You want me to go where?! The hard life of obedience. 


Give me a pen and paper and let me design my own life.  I sometimes engage in this fun little thought experiment, and I’m always amazed at how different my life would be.  I would perhaps ask for quiet life, somewhere out in the suburbs with a beautiful wife, six kids, a writing contract, a horse (can I have a horse in the suburbs?), and finally 10 million dollars.

Oddly enough, this little thought experiment is exactly why obedience is a critical virtue I think I need to reflect on more.

One of the things that has intrigued me over the past year has been the Myers Briggs personality tool. Take the test, and you receive four letters which is suppose to describe how you perceive and decide to do things in your world.  A key idea here is that each one of us perceives reality uniquely.  One individual when he or she looks at the world, immediately perceives the patterns and associations in the world.

Another individual looks and sees and the colourful lights, and hears the vivid sounds.  According to the tool, we all see reality differently, and so, we need eachother in order to have a fuller account of that reality.

Oddly enough, I think this simple psychological fact, gives me an entry point into the idea of obedience and the little thought experiment I did in the beginning.

Firstly, there is the simple awareness for myself that I see and am aware of a very small segment of reality.  I see only the tip of the iceberg so to speak, when I’m interacting with others, when I’m getting on in my regency experiment, and as I decide what I’m going to do with my life. I don’t really see much of what lies beyond my “nose.”

Here is where the superior’s insight for me comes into play. He sees a different part of reality that involves the needs of the Society, the weaknesses and strengths of fellow Jesuits, and also, has a unique perception of God interacting with him in his own life.

In this way, obedience calls me to be open to a segment of reality that I’m simply not privy too.

But what if my superior is wrong.  He doesn’t understand better, he doesn’t understand the local needs with keener insight.  What to do then?  Moreover, how can I give up my own freedom so to speak, and allow another individual to decide the next year, or perhaps six years of my life?

This is perhaps where faith needs to take on a greater role.  My obedience is in fact to God.  I trust that God, who is there behind the scenes, will guide my life.  This is the odd fact present throughout the scriptures.

Caiphas who sits in the chair of Moses unintentionally fulfills the will of the Father in putting forward a plan to have Christ crucified  (John 11:51) .  What’s more, Jesus himself sees his whole life as somehow being in the hands of the Father, being guided by His providential hand (John 19:11).

This is perhaps a tough message in today’s culture, which likes to believe that we can know where we are going and how we will get there.  But the complexity of reality, and the truth that God’s ways are not our ours,  cannot be ignored.

This is perhaps why my little thought experiment needs to be brought into conversation with the wider community, the superior, and ultimately with God. I would love to design my own life, but at the end of the day, life is simply too big for me, God’s plans are beyond me,  and I need the help of the Other to discern where to go, and how to get there.

Raj Vijayakumar is currently residing in Toronto and working as an assistant for L’Arche Canada.

  • Peter Bisson, SJ
    Posted at 06:07h, 14 September Reply

    Thank you Raj!

  • Philip Shano
    Posted at 09:12h, 14 September Reply

    Thanks Raj. Each post from you offers something helpful.

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