This word most often evokes many negative feelings and ideas conjuring up images of someone ordering us to do something without us having any say or input.  A parent yelling at a child to clean up her room.  A husband or a wife demanding that the other work harder to bring in more money.  A boss telling an employee to do something she believes is unethical.  A master commanding a dog to sit or to heal.

But in reality, the word obedience derives from the Latin word audire, which means “to listen”.  It means to ‘give attention’ with no hesitation or limitation, to be “all ear”.  It means to be fully engaged in the situation of the other.  It doesn’t mean ‘searching for a response’ while another person in talking, but allowing the other person to fully express what he/she is thinking, feeling, and experiencing.  It means to be patient and accepting of a persons experiences.  It means not to judge or be critical, but willing to be equally open to both the joy and the sorrow, the laughter and the tears.

We recently met a friend of ours for breakfast.  During our time together she shared a story in which she and a group of friends were talking about their week.  One friend shared the painful news that his wife who has cancer is losing her job.  This is a devastating development for their family financially and emotionally.  There was a stunned silence when the news was shared as if no one knew what to say.  Their stunned silence wasn’t an empathetic silence–as if they were really listening and being “all ear” for the family.   Instead, it was an uncomfortable and awkward silence.  Then quickly someone spoke up and shared the news of something good that had happened in their life, totally ignoring the difficult news that was just shared.  It was as if by ignoring the depth of what was shared that it would somehow ‘go away’.  Our friend expressed regret that she didn’t speak up herself and acknowledge the pain the man expressed.  She rightly realizes the significance of the silence and the damage that it can do, that it in essence said to the man, “your concerns, your pain, your sorrow, isn’t valid and important.”  More than likely, she feels he would be very reluctant to share something so personal and painful again.

How often have you been in situations like this one?  How has it made you feel?  Does it cause you to not want to open up and share?  Does it force you to hold everything in?