I recently received one of those emails you just don’t see coming: a friend from 10-15 years ago asked me if I’d consider driving to New Jersey to officiate her cousin’s wedding. Less than two weeks later.
What do you say when an out-of-the-blue opportunity comes along? I’ll admit, my first instinct is almost always No. As comedian John Mulaney has pointed out, it’s 100% easier not to do things than to do them.
Despite Mulaney’s insightful joke, I ended up saying yes. My wife and I had a wonderful weekend in New Jersey, where I officiated the wedding for a delightful couple at a beautiful venue. This post isn’t really about that decision, but it did get me thinking: maybe others also need to learn to say yes more often.
Why? Well, what drew many of us to church in the first place was its promise of truth, certainty, order, and a reliable structure to the cosmos. In other words, we have a particular interest in things happening according to plan—God’s or otherwise. There’s nothing wrong with this per se, but in my experience, it can sometimes keep us closed off from some spontaneous adventures.
(Caveat #1: I know that many people have an opposite problem. They have been used and abused in their churches, and they never learned to set and keep healthy boundaries. For folks in this boat, their journey may currently be focused on learning to say no! For the record, please set and keep healthy boundaries! But these boundaries don’t need to preclude new opportunities that come along.)
Some movies have even been made specifically about the act of saying yes to things. The 2008 film Yes Man is the story of a guy who decided to say yes to literally everything (not recommended). In this year’s Yes Day, two parents decide to have one day when they will say yes to every one of their kids’ outlandish requests. Both these tales are ultimately about people who are closed off to new things learning to become more open.
And this openness is absolutely vital to the journey of evolving faith (or so I’ve observed for myself and the folks at my faith community, Harbor Online Community). When most of us share our stories, we describe a critical juncture when we first formed a close relationship with someone of a different race, sexuality, political party, culture, or religion. These new connections and experiences have required us, at some point, to say Yes.
- new friends
- new practices
- new ways of living and loving
- new beliefs
- new learning
Why do we so often say No, when the benefits of Yes are so clear? To return to John Mulaney’s stand-up: saying No is so easy. It’s so easy. When I say No, my life gets to go on exactly as it is. I can do the things I want to do, when I want to do them. Nothing is required of me except for exactly what I’ve planned to give of myself.
(Caveat #2: In these pandemic days, of course a very valid reason to say No to certain things is COVID-19. It is perfectly okay to turn down an opportunity that does not seem safe to you or other participants. For instance, in the case of this New Jersey wedding, we were confident that the outdoor venue, vaccinations, and masks would keep everyone safe. In summary: I am not suggesting you say Yes to super-spreader events.)
But by faith, we believe that it is often God beckoning us to the new. God told Abraham to leave behind all that was familiar. God directed Moses to confront the most powerful leader in the world. God brought Rahab and Esther to unexpected moments of risk and decision to save vulnerable people. And in Jesus, God says, “Follow me.” Follow where? Where Jesus is: in relationship with the oppressed, the foreigner, the sinner.
“Follow me.” Will we say yes?