alva. Thank you for your kindness. I’m sorry if my comment sounded a little on the harsh side. I was writing it not as much in response to you and d but to the general readers out there out of fear that my post may be misunderstood. I’m so thankful that it wasn’t by you. :) And I’m really grateful to have you reading and responding to what I write. I love hearing from you!


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