One of our (extended-)family traditions is picking an angel card at the beginning of each year. If you aren't familiar with angel cards, each one has a positive quality written on it (e.g. "Happiness," "Freedom," etc.) and you just choose one at random. It's not meant to be predictive or anything, but more of a suggestion. It challenges you to consider how that quality manifests in your life, and to see if you can be more aware of it, or encourage it more for that day, or within whatever context you chose it for. Again, they're all positive, so you can't really get a "wrong" or "bad" one.
That said, there are definitely a few cards that tend to elicit more groans than others. The card I drew on New Year's Day for 2009 was "Obedience." That tends to get more of the "ha ha, now you have to do everything we say" sort of response from the people around you when you draw it. But given that it's my card for the year, I've been doing some thinking to see what else I can make of it.
First, I'll back up a bit. I also like to pick a "personal year" (as opposed to "calendar year") angel card on my birthdays, so at any given time I have two overlapping "themes" to be conscious of. For my current personal year, which I'm right in the middle of, I have "Love."
"Love" has the obvious emotional readings regarding romantic love, familial love, etc. and those are certainly all good. But another aspect to it is that of choice. Where does "following your heart" take you? What people, or activities, or paths -- out of all the world -- do you choose for yourself and your life? Older Tarot decks sometimes depicted the Lovers card with two women and one man, to illustrate this aspect. Sometimes one of the women would also be shown or interpreted as the man's mother, accentuating the difference between families of birth and families of choice.
(There is also the lesson here that truly loving someone is a deliberate choice, which implies a different relationship approach once you've passed the emotion/hormone-driven limerence stage of things. But I'll save the relationship discussions for another time, and stay closer to the general theme of choice for now.)
So let's come back to "Obedience." What I see happening here is that obedience brings choice into a different context. Whereas love is an internal choice (you can have unrequited love, for instance, where the object of your affection perhaps isn't even aware of it), obedience is more external, rooted in the world around you. Someone (a person, God, etc.) or something (a law, a moral principle, a street sign, etc.) requires something of you, and only then can you choose to obey. (If you were going to do it anyway, then it's just coincidence, not obedience.) That's why this angel card is illustrated with a street light, as an example of an external requirement. The angel could, of course, run the red light, but she chooses to stop.
This interpretation of obedience as choice has two important results. First, it puts the power back with you, not with other people or the world around you. Rather than just helplessly doing whatever everyone wants you to, you're consciously thinking, examining, and deciding.
That examination leads to the second point, which is that you can become aware of what you are obeying and why, and start making decisions between these sources and reasons. Do you obey your religious upbringing, or peer pressure? Your boss, or your spouse? Speed limits, or your impatience? Because it will make you happy? Because it will make someone else unhappy? Because it's better for the world at large? If you consider your obedience a currency, what causes will you invest in or support?
Listen to the difference, just in a simple case: "I'm driving the speed limit because that's the law and I have to do it." (Alternatively, "I'm speeding because I'm impatient and I feel like going fast.") VERSUS "I'm driving the speed limit as a way of keeping the streets safer, reducing accidents, and setting a good example for other drivers to do the same." Which would you rather have?
So how will this play out in my own life? I don't know yet. I'm definitely in an extended transition time these days, which means there are lots of choices to be made and I have no clue where it will all lead. This past year of being unemployed has given me some good opportunities to choose to do a number of things that I want and love to do. But this phase has also been less "obedient" to the structure of society at large, primarily in the areas of financial stability and employment. I've been feeling that tension for a while now, and it will have to be reconciled at some point. So I hope I'm able to make the right choices and find the right way to fit my life into the world.