Born with a fierce love of freedom, I’ve always had a distrust for authority. Little girls are told when they are young that they are princesses, but I didn’t want to just be a princess. I wanted to be the queen. Allowing others to tell me what to do was absolutely not the way to be a queen. In highschool I proudly told friends stories of rebellious escapades. Freedom was wild. Freedom was intoxicating. I eagerly anticipated the the day I would turn 18 and be free of parental obedience.
I feared obedience would force me into some arbitrary mold and I would lose my individuality. This fear I would argue, holds true for most millennials. Exemplified in modern heroes and heroines, our generation doesn’t wait for an authority or a higher power to save them but rather carefully calculates and fights for themselves. Just look at Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games. The only morality or obedience she is subject to is herself. Yet is she truely free? In a similar warped concept of freedom I learned to justify my own existence. My identity was built on the ways that I lived differently from the set of objective standards. I wasn’t standard. I was going to be a queen. Looking back, I realize I was using highschool stories to affirm my dignity. I was determined to seeking my good without help or guidance from others. After all I was human and had enough reason to find the way alone. I didn’t need anyone telling me what was best for me.
Please understand me; this is an entirely healthy stage of adolescent development. Most teenagers at some point realize they have the ability to think for themselves and don’t need their parents to do the thinking for them. However, this cannot be our justification for disobedience. As maturing adults it’s important that this normal part of adolescence doesn’t become a defining characteristic of our person. Each of us, whether 8, 18, or 88, is called to obedience.
Obedience is not coercion or forced submission to another. In obedience, I do not simply mindlessly perform acts. But as a freely acting person, I surrender my immediate desires to another who I trust to seek my good. The notion of “acting” and “personhood” is key to understanding obedience. Crosby expresses that:
“It is not enough that believers profess what is objectively true and act according to what is objectively right; theirs subjectivity must be in order, they must profess the truth as persons, they must act through themselves in doing what is objectively right” (3).
You are capable of reasoning, willing desiring and must direct your whole person towards the truth. To merely perform a physical action is robotic. There is nothing human about it, nor is there any freedom there. We are called beyond the role of a slave. By submitting myself to authority, the truth that I am not alone in this universe and the truth that I am not God gently beckons me outside of myself. There is no coercion. It simply presents itself to me. In freedom, I respond to a given truth with a free assent. When the truth is not apparent to me directly, I surrender to the vision of another to guide me to it.
Wojtyla said: “The tension arising between the objective order of norms and the inner freedom of the person… this tension is only resolved in the good and conviction of the truthfulness of the good.” (4)
As an adult, I’m no longer being asked to be obedient to my parents. I am in a continuous way however, asked to be obedient to the truth. When I assent to the truth, I am making myself obedient to it. This means I cannot simply abandon the truth when faced with momentary discomfort, but must continue to freely choose it for the sake of the good which it is leading me to.
This radically affirms my dignity as a person, and does not undermine it in anyway. If I were to not acknowledge the truth I would simply be denying my ability to recognize and respond to it. As I submit myself to what is true I discover a paradox. In commitment to truth there is freedom. I have committed myself to something beyond myself and my actions free in virtue of that choice. That is a true kind of freedom.