Why “Yes” Means “No”

Why “Yes” Means “No” August 27, 2019

I have a habit that requires I make a very costly decision. Actually, it requires several decisions.

Our family’s schedule during the school year means that if I am to spend meaningful time at the gym, I leave the house at about 4:10am. Which means I need to head to bed at about 9:45pm at the latest.

These decisions are both life-giving and restrictive. They are both a “Yes” and “No” decision.

I enjoy the way I feel for the rest of the day after that early morning task. My energy level is better all day. And frankly the realization that I’ve accomplished something tremendous before most people get out of bed feels great. I can’t lie.

So on Monday I went to bed a little later. Which meant when the gentle, dulcet tones of my alarm went off I was in no mood for that nonsense.

I hit snooze.
Went back to sleep.

The result of this subtle resistance is that I didn’t do the gym and the energy level didn’t rise. I ate breakfast with a little bit of an edge. “I shouldn’t have hit the snooze,” I muttered. Every other demand that came that morning was just another reminder of what I didn’t do.

But there in my bowl of oatmeal, stewing in my own irritation, wisdom came. You said “yes” to sleep. It’s not a mystery – you knew what you were doing. In other words, I remembered a simple reality:

Every “Yes” is also a “No.”

Much of our spiritual life is oriented around small choices in the present. What do we do with this 5 minute window in the middle of the day? What opportunities are coming our way right here, right now? How do I pay attention to God in the middle of my commute?

These are all questions that require nuanced, layered answers. And yet at the end of our asking, there are some very simple decisions.

There are “Yes” statements to be made.
And every “Yes” is a “No.”

The truth is that all of life correlates with theologian Miroslav Volf’s book Exclusion and Embrace. While the subject matter differs greatly, the images of “embrace” reflect the “Yes’s” of our life. We exclude the “No’s.”

We are people of liminal space: spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, and relationally. There isn’t room for everything, and therefore when we commit to something we decline commitment to something else.

So why is this an important discussion? What’s the big deal about making this decision?

The reason I feel this is worth writing about is that we tend to oversimplify the simple decisions of life. We lean towards lessening the impact of our “Yes” – “This isn’t going to hurt anyone” or “I can handle one more thing,” we say. But we also don’t grasp the presence of the “No.”

We protest the connection. Statements fly out of our mouth about “right” and “wrong” or “what choice did I have?” Politically, theologically, and even relationally we attempt to live as if “Yes” doesn’t also mean “No.”

The choice to say “Yes” to sleep means “No” to the gym.
We pick up our phone, saying “Yes” to digital distraction while saying “No” to those around us.
Our vote says “Yes” to a candidate, but it also says “No” to values we describe as “core” to who we are.

The big deal about the “Yes” decision of our life is to know that the resulting “No” requires us to proceed with wisdom.

To say “Yes” to loving others, we need to realize how many times we’ve already said “No” to them through the way we’ve prioritized our time and resources.

To say “No” to racism, sexism, and prejudice means realizing how we’ve said “Yes” to systems and structures that keep those cancers alive and kicking.

The most spiritually healthy move we can make in our decisions is to ruthlessly dismantle the assumption that our “Yes” and “No” decisions aren’t two sides of the same coin.

So instead, we find the wisdom of the in-between. We set our aim on Jesus’ beautiful call to “Seek first the Kingdom of God…” (Matthew 6:33) The “Yes” to the Kingdom brings hope and renewal to our “No” statements, and vice versa.

Every time we imagine what it is like to surrender our desire to be King of our own Kingdom, we’re introduced to lovely Yes/No dichotomies that give life rather than drain us.

So when the alarm goes off I realize that a “yes” to getting up is a “no” to sleep. However, there are cascading “yes” statements about energy, health, and perspective.

What “Yes” moments are you confronting today? Where is Jesus inviting you to wisely explore the implications of your “Yes’s” and the resulting “No’s”? How can you ruthlessly dismantle the assumptions around your “Yes” and “No” life today?

(Photo by Javier Allegue Barros on Unsplash)

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