How do you let a broken, lost, angry fool lead you?
The majority of my 20 years on Earth have been spent trying to run away from this type of authority. Surely those who can’t even manage to keep their own lives from falling apart don’t have any room to tell me how I should be living mine. What wisdom is there to learn from foolishness?
For a long time I thought my resentment of authority stemmed from a lack of respect for those I was called to be under. More specifically, I hated that I was burdened with the arduous task of obeying my parents, two people who were frankly the farthest thing from who I wanted to be.
Growing up, I would often jokingly claim to be adopted when asked about my family. While it came off as a sarcastic jab at our differences, this was my not-so-subtle way of distancing myself from a selfish, cruel mother and an angry, stubborn father. I couldn’t stand being compared to my parents, and I didn’t want people to think that just because I was raised by them, I was like them. I had to keep others from looking at perfect, saintly Jason as an extension of his imperfect family. Humble eh?
Responding to Authority
Both in my family, and with many of my friends, I have seen a lack of respect for authority affect how my fellow millennials and I have grown up. For many, this resentment has manifested itself through outright rebellion against their parents; an overwhelming number of people I know have turned to drinking, drugs, and sex as ways to assert their individuality and distinguish themselves from the people in their lives they couldn’t stand to be like. I have seen people fall away from their faith and drop out of school in order to spite authority itself.
Of course I didn’t take part in these types of rebellion. I was too good for them. I wouldn’t let my parent’s failures catalyze my own. Instead I would show the world I was superior to my parents by being categorically better than them in every way possible. My response to authority might not have been as obvious as others, but I firmly believe it was just as destructive.
In case you haven’t noticed, my reaction to authority may not have been rebellion, but it was certainly pride. I decided that, no matter what my parents attempted to teach me, I would do what I thought was right, and prove that I could be a better person than them through sheer willpower alone. This pride definitely made it difficult to stomach Paul’s clear call for children to submit to their parents in Ephesians.
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ . . . Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” – which is the first commandment with a promise – “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”
Ephesians 5:21 & 6:1-3
Well crap, this verse certainly put a damper on my “just be better” philosophy. No matter how I looked at what Paul says, there was no way to weasel out of the fact that I was called to submit to my parents. To make it worse, not only was this a moral imperative, but there was also a promised consequence to my following it. How dare Paul imply that my parents might actually know what is best for me!
In a last ditch effort to justify my struggle with accepting authority, I read on:
[Parents], do not exasperate your children; instead bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
Aha! I know for a fact that I have been thoroughly and completely exasperated by my family on many occasions. Checkmate parents; you aren’t upholding your end of the bargain, so I don’t have to either.
The Man: 0
Obviously no one has a perfect relationship with their parents, but I felt that because of their failings as people, they had nothing in the way of training and instruction for me. Their relationship was certainly not a depiction of Christ-like marriage, so why would I expect them to offer me anything but an example of how not to live?
My view of an authority relationship was based solely on what those in authority could teach me. I thought it was entirely up to the individuals themselves to be good enough to show me something about Christ, only then would I be able to accept their authority.
But maybe that isn’t the point.
Christ as our Authority
To better understand the context of this passage in Ephesians, we need to take a look at what else Paul is talking about. This example of a healthy parent/child relationship is nestled in between descriptions of ideal relationships between husband & wife, master & slave. The responsibilities of these three archetypal relationships are very different, but there is one thing that ties them all together: they each teach us something about our relationship with Christ.
When Paul calls us to “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ”, this is not a conditional statement. There is no “as long as those in authority have earned it”, or “unless you know better”. The purpose of these authority relationships is not just to foster healthy respect between people, but to expose us to the ways in which we can relate to our savior.
Looking back on this period of my life, I realize that I grossly overestimated my own ability to teach myself the goodness of the Gospel without accepting authority relationships in my life. Not only did my pride damage my relationship with my parents, but it prevented me from learning from others in all areas of my life. Because I thought I was smart enough to be a good person without instruction from anyone above me, I was unwilling to admit that I struggled with inadequacy in any area. I thought that there was value in simply “being right”, when in reality we are not called called to be perfect, but to submit in learning to him who died for us on the cross.
Here is the point: submitting to my parent’s authority isn’t necessarily about me learning anything from them, it is about me learning to be open to instruction, even from Christ himself.
Of course I still struggle with submitting to authority. My natural reaction to instruction hasn’t changed; there are days when I find myself ignoring my parents and trying to remain aloof. What has definitely changed is my view of myself: I now know that am not any more put together than the people I have tried so hard to distinguish myself from.
How do you let a broken, lost, angry fool lead you? I still don’t know the answer to that question. What I do know is that I too am broken, lost, angry, and prideful. I certainly can’t lead myself to a better understanding of the Gospel.
Sometimes you need to learn to lose, because guess what: you are not the hero of your own story, and as long as you are reliant on your own ability to do good, you won’t be able to learn from the one who wants to teach you what true joy looks like.