It is only the ability to say no that makes yes a thing worth saying. It is only the ability to say no that makes saying yes mean anything. It is only someone with the ability to say no, even to God, that God could possibly work with in the redemption of the entire creation.
The Rt. Rev. Stacy Sauls, in the ordination sermon of 20 December 2010
We don't usually think of, "No" as a holy word, a word of God. But it is. It is, in fact, perhaps one of the most important holy words. It is a word of choice, of boundary, of safety, and of, in fact, love. It is a word that reminds us the great responsibility of choice we humans have as we interact with each other and with God. We have options. We can discern. We can say, "Yes," and we can say, "No."
As children, we hear, "No," to protect us. No, don't touch that light socket. No, don't put your hand on that hot stove. No, don't play under the house (seriously, I've said this). We also learn to say no as children to protect ourselves and to begin to learn that we are not simply automatons, but little human beings with the ability to choose, although too many no's result in a time-out and a slightly aggravated parent.
Somewhere in our development, emotionally and spiritually, we learn to hear no as only rejection. And it is, at times. But even those rejections have kept me personally out of trouble and several unfortunate relationships with guys whose p.r. was better than the product. Even as grown-ups, we still need to hear, "No, don't touch that. It's bad for you."
No is a valuable guide in our journey. It serves as a rudder, a word that can direct us in our lives and in our ministries, as well as protect us. The nativity story in Matthew has Joseph rationally deciding quietly to put Mary away, to tell her, "No, I will not marry you." Then he has a dream in which an angel of God says to Joseph, "No, don't do that. Wrong decision, my friend."
Or something along those lines, but we get the picture. No is the word that guides Joseph back on track, that aligns himself with Mary's, "Yes," and with God's plan of salvation. Joseph makes a decision, and God says, "No." Joseph doesn't spend time wringing his hands over how he was wrong or, even better, telling four or five friends how he is actually right and no one will affirm him, not even God, so he will do it his way, anyway. Nope, he just hears God's, "No," regroups, and changes course.
We do, of course, get the edited version. I suspect there was a bit of hemming and hawing about the dream, if not a dash of, "OMG, an angel visited me!" But we do get the point.
Joseph, too, could have said no to God, and God would have resorted to Plan B (or whatever version of the plan God was on at the time). Which makes Joseph going back to Mary and doing as God asked that much more powerful.
We all hear no's in our life. We do. And we say no, as well. Some are unfair. Some are wrong (yes, we make mistakes). And some are exactly what we need to hear or say at that time. Those no's are the hidden jewels in our lives, the ones that give us a prism to view decisions and choices. Truth is, in faith, our yes's to God are intertwined with no's. To say yes to one ministry inevitably means saying no to other ministries. For me to serve as rector of one parish meant saying no to others. And therein is the great value of no, that it means we have to chose and we have to let God and others choose, as well.
What do we do with the no's we hear in our lives? Do we get angry and badger the other until s/he is beaten down and enslaved by our need to hear yes, until the other simply says what we want to hear, regardless of whether it's true or not? Do we dismantle and attack the one who said no because we feel rejected, never allowing ourselves to hear their no as a guidepost in our lives, suggesting another direction or opportunity for growth? Or do we find a way to feel whatever hurt we may feel at "no" while offering ourselves to God to change direction, to reconsider, and to rethink?
Hey, I never said hearing "no" was easy. The holiest things in our lives aren't.
No is a holy word. When we hear it with our selves and souls, it can keep us from heading too far afield in our lives or give us time to develop so when we do hear yes, we are ready and willing. When we encounter those who refuse to hear our no's, we encounter a person who doesn't want us to exercise our power of choice in relationship, but instead wants us to be as s/he defines us, not who we truly are. When we learn and mature enough spiritually and emotionally to sink into the holiness of no, we more fully become the someones with the abilities that God can work with in the redemption of the entire creation.
To read Bp. Sauls' complete sermon, click here