Nov25FriMaking Space for Grace November 25, 2016
For every boisterous, “yes” there are countless silent “no’s”.
This week the Gaines family said yes to a mini-van. We’ve never been particularly cool, so this wasn’t a giant blow to our self-image. But it is life changing, nonetheless.
You see, in the eleven years Tim and I have been married, we have only had one operational vehicle for nine of those years. We have primarily been a one-car family. It was difficult and mostly intentional.
Being a one-car family is not exactly radical. We’re not living on a compound taking turns pedaling our bike-powered generator. But it was one way for our family to choose when and to what we said no instead of letting our unhindered yes’s chosen for us.
Having only one car limited our ability to say yes to every social activity, lunch meeting and weekend event that came our way. It shaped our perspective on independence and autonomy. And until the Uber bills amounted to a small car payment, it was our way of saying no to more than a few unnecessary things:
No to car payments,
No to normalizing debt,
No to maxing out every minute of every day,
No to segmenting and compartmentalizing our family life,
No to more exhaust in our atmosphere and exhaustion in our home.
No sounds like such a downer. It sounds very uncool. Very mini-van-ish. But these series of no’s created space for some really important yes’s:
Yes to singing silly songs on the way to drop dad off at class,
Yes to weeknights at home,
Yes to generosity with others,
Yes to breathing room in our schedule,
Yes to the offer of help and hospitality from friends and strangers.
The Christian life is filled with yes's and no's. A friend of mine told me that Christians learn yes and no through sacraments and asceticism. His point was that the sacraments - communion and baptism - are the Christian’s yes to God’s grace. Ascetic practices - like fasting and silence - are the Christian’s no to the things that would crowd out grace. In order to have room for yes, we are careful and intentional with our no. And we can only say no to the things that would hurt and break us when we have received grace for holy living.
Before Santa drank Coca-Cola and the star of Bethlehem could be projected onto your garage door, Advent was a season of no in the Christian calendar. Advent was a time of fasting and prayer, saying no to the invitations of the world so that we could make space to say yes to Christ in Christmas.
Today, the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas are a mad dash of yes to Christmas parties, gift exchanges, shopping, wrapping, musicals, nativity programs… there isn’t time to stop and hear the countless forgotten no’s that we utter without saying a word.
But this is only indicative of a larger issue for Christians like me. I love to say yes. I hate to say no. I have proudly said things like, “As Christians we should be known for what we affirm and not simply what we oppose.” In other words, let’s be defined by our yes and not by our no. I still stand by this statement, but I am also confronted by the reality that in every yes there is a no.
If I am not choosing what that no is, my careless yes will choose it for me.
Last year I was at a meeting of pastors in which I bragged about a really great technique I had learned for handling difficult people. When confronted with a person asking for something you really don’t want to give in to, instead of saying no, you say “yes, and…” In other words, find some part of the request to which you can say yes but then redirect the request with an addendum. I was very pleased with my positive approach. It had saved me from conflict and kept me in the good graces of the people I pastored. I was loved for my yes.
An older, wiser pastor in the group listened quietly and at the end of the conversation he said, “I can see how this would be helpful in many situations. But in some situations the most loving thing you can say is no.”
This pastor was able to see what I couldn’t see. When we turn to an invitation with a yes, we are simultaneously turning our back to something else. Just because our back is turned and we can’t see it, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been neglected. When we can’t face the silent no’s left in the wake of our endless yes’s, we might just be turning our back to grace without ever seeing it.
The church in the wisdom of the Holy Spirit set aside seasons for asceticism, the practice of a thoughtful and loving no. No is the hard work of making space. No teaches us that we are finite. These ascetic seasons (advent and lent), however, precede Christmas and Easter, the greatest celebrations of our salvation, when God said yes to humanity and offered grace to the very creatures who had turned their back to God.
This week we bought a mini van. We will need to find new ways to be careful with our yes and no. Today we are saying no to Black Friday and yes to sponsoring a child. On Sunday we will say no to watching the weekly news shows in our pajamas as we say yes at the Lord’s Table in the fellowship of the family of God. Next week will present a host of new invitations and temptations. But God’s grace has already gone ahead of us. May we make room to receive the gift of grace.