I grew up at a boarding school on Long Island and lived there until I was 16. My dad was a teacher at the school and part of the job meant that we lived on campus. It truly was a perfect world to grow up in. I had 55 acres of property to explore and dozens of other faculty children to run around with. The athletic fields were my backyard and there was never a shortage of adventure for the “fac brats” to get into. We all dreamed of the day when boarding school life wasn’t just our childhood routine, but something we could enjoy as students. I could not wait to donn the blue and white and finally be a Stony Brook Bear.
But the joys of being a faculty child also came with the feeling of being under a microscope. From a young age, I learned how to sit still for an hour long dinner every night of the week with the rest of the student body and faculty families. I learned table manners, my yes ma’ams and yes sirs, and how to carry conversations in a mature way with senior members of the community. I always felt like there was an unspoken code of how I was supposed to behave and that people were watching my every move.
As I got older and started at the school, I was no longer just a faculty kid, but I now represented my family and the school, and whether self-inflicted or not, I put immense pressure on myself to obey every instruction that came my way. The thought of getting a “detention” or “pages” brought such fear into my being because I would not only humiliate myself but my family and the school (or so I thought). I have always been a rule follower, wanting to please others and not let my imperfections come to light. There was an aspect of my obedience that was also bred out of a desire to be in control — if I could control my behavior, and thereby how people see me, then at least some portion of my life would feel at peace. It was a vicious cycle of trying to be perfect and “obedient”, feeling out of control, and then collapsing in a puddle of anxiety. Quite a large weight for a seventh grader to carry if you ask me.
Engraved above the doorway of the Chapel at the boarding school, are the words, “Thy Word is Truth,” referencing John 17:17 which says “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” It stood to serve as a reminder every time we walked through those doors, that the basis of our lives, our decisions, our obedience, was to be rooted in the word of God. While my desire to be obedient and please was from a noble place, it was actually pharisaic in practice. I was tied to the law –caring more about what people thought of me than the true state of my heart. I idolized rules and structure and performance but my obedience was not primarily out of a love for my Savior.
In today’s day and age we see people flank both sides of the spectrum — legalistic and lacking grace or interpreting Scripture to match their relative truth — both of which are after a pursuit of their own happiness and yet totally blinded by their pride. If I am being honest, I have frequented both camps too often.
Obedience should be born out of a desire to honor and love God and it should become a natural response to his love for us. It should be a pursuit of righteousness and a desire for sanctification. It acknowledges that God’s word is Truth and that his commands were not made in vain. It is an active choice to seek out God’s will each day, regardless of what our feelings tell us otherwise. When we are pursuing Jesus wholeheartedly, we should desire to be obedient, as an act of worship.
In Romans 6, Paul writes about why we should no longer go on sinning even though we have been given the gift of grace:
“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life….So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. “
– Romans 6:1-4, 11-14 ESV
Our old self has been crucified with Christ and the command is to walk in the new life He has given us. It is a daily choice to not let the desires of our flesh rule. We must decide if we will submit our lives to the Truth or continue to let our own truth rule.
Now I have learned in my 21 years that perfection is impossible and sin is guaranteed, but what would my life look like if I became more diligent in my decision to be obedient? What if I set myself up to make honorable decisions? What if my pursuit of righteousness was because I want a deeper walk with my Father? What if I choose to say that since I believe that God’s word is Truth, I will die daily to the desires of my flesh? The little girl inside of me will likely always struggle with the desire to please, but what I know now is that walking in obedience with the Father is far sweeter a reward than any earthly honor could bring.