Discipline. Most New Year’s resolutions are all about discipline. We resolve to start working out, to start eating better, to get organized. We are determined to do better, be better.
New Year’s resolutions are widely considered to be good, socially-respected forms of self-determination.
Contrast the word “resolution” with the word “commandment,” however, and you will get a completely different reaction. Many, if not most, people bristle at the word “commandment.” Connotations of the word “commandment” include a lack of self-determination, a passive voice, and a “lording over” – unattractive connotations to most in modern society. Many people today would probably even consider a “commandment” to be something “inflicted upon.”
Indeed, the Latin commandare in the imperative does mean “to command” and does involve an action on a passive subject. Yet, we often miss the finer connotations of the word “command” which also involves an “accountability for.” If you have ever known a military commander, you know that a commander is accountable for those he/she commands. And, not only is the commander accountable for his charges, but he also usually cares deeply for them. Talk to any veteran who has lost a comrade under his charge in war and you will understand the depth of this love, the depth of loss that he feels when he loses the one under his charge.
In the same manner as the loving commander, the Ten Commandments, are commanded by a God who loves His children deeply. If one views them from the perspective of a set of commands “imposed upon,” one might easily consider them to be an unattractive set of rules against which to rebel. Yet, if one considers them from the standpoint of love, the whole picture changes.
Consider any one of the commandments and take the alternative. Take for instance, “Thall shalt not steal.” Consider the possible consequences of stealing – one may go to prison and lose one’s freedom, cause great hardship to another, suffer great guilt, or cause strife. Or, take “Thall shalt not kill” – again, the consequences are hardship, pain, tumult, strife, loss of freedom, and retaliation that leads to strife – all negatives. Nothing good. In fact, the alternative to every single commandment contains hardship and suffering. If we choose not to follow any of these commandments, things become more difficult, less clear, and the end result, is pain.
Through the Ten Commandments, we are invited to freedom from messy and painful consequences. While the Commandments may challenge us and require great discipline, if we follow these rules, we can live in freedom. They liberate us from pain, guilt, hardship, and strife.
The Ten Commandments are an expression of love, expressed by a loving Father who does not want His children to suffer. And, they are the active promise of relationship, a promise of belonging – “I am the Lord your God” – I am your God and you are mine. I, your God, will always love and protect you.
“You shall not take the name of the Lord in vain.” Why? Because our loving Father hears our every word, if we call Him, He is there to help us. We should only call His name when we need His loving care. The Ten Commandments are the loving instructions of Our Father who loves us deeply.
It’s all in one’s perspective – and we are free to decide this perspective. We can consider the Ten Commandments a stifling list of prohibitions or we can embrace the gifts we are offered through them: the offer of love, of belonging, of justice, of peace, of harmony, of respect for human dignity, of protection from pain.
Myself? I will embrace the gifts. This New Year, I resolve to actively and freely trust that my God loves me more than I can fathom. I trust His commands to me because I belong to Him and want to live freely, unencumbered by the pain of the alternatives. And, I pray that He will give me the discipline and grace to keep His commands so that I can live in a state of love for Him and my neighbor. I trust His love and want to live in this love.
“What greater happiness is there than to live entirely in God, since He loves His own, He protects them, guides them, and leads them to eternity.” – Saint Padre Pio