By: Melissa May
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way/ To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey…
When I hear people gleefully singing this hymn, I know I’m theologically not in for a great time.
It’s not that I don’t delight in God’s counsel or in being carried by the wind of the Holy Spirit—far from it! But associating obedience with my relationship with God gets me cringing. It feels like you can’t question authority or dialogue with the divine. And that’s inauthentic to my experience.
When God has called upon me to trust in the divine, it seems to be when I’m most broken down: hiding behind a seminary chapel in grief over interpersonal turmoil; questioning the label of my sexuality; dejectedly wondering how long I would have to hold my tongue around homophobic leaders; having an emotional breakdown in a GMC Yukon in the Arctic hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk, after the local teens tell me during our icebreaker-youth-group game how many illegal drugs they have tried.
The Spirit is there in my stubbornness and anguish, in my impatience and self-sabotage. Being “happy in Jesus,” as the song says, is about experiencing the freedom of abiding in Christ’s way, in the law of God’s love.
The writer of Jeremiah proclaims the new covenant which the LORD will make with the house of Israel, and God will put God’s law within us and “will write it on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33).
We’ve been unchained from sin, and unfettered from the power of the Law, and that’s the Gospel truth. And yet paradoxically, with divine law etched within us, we can freely sing to God with the psalmist: “‘With my whole heart I seek you” (Psalm 119:10) and “I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word” (119:16).
My obedience looks a lot like sullen protest and ugly crying, especially at first. But as I recognize the presence of God—who did not abandon me behind the chapel, in toxic heteronormativity, or on the lonely tundra—that trust becomes more like the grace of peace in the pain. And for me, “there’s no other way.”
Melissa May (she/her) is the daughter of a pastor and a youth director, and grew up in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. She attended Susquehanna University and Gettysburg (United) Seminary, where she earned an M.Div. but confused everyone by going into diaconal ministry. For four years, Melissa served as a curriculum writer, volunteer coordinator, and Bible Camp teacher with On Eagle’s Wings Ecumenical Ministries in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut in Canada. Discerning a call to change to congregational-based ministry, she became ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacrament and served at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Nome, Alaska. Melissa is on leave from call, but celebrates new developments: she recently joined the Proclaim Community, and this is her first public declaration of being a queer child of God!