No, Lord.

Lent is upon us and I’m working out what it means for me to be awake and aware of Christ’s Light not just within but all around. One of the things that keeps me from this is the constant speed at which I move from thing to thing. The speed is a symptom of the pile of projects and commitments I have taken on. For instance, the other day we were at our Home Owner’s Association meeting and while we were in the process of forming our newly appointed board members someone asked “who would like to be on the board?” My hand instinctively went up. I felt like I was watching a movie of myself where the film version of me couldn’t see what I the viewer saw. I watched myself raise my hand, and felt powerless to stop it. Yelling at the screen “no!!!!” no one heard or even cared. This kind of compulsive yes has gotten me roped into more things than I care to recount.

Part of the problem here is my (and our?) “Protestant” theology. I have this idea that obedience to God will inevitably mean that I do more things. God opens up doors and creates opportunities and then I gratefully take those opportunities as the obedient follower. If it is actually true that obedience leads to compulsive yes’s then what we need is not so much a theology of “Yes, Lord!” but a “No, Lord!” one instead. Now, I don’t actually believe this is what obedience means but I live as though I do. In fact, it seems like obedience should often be quite the opposite, a stripping down, a held breathe, a pacing that is able to be attentive and present, not at a breakneck speed. I suspect that obedience to Christ will not simply look like our culture of achievement and more than likely will contrast with it.

So that’s what I’m working on. I want to gain the discipline of saying no, a discipline that is anything but my natural tendency. I and trying to fast from my yes’ and from my theology of “getting things done” in the name of obedience. And this means that I also have to suffer some of the consequences of saying no to things I’ve already said yes to.

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Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.

5 thoughts on “No, Lord.”

  1. This sounds so familiar! I always take on too much too, even when I’ve decided not to do one more thing. A while ago, I came across this quote by Thomas Kelly in A Testament of Devotion. It really spoke to my condition and I find myself coming back to it frequently.

    “Much of our acceptance of multitudes of obligations is due to our inability to say No. We calculated that the task had to be done, and we saw no one ready to undertake it. We calculated the need, and then calculated our time, and decided maybe we could squeeze it in somewhere. But the decision was a heady decision, not made within the sanctuary of the soul. When we say Yes or No to calls for service on the basis of heady decisions, we have to give reasons, to ourselves and to others. But when we say Yes or No to calls on the basis of inner guidance and whispered promptings of encouragement from the Center of our life, or on the basis of a lack of any inward “rising” of that Life to encourages us in the call, we have no reason to give except one?-the will of God as we discern it.” (99-100)

  2. What you say is very familiar to me Wess and I’ve been working for a while now not so much at saying ‘No’ but at not saying ‘Yes’ immediately. It’s not a bad first step and gives me space to test whether what feels like a leading really is that.

    Taking some time doesn’t stop me saying ‘Yes’ though. I’ve just taken on the co-clerkship of our local meeting together with another friend. In this case the nominations committee had been unable to find anyone for the clerking team (usually 3 people) and held a meeting about nominations in general and this problem in particular. Jean and I were both there and both felt ‘I could do that’ but didn’t say anything at the time to the committee or to each other. In the next day or two we both volunteered and later shared how we had felt in the meeting. We’ll see how it goes, but it feels right to both of us.

    Interestingly the nominations committee had apparently not asked me because they thought I was too busy or Jean because she had had a period of estrangement from the meeting. Note to nominations – don’t second guess people’s reactions but ask them anyway, then it’s up to them whether to say yes or no.

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