The Grace of Hearing "No"

By Kersley Fitzgerald

This last Christmas, Dev, JT, and I piled onto a plane and headed to NW Washington to spend it with my family for the first time in forever. My sister had moved from the city to be closer to our mom, who lives on the south edge of Everett. For reason, reasons, and half a reason, Dev and I were to stay with my mom, her husband, and their "house-mouse," while JT slept on his cousin's bunkbed at my sister's. She and her husband also have a roommate, so our baby brother and his wife were to sleep in their family room on the pull-out couch.

Except, they weren't coming. He's the proverbial shoe-maker who doesn't have shoes except he's a mechanic who never has a decent car, and he didn't know if their vehicles could make it from Portland. (Well, his wife's probably could, but it was a little chilly for the Harley.) That was the polite reason, anyway, and the one that was socially acknowledged.

Except by my sister. She was distraught. We hadn't been back for Christmas in over ten years, and why wasn't he coming? Why was he so selfish? She had arranged things!

One day, after some mild to moderate grumping, she asked me if I was upset. After all, they just had a half-day drive, while we'd had to buy plane tickets and pay for a rental car.

There were many underlying reasons as to why our brother and his lovely wife weren't coming, that we all knew. And I did want them to be there. But I said, "I've decided to pretend that, at forty-years-old, he's a grown man who is old enough to make his own decisions. This is their decision, so I have no choice but to accept it. We have to respect him as an adult."

She sighed. She admitted I was right. But then she revealed that as the only emotionally available person in our family, she took it upon herself to orchestrate the emotional aspects of the family gatherings and the connections between the members, so she just felt rejected and like she had failed. Although she knew she hadn't.

There are pontifications galore that speak of the grace of saying, "No." Of setting boundaries and taking a stand, significant or not, and making our own decisions according to our own priorities. I did so just this weekend. It was hard, and I was afraid it wouldn't be taken well. But it went fine. Because the fact of the matter is, if we reserve the right to say, "No," we must also be willing to hear it.

Teh interwebs does have articles on accepting a "No," but they're mostly related to the business world. Some are about a proposal being rejected, and some are steps to make that sale. Authors are especially encouraged to take the "No" and move on. But I'm talking more interpersonal. The girl says no to a date. The friend says no to dinner. Or at church — you invite someone to a ministry event and they decline. How do you move on when it feels personal? Like they're rejecting you?

MeLissa is so good at hearing, "No," she'll start for you. As the AWANA co-commander, she needs a lot of help. But when she asks, she'll be direct: "Would you be available to give a devotion this week? If you can't, no problem, I have other people I can ask." She accepts that people know their lives and their schedules better than she does, and should be the authority on what they can and can't do.

But I have seen ministry leaders become nearly derailed because they couldn't hear, "No." They so believed in what they were doing — that it was commissioned by God — that they equated a lack of desire or a scheduling conflict with direct disobedience toward God. They never got that God doesn't give us all the same marching orders; what may be an obedience issue for them may not even be on others' radar.

There is the possibility, of course, that the "No" is an obedience issue. It may very well be that God is calling that person to answer in the affirmative, but he or she is too immature/rebellious/scared to agree. That's their right, too. God gives us the right to disobey, and we have to accept that. We do it ourselves often enough.

I know a man who leads the men's ministry at our church. His heart is planning events where men can get together, support each other, and grow spiritually. Every "No" is a stab in the heart. Like they're refusing a gift. He's slowly learning that it's not personal. It could be because of schedule or inclination or maybe even sin. But each "No" is said by an adult male who has the sovereignty to make his own decision as to whether he wants to commit to a discipleship group or go on that retreat. Despite how much work he's put into the events, rejection isn't personal.

But if the "No" is personal? That's when it's time to listen. What about my leadership rubs you the wrong way? How can I improve in the future? What is it about me as a person that makes you not want to go on a date? Thanks. You've given me something to think about and work on.

There are few people in the Bible who said "No" more than God. David begged to be able to build a temple, and God told him no, that Solomon would do it (1 Chronicles 17:1-15). He told Jeremiah not to pray for the Israelites (Jeremiah 14:11-12). He told Peter he was wrong (and sinning) when Peter insisted Jesus wouldn't die (Matthew 16:21-23). The Holy Spirit often rejected Paul's plans on his second missionary trip (Acts 16:6-7). And He tells us, "No" on a regular basis when our requests are uninformed or sinful.

We all have agendas, and it's difficult when others won't line up with our plans. There's a difference between your teen saying, "No, I won't use deodorant," (Bless.) and an adult saying, "No, we can't do the thing." If we presume to be grownups who understand the needs and requirements of our lives and families, and who attempt to instill gracious but proper boundaries, we have to accept that others have the right to do the same. And then acknowledge that God will always see to our needs, even if it's through an avenue we hadn't expected (Philippians 4:19).

So regarding my brother and his wife? We still want to see them. So we're going to go to Portland this summer, on a weekend. It was too bad he wasn't there, and he missed going on the Seattle Underground Tour. But hopefully we'll see him this summer. And Portland has an underground tour, too.

Image Credit: fsHH; untitled; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Christian-Life  | Personal-Life  | Personal-Relationships

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Published 3-9-17