Saturday, September 5, 2015
Meditations on yes
Growing up Christian in America, I was thrown into overlapping cultures of a yes mentality.
In American culture, yes is often associated with positivity; possibility; hope; risk; openness. In Christian culture, there is possibility and hope, but yes is more often synonymous with faith; obedience; selflessness; service; discipline.
There is a bit of a fake-it-till-you-make-it approach to yes in Christian culture. Say yes, whether or not you feel like it, if that is the Right Thing to do. Your emotions will follow, but more importantly, you will reap the spiritual rewards of obedience.
So I grew up saying yes. Yes to weekly and twice weekly and sometimes thrice weekly church gatherings. Yes to daily bible readings. Yes to Christian books and Christian music and Christian friends. Yes to abstinence and promise rings and True Love Waits. Yes to mainline doctrine and theology and everything I was told to believe. Yes to raising my hands in worship. Yes to one-sided relationships with needy people - the more, the better. Yes, in fact, to whoever wished to be my friend. Yes to giving people second chances and third chances and endless chances, always the benefit of the doubt, no matter how they hurt me. Yes to volunteering, to leading, to ministry commitments.
Yes, ultimately, to God.
Still, I thought this was the way I was choosing, all these yeses. I want this, I told myself. It's what I've always wanted.
Until I landed in my counselor's office in the midst of a spiritual breakdown and utter life unraveling. And she said to me, more or less: "You can't say a genuine yes unless you've first been given the freedom to say a genuine no."
Because sometimes yes is a liberation and sometimes yes is a captivity to fear; we need to have the maturity to know the difference.
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All along, many of those things and people and belief systems I was instructed to say no to were out of fear.
No, you cannot ask those questions. No, you cannot read that, watch that, enjoy that, listen to that, participate in that; they will corrupt you. They will rob you.
But what if yes, in itself, can rob us of freedom?
And so, I started learning to say no. Tentatively, quietly at first, growing steadier in my voice as time and ground grow firmer beneath my feet. No to saying yes out of fear. No, I won't be in church anymore. No, I can't read the bible right now. No to so many certain beliefs. No to Christian gatherings that trigger spiritual unrest. No to hiding who I am in order to make others more comfortable. No to friendships that no longer feel safe or life-giving. No to offers of friendship that feel counterproductive to my healing. No to endless games of catch-up in relationships. No to doing so many things out of obligation alone. No to a constant battering of self-doubt and shame. No to ignoring, stuffing, annihilating my needs.
No, even, to God.
That's right. I said no to God.
Not the no of a hard-hearted rebel (because haven't we Christians loved to paint people with such broad strokes?), but the no of a weary soul working out her faith with fear and trembling. No, I cannot be close to you right now, I say. No, I don't know what I think of you or what I believe, but somehow I know that is exactly where I need to be right now. No has become, for the time being, the most honest, courageous, soul-searching word I've said. A spiritual milestone. A practice of deep faith.
For surely, a God not big enough to hold me in my no is not big enough to sustain me in my yes.
Surely, a God this big deserves a yes coming not from obligation, fear, upbringing or familiarity, but from a woman having stared her nos in the face, wrestled with them, made peace with them and decided what she can say yes to. And so I give myself permission to hold these nos without condition. Some of the nos will remain, and others may transform, with time, into yeses. But I will know each yes coming from my heart, for they will be my own, honest and firm and unreservedly free.
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It's been a long, long while since I linked up with Five-minute Friday. But here I am, writing way more than five minutes, to the prompt of "Yes."