Say Yes

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For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you … was not Yes and No, but in Him was Yes. For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God …. (2Co 1:19-20)

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It is very hard to say No, despite the fact that we say it all the time. The reason No is so hard is that it has no energy. Not doing something is an emptiness and carries no weight. It creates a vacuum that waits to be filled.

In observing my own life, I have become aware that I spend a lot of time saying No. There are things I don’t want to see, so I have to say No to them…things I don’t want to hear…things I don’t want to say or do or think…all to be met with No. A day spent in such wrestling is exhausting in the extreme. It is also frequently a path to failure. No has no energy and it places the will in a position of weakness. The will was created to will something, not nothing.

St. Paul’s observation that the promises of God are Yes, is a key to the daily struggle. The absence of sin isn’t the same thing as righteousness. Righteousness is a fullness and a presence. Sin itself is an emptiness and has the character of non-being. The spiritual life is fulfilled in righteousness – true rightness of being – living in the image of God.

A simple way of living this reality is to say Yes. If I do not want to do one thing, then to what do I say Yes? If I do not want to hear something, to what do my ears say Yes? And so forth.

And there is another step beyond. It is possible to say Yes repeatedly throughout the day. The simple phrase, “I say Yes to God,” carries a great deal of power. I have learned to make it a frequent confession in my day. I say Yes to God. I say Yes to my life. I say Yes to this problem. I say Yes to the mistakes I have made. It is a means of affirming that God is working all things together for my good – even my mistakes.

Say Yes.

33 comments:

  1. Thank you, Father. I see this “Yes” as learning to live with the shame of our mistakes and sin, instead of running from them.

  2. Thank you for all your meaningful, thought provoking posts. I’m going to take the liberty and share my YES, I CAN free verse from a long time ago. YES I CAN! I obviously needed those assertion to motivate me!

    Yes, I can say NO to the things that are not good for me,
    like eating too much chocolate or climbing stairs with my painful knees.

    Yes, I can give of my time to others generously as I see a need.
    I don’t live just for myself; self-sacrifice never hurt anyone.

    Yes, I can have open boundaries that allow others to come in.
    I don’t need to worry about being vulnerable.

    Yes, I can love people about whom others have warned me.
    I don’t fear involvement; I have met angels others have tossed aside.

    Yes, I can speak the truth to someone who believes lies about himself.
    Been there, done that, don’t want to go there anymore.

    Yes, I can give warm words of praise to others, receiving none in return.
    They may be so deprived, they have none to give. I am secure in Christ’s love.

    Yes, I can allow myself to be stretched beyond my comfort zone.
    Who knows what I will learn. I am always open to adventures.

    Yes, I can serve within the parameters of my personal limitations;
    I don’t need to defend my actions to others.

    Yes, I can have hearty laughter whenever I feel so moved.
    It matters not that others don’t like my laughter or what makes me laugh.

    Yes, I can listen to someone telling the same story over and over.
    Someday I may be glad when someone extends to me the same courtesy.

    Yes, I can work as a team; my way is not the only possible way.
    I can defer to someone else’s expertise, their wishes or desires.

    Yes, I can enjoy the gifts and talents God has given to others.
    I can give honest, sincere praise without a trace of jealousy.

    Yes, I can influence others for good, without giving up on them.
    I don’t need power or control. I can let others be who they want to be.

    Yes, I can have a great attitude, and give maximum effort!
    I don’t have to feel I’m being used; it is my choice.

    Yes, I can be observant and quick to notice when a helping hand is needed.
    I don’t have to watch idly; but quickly offer my help.

    Yes, I can receive criticism graciously.
    It shows that someone actually cares. I do want to be the best I can be.

    Yes, I can see, all that I do each day, as God’s purpose for me.
    Even though it may be difficult, He gives the strength.

    Yes, I can forgive those who have hurt me to the core of my soul,
    Because His forgiveness of my sins has made me whole.

    Karin Laser Ristau

  3. How lovely! In a funny way this echoes something I wrote a few months ago (and had as a thought for a while before that).

    “I guess if I was to sum it up, it would be to keep finding and working with the “Yes people.” You know when you have an idea, there are people who will tell you all the reasons it won’t work, or why they won’t commit, and then there are people who just hear you and add something, then you add something else, and on it goes? Maybe it ends in an amazing project, or maybe it ends in a belly laugh all around. Well we need everyone I’m sure, but I love the second kind of people! I call them Yes people. And of course not all ideas are good or happen. But when you have a collective of Yes people, everything feels lighter. And we can admit mistakes, and face difficulties, and change direction, when necessary, without rancour…….It’s more about maintaining openness, when surrounded by forces within and without that are trying to shut you down (anger, fear, doubt, anxiety, lack of faith in yourself, etc). It’s not easy, but it’s better than fighting with negative forces you probably can’t win against.”

    This is encouraging to me….I feel like I am on a path that goes somewhere. Thanks!!

  4. Perhaps this explains why I find it funny when people say no to things (I have a very observational, droll SOH) or when they say they are in the mood for “nothing” or they are professing their boredom. I find bored people very funny, it’s such an absurd state for a Christian. I agree with what you have said Father.

  5. Fr. Freeman,

    More than once lately I’ve been reminded of a sermon from Thomas Chalmers, “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” I’ve been reading a book called “The Power of Habit” as well, but the point is, you can’t get rid of an old habit without a new one. That’s why addicts, when they try and quit one thing, find another. But if a new habit (reminds me how a monk’s life is characterized by habits, even the clothing) that is healthy replaces an old one, the same old neuro-patterns still exist, but the new pattern/route now exists as well. I think this is the logic for Lent to some degree. It’s like bootcamp. In the book he examines the habits (of everything from Target’s marketing strategy to the Civil Rights Movement) of Saddleback church, with Rick Warren, and he notices how the habits (something they are bound to perform as part of membership) made them successful. What was sort of interesting though, was what made for success, was actually asceticism. Most all Evangelical churches attempt to ground what it is to be Christian, in the born-again experience, and you live off the new reality of who you are now in Christ that started when you were made a new creature. Or, better maybe, is you look forward to future grace, God’s Providence now and ultimately in glory when He gets you there. But in another sense, your teleology is complete. Imaginatively there is a disconnect. So, practices/habits/asceticism actually holds together the modern Evangelical church in large part. Ironic.

    Saying, “I want you more” to God is more than/better than no to the devil or the passions. Many people, myself included, often want a sin off of our backs, so that we can feel okay. I don’t think God is as sympathetic to this as He is when the reason we want a sin gone, is that we don’t want communion with Him to be broken. And, it may be the reason He doesn’t answer prayers for sins to vanish, as we might then feel as if we’d arrived or were okay, having basically no virtue.

  6. I found that no may not even exist because at the very moment of saying “no” to something you are saying “yes” to something else. So when the word “no” pops up or I refuse to do something, I look to see where the heart is saying “yes” (often to my shame).

  7. Matthew, as you often do, you cause me to ponder more deeply. Thank you. Why do I want to rid myself of sin? Do I really, or is it just the overt consequences of my sin have become uncomfortable? How do I reach for something deeper?

  8. Michael – I’m reminded of a quote I see often attributed to St. John Climacus, but I think was actually Met. Kallistos Ware:

    “To repent is not to look downwards at my own shortcomings, but upwards at God’s love, it is not to look backwards with self-reproach but forward with trustfulness, it is to see not what I have failed to be, but what by the grace of Christ I might yet become.”

    Strikes me as a big “YES!”

  9. Fr. Stephen,

    I very much agree with the spirit of this article, but how does this jive with people who are too polite to say no and therefore end up over committed and exhausted. For example, instead of listening to this vs. that, they want more time listening to nothing. Instead of doing something else, they need a breather, the option to do nothing and find inner peace.

    I don’t think this phenomenon actually clashes with what you’re saying; it’s just that from where I’m standing I can’t figure out where the two ideas connect and what that would look like. These people have plenty occasions where saying no actually gives space and time back into their lives. How would this article apply to them?

  10. Drewster,
    You can say yes to being alone. You can say yes to being quiet, etc. They’re not saying “yes” to the things you describe – they’re just going along in order to avoid to difficulties involved in saying yes to what they actually need. So, what you’re describing is not a true “yes.” It’s a false one.

    That’s how I’d put them together.

  11. Matthew, T. S. Eliot in his play, “Murder in the Cathedral” has Becket tempted with martyrdom to create glory for himself rather than for God. Becket rejects that temptation by saying: “To do the right deed for the wrong reason is surely the greatest treason. ”

    At the same time, repentance seems to come in stages–layers. I am inclined to think any movement toward asking for and accepting God’s mercy will bear good fruit as His mercy tends to reveal yet more reasons to repent while oftimes making one hungry for more genuine and deeper communion.

    Having too much compunction can become a perfectionists “No”

  12. Michael, Matthew,
    I think a pre-occupation with sin (our own), is primarily driven by dynamics of shame. It can become a great distraction. It is far better to focus on Christ Himself, nurturing our desire for God. Grace flows from God, not from our efforts against sin. Scripture says “He gives grace to the humble.” Humility is our willingness to bear our shame. So, to approach God, even in my sinfulness, to cry out to Him, even in our unbelief, draws down grace.

    We are better off being fools for Christ than anything else.

  13. Father, I get your point, but is humility always about bearing our shame? Is it not also simply looking to God rather than myself with an open heart willing to accept His Grace?
    Need there be shame in realizing I am not God and God gives us all kinds of gifts?
    My wife and I were lying in bed the other night unable to go to sleep because of physical pain yet our conversation was about how blessed we are by God with all we have been given.
    Our only shame lay in the fact that our children do not get it.
    Lately I have approached Confession with the anticipation that as I admitted and renounced certain beliefs, thoughts and actions, I would recognize God’s Grace and mercy more fully. Contrite and sorrowful to be sure but with no sense of what I recognize as shame. When I feel shame, I am less likely to reach for His mercy.
    But, I may not understand shame.

  14. Michael,
    I could belabor my points. I believe that looking to God with an open heart and being willing to accept His Grace, in the long run, will bring us up against shame (in its many forms). I indeed think it is the case that most do not understand the nature of shame (hence the book I’ve got sitting with a pubisher right now). But, for now, I would simply set it aside and leave it for another time.

  15. Good morning Fr Stephen
    Regarding shame and fig leaves, is ‘saying yes to our mess’ (I rather like that 🙂 ) ‘Essential’ to, of the essence of Redemption? To stop hiding/pretending?

    Thank you for this ‘to the point’ post
    Blessings on your day

  16. Father, Michael,
    I often feel that the ‘good shame’ we experience is mainly a corollary of being in God’s presence, a presence that inevitably depicts to us our archetype, even while it comforts us with unconditional love. It is a shame that is not just one thing, but a ‘mix’ of two things (very similar to the mix of «χαρμολύπη» or ‘joyful sorrow’ – of grateful compunction). Perhaps it’s a mixture of the overwhelmed, thankful enthusiasm of, “did not our heart burn within us, while He talked with us by the way” (Luke 24:32) and of, “the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone: and Moses put the veil upon his face” (Exodus 34:35).
    Like a slightly premature encounter with the Uncreated Light of Divine Glory which both delights and scorches, and also reveals more than we can bear about ourselves while transforming and healing too.

  17. Fr. Freeman, Michael,

    All I meant was, as it relates to the question of, do I want to rid myself of sin in order to stay close to God (to not distract from Him, to not potentially bind my will, even thinking of the conscience in this way – to not violate conscience in the sense of, a deliberate move from Him, etc.) or do I want the psychological consolation of a clear conscience – this is right back in the realm of your other posts on morality – real repentance is union whereas false consolations maybe nothing more than the fantasy that you are okay when you are not. And this is where again I think, while God may be very sympathetic to our psychological disturbances, it may very often be that if we were consoled psychologically, we may remain in the fantasy that repentance is completed. So, if God were to give us psychological consolation, the removal of shame or the removal of a fouled conscience, He may also be contributing to our hardening in sins. And when I say removal of shame, it is again shame in the moral sense that you denounce. God wouldn’t be helping us if the only thing that reminded us that we needed Him, a sin perhaps, or an illness/weakness, was something that for us, if removed, would psychologically assure us we are okay when God intends for us not to be morally neutral or without guilt as you said, but whole. And again, just because I don’t want to leave a post without some criticism of OS, I think in part it is to blame here. If I just need to get this thing off my back – to get to neutral – then God removing it makes sense, if this is my same problem in salvation. But, if the opposite of sin is really love, then God would be leaving us in our sins to remove a problem that for us, encouraged us to seek Him. And in some sense I think the whole problem could be avoided imaginatively if people understood that to gain love in the Christian sense, is salvation, and anything less, is behavioral modification.

  18. Dear Father,
    Interesting synchronicity regarding recent events in my life and this article. Just yesterday and today, I’ve had to say yes to my obvious ignorance. And I did so, with gratitude, because I had asked our Lord, in my prayers of late, to keep me in His glorious humility.

    Glory to God for his mercy and love.

  19. To Father Stephen’s point about healthy shame, I think healthy shame is about vulnerability. When we are not safe, we are not free to be vulnerable. This insecurity can create a painful self-awareness, i.e. “I’m not good enough”, “I don’t belong”, Please, don’t notice me”, etc. To protect ourselves from these painful feeling we compartmentalize our interiority, we act out like clowns, we pretend to be tough guys, we become really good at arguing and really bad at listening. As these behaviors ossify over time we mistake this misshapenness and fragmentation as who-we-really-are. Bearing a little shame is finding the safety to become vulnerable enough to stand naked in the light for just a little bit so Aslan can peel off the scales. In many ways, we have lived lives that are not truly our own.

    Also, I think that it is good and proper to bear shame and remorse for what we’ve done. I’m thinking here of Anatoly and Laurus. But, that’s for another time.

  20. Father Stephen, thank you. I had to think about this as the two verses from the Psalms I like to say at bedtime begin with the positive and ‘end’ with the negative:
    “Create in me a clean heart, O Lord
    And renew a right spirit within me;”
    Then:
    “Cast me not away from Thy Presence
    And take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.”

    I tried reversing the order but it didn’t work. My solution to myself was that the Yes in the first part is so powerful that it transfigures the second part. At any rate, it consoles my soul before bed, so that ‘Thy Presence’ and ‘Thy Holy Spirit’ are all that remains of the request, I suppose.

    Thank you again, but could you please tell me about the goats in the tree and how they relate? They do make me smile!

  21. Juliana,
    I do not see anything negative in: “Cast me not away from thy presence and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.”

    It has always meant to me that I am im His Presence with the Holy Spirit. What could be better especially when it leads to repentance which leads to the Kingdom of Heaven

  22. This passage was central to me. In early college I pondered over the Death of God theology, the new liturgy of the Catholic Church, and the Jesus as Killjoy atmosphere of the times. One afternoon I stumbled across a bastardized version of II Cor.: “For all God’s promises find their Yes in Him.”

    Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit . . .

  23. Juliana,
    Regarding the goats in the tree photo. It struck me as funny, too. It seemed like an example of the “things we get ourselves into.” And a place where we can still say “yes” to God. Just humor.

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