Tending the Sacred Flame of "No"
I have been known to suffer from the common Christian disease of "never-say-no."
At times I think I have this disease licked, but then it comes back and attacks before I am even aware of it. Case in point: summer is the time when church life is supposed to slow down and I have said yes to more speaking engagements than I can remember to put on my calendar!
I know that I am not the only one to suffer from this sickness, for it feeds our Christian psyche.
Many of us have been taught to feel guilty if we have to say "no" to anyone. Consequently, we volunteer for things we don’t want to do. We spend time with people who drain our energies. We get caught up doing other people’s jobs and do not have time to give our real gift.
All of this we are taught to call "love" but, under our breath, we are not so loving at all.
We should be clear in saying that the point of our lives is to give ourselves away, but we cannot do that unless we care for and protect our physical and emotional vessel. Staying in balance is very important to the life of love.
Jesus told the story of the ten virgins who were supposed to keep lamps ready for a wedding.
They did not know when the wedding would be. Five of the virgins were wise and paid attention to their fuel levels. Five were not so wise and let their lamps go empty.
The foolish virgins tried to borrow from the wise, who refused to give up their fuel. While the foolish virgins were out getting more fuel, the wedding began.
One point of the story is that in order to love, you must keep a certain balance. If the wise virgins had shared their fuel, the light would have gone out half way through the wedding. They said "no" not out of selfishness, but out of love for all concerned.
The wise will say "no" to anything that leaves them unable to meet their real duty. Our central duty in life is to love.
But, love is like the blossom of a flower. It cannot be produced at will, and can only bloom at a certain rate. For the flower to try to produce more blossoms would result in faded pedals that would be less of a gift and more of a chore.
One of the surest signs that we are serving at the proper rate is a sense of peace or joy. One of the surest signs we aren’t is a sense of fatigue or resentment.
Refusing to be depleted is actually a gift.
It teaches that boundaries are a part of any loving relationship. Refusing to be depleted declares that human beings are not beasts of burden, but tenders of a sacred flame.
Most importantly, saying "no" can be a reminder that we are all frail vessels, not God, but very human. If we do not learn to say "no" to others, we will soon lose the capacity to say "yes" to anything at all.
I’m going to continue to work on my disease of "never-say-no," how about you?
(This article is indebted to Dr. Jim Rigby for his teaching in the area of saying "no.")