Is Love a Yes and a No?

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. – 1 John 4:18

A little boy ran up to his dad. “Daddy can I spend the night at Tommy’s?” His dad stammered, “Uh…I think we’re eating together as a family tonight.” “Grandma said I could spend the night with Tommy and his mom said I could, too. Come on Dad. Can I spend the night at Tommy’s? Pretty please…

His dad fidgeted. “Well, it’s O.K. with me, but you need to ask your mother first.” “Thanks Dad, you’re the best.”

“Mom, Tommy’s mom said I could spend the night. Dad and Grandma said it was O.K., too. Can I?” “No, not tonight, Billy. Remember we’re having a family dinner and then we’re going to play a game?” “But Mom, everyone said O.K. Why can’t I spend the night with Tommy?”

“I’m sorry Billy, but we have plans. So no, you cannot spend the night. Maybe some other time though.” Billy screamed, “You don’t love me!” And runs and slams the door to his room.

Christ calls us to love one another. As Dorothy Day said, “Love, what a dreadful thing for God to ask of us.” Love is patient and love is kind (1 Corinthians 13:4) but love is also exceedingly difficult. Love is an emphatic yes but is it also a “sacred” no?

Richard Rohr states, “I don’t think we are doing our children any favors by raising them without boundaries or rules and largely letting them decide for themselves what is right for them. Basically, we are asking them to start from zero.”

Oh, the pain and anguish of telling our young children, adult children, friends, family, colleagues, our church, or our bosses, “No.” “Most of us were raised to be nice and somehow we’ve taken up the notion that saying no is not nice,” writes Lisa Terkeurst in her book The Best Yes. She asks, “What if ‘no’ can be given in such a way that it becomes a gift rather than a curse?” What if we can practice what Rohr calls “the sacred no”?

Do we struggle to say no? Do we think we are a bad person or a mean person if we say no? Can we say no if we are at our limits, our teapot is overflowing, and life seems overwhelming? We cannot fit one more thing into our schedule, but the requests for our time and energy do not stop. Can we say no? Did Jesus ever say no to requests for his time, his gifts, and his energy?

The author of 1 John says, “Perfect love drives out fear.” What do we fear? We fear rejection. We maybe fear that if we say “no” we are selfish or unloving. We want to be nice, good, loving people so we say “yes” all the time and as a result we get run down, irritated, and resentful.

“Love is patient and love is kind,” we read in I Corinthians 13, but it also says, “Love is not irritable or resentful.” If we always say yes to our kids, our parents, our church, our job, and our friends, we will eventually become resentful, irritated, and angry.

Brene Brown writes, “The most connected and compassionate people set and respect boundaries.” She argues, “The difficult moment of saying no is worth it if it helps us avoid being resentful later.” Eric Fromm in his book The Art of Loving says, “The healthiest people I have known are those who received from their two parents and early authority figures a combination of unconditional love and conditional love.” They understand yes and respect no. They set firm, compassionate boundaries.

Love is an emphatic “Yes!” Our Creator says, “Yes, you are worthy. Yes, you are forgiven. Yes, I love you! Yes, I adore you!” Jesus says to the woman at the well, “Drink the water I give you and you’ll will never be thirsty,” (see John 4:13). God’s love never dries up. Yes!

When we know we are loved, it is still difficult, but we can say a “sacred no.” So, did Jesus say no?

“After he dismissed the crowds, Jesus went up on the mountain by himself to pray,” (Matthew 14:23). Jesus dismissed the crowds. What were they saying? “Jesus my leg hurts!” “Jesus, can you go see my mom?” “Jesus, we need some money.”

Wayne Muller writes in Sabbath, “Jesus did not wait until everyone had been properly cared for, until all who sought him were healed. He didn’t ask permission to go, nor did he leave anyone behind on call.” He did not fix everyone.

I believe Jesus models “perfect love” for us. He says yes but he also shares a “sacred no.” As Muller writes, “When the moment for rest had come, the time for healing was over. Jesus would simply stop, retire to a quiet place, and pray.” He “dismissed the crowds.” “Sorry, I’m exhausted. I have to go.”

Jesus, our savior, did not suffer from a “savior complex.” He knew when to say yes and when to say no.

May we spend time in prayer discerning our sacred Yes’s and our sacred No’s.

May we say goodbye to fear with a more mature love.

Blessings and peace,