My daughter looks up at me. Eyes welled up with tears, bottom lip pouting.
This would be easier if she wasn’t so cute.
“Did you cut up your new book?” I ask, knowing the answer.
Her eyes shift and she denies it, well not really denies it, she blames it on Pick-A-Pie, her imaginary friend from South Africa.
We stand face to face, both wondering who will give in first.
As parents we set standards for our children. I have a million rules: don’t run in the street, don’t use your toothbrush on the dog, don’t wipe boogers on your shirt, I could go on and on.
Some rules are there to keep her physically safe. Others help her learn to consider the needs of other people. In some cases, it isn’t so much about the specifics of the rule, (I don’t really care if she has a napkin on her lap) but the rule creates a standard, and obeying it teaches her that the world has standards and that she can’t always live by her own impulses. Even more importantly, as a Christian parent, I want her to learn to obey me and her father. We expect that as she learns to obey our authority, as her parents who love and rule over her, that as an adult she will be able to transition obeying God. To us, this is our most important task, that we would train our daughter to lay down her own desire for His and that she would grow into an adult who lives in obedience to God.
As adults in America we have a lot of freedoms. At some point in our 20’s, around about the time we graduate college, we transition to adult status, which means we get to make our own decisions. We are now responsible for ourselves. We are expected to mature, yes, but at our own pace and to our own standard. We do have our government that holds us to a few fundamentals but mostly the choice of how to live is ours as individuals. In my life I have no one that I call an authority, no one to whom I must answer (my husband yes, but he is an equal, not an authority, we set rules together, he doesn’t set them over me). There is no one who can hold me to anything. In fact, there is nothing to hold me to. I decide for myself what I think is right and my right can change from day to day. Even our own ministers, for the most part, speak suggestions not standards into our lives. You don’t like what he had to say this Sunday, fine then don’t believe it, come back next week maybe you will like that better or visit the church down the road. The firm standards from our childhood shift into ideas that we can take or leave, interpret how we like.
Instead of rules, as adults, we are encouraged to pursue knowledge. We take our problems to self-help books and we analyze ourselves, our parents, our past and our dreams. We take our problems to the Bible. We study the history and the words. We hope that if we can deepen our intellectual understanding it will change our hearts. (Don’t miss-hear me, I’m not anti-self help book, I actually love them and I’m not anti-Bible study, I love that too, I just think our, or at least my, expectations from these pursuits are too high).
In our reading group we are reading The Rule of St. Benedict. Written 1,500 years ago and still practiced today, Benedict offers a different approach.
Is there anyone here who yearns for life and desires to see good days? (Ps33)
Uh yes, Sir I do.
Let us get up then at long last. . . Let us open our eyes to the light that comes from God and our ears to the voice from heaven. . .Every time you begin a good work you must pray to Him most earnestly to bring it to perfection. . . And If you desire true and eternal life, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies.
Okay, anything else?
Become a people that fear the Lord, and do not become elated over their deeds; they judge it is the Lord’s power, not their own, that brings about the good in them.
In summary he says we must, prepare our hearts and bodies for the battle of holy obedience.
Hmm. . . holy obedience . . . obedience to what?
St. Benedict’s Rule is what follows next. It is simply a set of rules based of the Bible and consistent with a tenants and practice of the Christian faith that had been maintained since the time of Jesus about 500 years before.
Benedict does not offer an analysis of the heart of man or a a discussion about why we can screw things up so badly and hurt the people we love. He doesn’t give his reader a step by step plan on how to make life better. Instead he offers a set of rules. In a way the rules sounds silly, almost too simple. He gives rules about what psalm to read on what day, about how much to eat, how to be on time, how much to talk and drink and work.
But what St. Benedict’s Rules imply is that by bending our will to God’s authority, or the authority that God has placed over us (in Benedict’s case, the abbot, for a child, a parent) we are renewed. It is by obedience that our hearts are softened. It is by repeatedly failing to meet a standard and coming to the feet of God tearful in confession that we are changed. Through this process our pride is turned to humility and finally God can do a good work in us.
Eventually Zenie folds, she confesses. She melts into my arms and with tears we hug and she is forgiven and we are restored.
I long for that softness. I long to stand before God and tell Him that I am messing this up. I long for His reassurance.
Without a standard there is no forgiveness. Without rules to be obeyed and sometimes broken we can’t find a meeting place. I can go on and on hurting everyone around me, but no one can tell me I’m wrong, we can only agree that we see the situation differently. I am also free to go on believing things that are untrue about God. I can practice a faith that stands in stark contrast to the beliefs that have been held by Christians for 2,000 years because I want to interpret it my own way.
St. Benedict leaves us with a challenge. Find a worthy (God given) authority and submit to it. Let your will be broken so that God can begin to live inside of you.
Who or what does authority look like to you? How does the idea of being submitted to authority make you feel? I’d love to hear your thoughts.