Obedience

I decided a couple of days ago that I should write something for the blog, since it’s been a month since anyone posted, and more than 6 months since I posted. I wasn’t really feeling inspired about what to write about, so I started looking at some old drafts, and this one caught my eye. I started it 5 years ago, but it’s a subject I’ve been thinking about again lately, so I decided to open it up and look at it. After reading the opening paragraph (which I could have written this week pretty much word for word), I knew it was the one to finish.

I felt tonight like I should write a post (not because I feel bad about not having blogged in forever, though I do a little bit — luckily my blogmates are quite relaxed about things like that — but just a nagging feeling that I should write something), but there wasn’t anything in particular I felt like I ought to write about. I signed on and started looking through my saved drafts to see if there was anything I felt like finishing, but nothing stuck out to me. Then I got distracted putting kids to bed, cleaning up the house, etc, and left it alone until a few minutes ago, when again I felt like I should write something.

When I left off I was thinking about possibly finishing one post I’d started a while back that talked about one of the main themes in my patriarchal blessing — faithfulness. When I came back, however, I started thinking about the other theme in my patriarchal blessing, which I touched on briefly in that post — obedience. In that post I only mention briefly that obedience is one of the main themes of my patriarchal blessing and then move on. I remember that the reason for that was that I was somewhat uncomfortable with that being one of the themes of my patriarchal blessing, and I felt the same way when I re-read the draft earlier today.

You see, I’m not particularly comfortable with obedience. It’s not a principle I like very much, or one I’m particularly good at.

The talks at the latest GC that focused on listening to the prophet and doing exactly what he said bothered me a lot. I’ve always hated following rules just because they’re rules. I have a slightly odd rebellious streak. I never really rebelled against my parents, probably because they understood my rebellious streak a lot better than I did. I never had a curfew in high school. Not only did I not have a set curfew for every night, but when I called to tell my parents where I was and asked them when they wanted me home my dad’s only response was always, “What time do you think you should be home?” It sometimes bothered me, and I would say (exasperatedly), “Dad, just tell me when you want me to come home and I’ll come home then!” But he would always just repeat his question. My standard answer to the question was 1 hour later than my friends’ curfews, since that way even if we were running late I’d be home well before the specified time.

I thought my dad was so weird at the time, but looking back I realize he just understood me. If my parents had given me a set curfew for all of high school, I probably would have rebelled against it at some point, just to point out that I thought it was stupid that I had to be home at that time every night, no matter what. The only time my dad did try to give me a curfew was on New Year’s Eve my senior year of college when I was visiting home. I’d recently started dating a guy, and had just gotten engaged (though no one else knew that yet), and my dad said he expected us back by 3am. My husband (then fiance) tried desperately to get us back there by 3am (after all, he was trying to impress his future father-in-law), but I put my foot down and we didn’t get back until 3:10. I wanted to make a point to my dad that I thought it was stupid that he’d tried to give me a curfew at that point in my life when he’d never given me one before.

And that’s how my rebellious streak works — I only rebel to make a point. I rebelled my junior year of high school against a teacher. Every person who’d had her before said of her class, “You’ll do fine as long as you write her paper.” She had a set list of books you could write a term paper about, and a pretty set list of topics that related to those books. You had to get her approval during each step of the process, and her way of “approving” your work (thesis, topic sentences, outline) was to cross out what you’d written and write your statements herself. Everyone who was doing the same book got the exact same sentences. I deliberately chose to do something that others hadn’t — looking at the use of sarcasm in Pride and Prejudice. Pride and Prejudice was one of the allowed books, and use of sarcasm was an acceptable topic — it was just one she had people do for James Joyce’s work, not for Jane Austen’s. She didn’t know how to handle it. She used the sentences she’d normally use for Joyce’s, substituting the title and author, but they didn’t actually work. Thus began a very long and very painful process of trying to get a research paper written (that involved extreme bullying from that teacher). I could have given in at any time and just written what she wanted me to write, and our conflict would have been over. It would have been easy, but I couldn’t do it. I wanted to make the point that it was stupid that she was writing all her students’ papers for them — it helped no one.

My dad always advised me not to go to BYU (not that I wanted to or planned to, which actually made it odder for him to specifically bring it up), and I realized at the time, and even more now, that was good advice. There are way too many rules at BYU that I think are stupid, and I’m quite sure I couldn’t have gone 4 years without breaking them just to make a point. I probably would have bought a 6 pack of beer and left it sitting on my counter, just because there’s really nothing wrong with having alcohol in your apartment, even if you don’t think people should drink alcohol, and I think it’s dumb to have a rule forbidding it. I am not a particularly good follower, and never have been.

Which brings me back to the point of obedience. My patriarchal blessing focuses on it a lot, and how important it is for me. I’ve mostly tried not to think about that, because, well, I don’t particularly want to change. I love the concept of agency and personal revelation and finding things out for ourselves. I think there are exceptions to every rule, and I spend a lot of time considering “what ifs”. Like the story of Irene Gut Opdyke, a Catholic housekeeper in Nazi Poland who became the mistress of a Nazi officer in order to save the lives of Jews. Integrity is important, sure, especially when you’ve made a religious commitment to a principle, but is it more important than saving others’ lives? I spend a lot of time thinking about things like this. I have a novel that’s somewhat centered around that concept (that I started well before I knew this story). What’s right? What’s wrong? How do you know if following rules and laws is the right call, particularly when it hurts someone else? How do you weigh the good and bad in choices that are not always black and white?

And so obedience has always bothered me. I’ve always lived in a world of grays. I’ve always thought about all the exceptions to every hard and fast rule. And heck, we have exceptions canonized in scripture. Nephi and Laban? Abraham and Isaac? Wiping out an entire nation down to their babies and even animals in the Old Testament? Though interestingly enough, the exceptions in the scriptures are some of the stories I have the biggest problem with. I think because while I can contemplate the possibility of hurting myself to help others (a la the aforementioned Irene Gut Opdyke), I have a much harder time contemplating hurting someone else to achieve the same ends.

But all of that is a tangent to where I actually want to go with these musings. So back to my patriarchal blessing. It says that obedience is one of the things that will be most important to me in my life. And I’ve struggled with that thought ever since I received my patriarchal blessing. It’s only recently that I’ve come at the issue from a different perspective, one that doesn’t bother me quite so much.

You see, though I’ve always associated obedience with following the prophet, following all the rules, and doing exactly what I’m told, there’s nothing in my blessing that references any of those things. In fact, the only obedience it specifies is to the gospel of Jesus Christ. And as I pointed out in a talk recently, the gospel according to Jesus is to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. That’s something I can be obedient to pretty easily. Or at least it’s something I fervently desire to be obedient to, even if I don’t always succeed in my endeavors.

And while my patriarchal blessing is kind of vague on what exactly I’m supposed to be obedient to, it’s not vague on what that obedience will mean. It specifically says that by being obedient I’ll be guided and directed to accomplish the things I’m supposed to do in this life, and that I’ll move in the direction that Heavenly Father wants me to go.

So this is how I like to think of obedience now. It’s not important for me to be obedient to the prophet, to the church, to the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet, or to every law listed in Leviticus (not that any one of those is necessarily bad, just that it’s not what I need to focus on). It’s important for me to be obedient to the direction that Heavenly Father gives me. When I know what He wants me to do, it’s important that I do that. Even if it doesn’t make sense, even if I don’t want to.

And though I haven’t always thought of this as obedience per se or following my patriarchal blessing, it is a principle that I’ve followed for my entire adult life. I don’t get direct answers to all my big questions in life (or even many of them), but when I do, I’ve always felt like I had an obligation to act on those answers. To trust the Lord, and to follow His will for my life. And while I often couldn’t see the reasoning behind many of those answers at the time, I can testify that I’ve been blessed for following the promptings of the Spirit in those situations. I’m generally not able to see those blessings for years after the fact, but it’s happened often enough that I continue to jump when the Lord says jump, whether I want to or not. I think that’s the kind of obedience He expects from me.

7 comments / Add your comment below

  1. I really like your thoughts here, Vada. I’m totally in the same place you are personality-wise when it comes to obedience. In actual practice, I’m really very compliant with rules and standards, but the pettiness and irrationality of many of them makes me nuts, so I often dislike them in principle even if I follow them in practice.




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  2. Like your blog. Wonder how you differentiate between obeying the Lord and not his prophet or his church? I cannot make that distinction, but perhaps we both at arrive at the same place in the end – obedience to the Lord




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  3. K, if it helps, I have a thought or two. Often, in General Conference or Stake Conference, leaders in the church will give counsel to the body of the church gathered there. The counsel is general for that body. This means that often there will be someone present who won’t be benefited by the general counsel the way everyone else there will be. That person might feel inspired to do something other than what was counseled by the leader. That person is being obedient to the Lord, but not obedient to the leader. That is one way that this could happen.

    Other ways might include leaders who are not inspired (it happens) or who overstep the bounds of their stewardship (but maybe I repeat myself).

    Also, I’ve noticed that in the church, we love rules. We often make rules that are not inspired but are merely administrative, perhaps because we think they are a good idea, or make it less likely that someone might sin. Sometimes these rules can be asinine. I don’t believe that disobeying these rules when necessary is disobeying the Lord. A simple example might be disallowing a child to go to the next class up in age because of a general rule against that even though it would benefit everyone involved.

    Most of the time these situations won’t happen. But they do sometimes, and if there is no rhetorical space for that, then it is harder for everyone when they do occur.




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  4. Vada, I also cringe when I hear of obedience, as it represents a way of understanding the Gospel that is the majority but not mine.

    I really liked some of the things Pres Uchtdorf said in his April conference talk titled “He will place you on his shoulders and carry you”
    And the moment we choose to incline our hearts to our beloved Savior and set foot upon the path of discipleship, something miraculous happens. The love of God fills our hearts, the light of truth fills our minds, we start to lose the desire to sin, and we do not want to walk any longer in darkness.13
    We come to see obedience not as a punishment but as a liberating path to our divine destiny. And gradually, the corruption, dust, and limitations of this earth begin to fall away. Eventually, the priceless, eternal spirit of the heavenly being within us is revealed, and a radiance of
    goodness becomes our nature.

    Obedience is what happens when we loose the desire to do evil.

    I would like to see a blog contrasting this view of the Gospel, with Elder Oaks talk the same day called”Opposition in all things” which presents a very different view of how to live the Gospel.

    Like you I have come to a place where I am at peace with my understanding, which is closer to Uchtdorf than Oaks.




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  5. Hello Joe, I understand what you are trying to argue for but I think you are on an extremely slippery slope. When you decide to do something contrary to what you are counseled to do by our leader(s),prophets and apostles you put yourself on unsafe ground. You are not being obedient to the Lord when you choose to disobey or disregard his prophets. The Lord gives us plenty to choose in this life. Choosing to not follow counsel from his prophet is not one of those choices.




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  6. So I hope you are,reminding everyone in your family to ponderize, since that was a recent instruction on how to study our scriptures from our leader.

    Seriously, though – I never said we should not obey our inspired leaders and prophets. I said that sometimes, in a case by case basis, what you should do might differ from what others should do. I used a very specific, hypothetical example, and that is the level I am talking about.

    I don’t think the Lord is going to exempt me from the Word of Wisdom or the covenants I’ve made with him. But I do think that I can receive revelation about which class my child should attend (especially versus a general policy that did not contain specific revelation about my child). I do think that in General Conference we might receive counsel about how to read our scriptures that we are then free to make decisions about based on our revelation from God about how we learn with Him as individuals. That’s the sort of thing I mean.

    I firmly believe that God sent us here to learn to think and to know Him. That includes receiving revelation specific to our individual families, lives, and situations that may conflict, at times, with general counsel from leaders. Nephi received a command to violate a central commandment. Most of us are not going to see something like that – but it’s a hyperbolic example of a true principle that I was taught at church and learned from the Lord and have seen countless times in the lives of those around me.

    In fact, I expect that our leaders would agree that we don’t disobey our leaders, but still obey the Lord, because they give a lot of their counsel contingent on personal revelation. They expect us to use their counsel in the ways that best bring us closer to the Lord, so that we can be the nation of prophets the Lord wants us to be.




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