One of the hard lessons of parenting is sometimes being the “bad guy.” I have to admit, it’s been the most difficult one for me. It flies against my own wants for me to look at my precious daughter, looking so happy and hopeful, and tell her that she can’t do something. I understand the need to do it, but watching her melt in sadness breaks my heart every time, because it’s woven through the tenderness that I keep for her.
I have experienced God saying “no” to me throughout my life. At times, the question I have asked has been half-hearted, almost as if I were tapping the mic, asking, “is this thing on?” God honors questions at all levels of seriousness, though. I believe that. The fullness of our request does not change his closeness or his desire to respond. Sometimes we find these things have been given despite our lethargic approach. Sometimes, though, he does say, “no.”
When my daughter asks for something that I deny, it’s often not a big deal. “Can I have another piece of cake, Papa?” That’s an easy one. She’s usually not surprised, and she moves on.
Then there are the other times, the times that she’s tired. Or she’s really excited about an idea. Maybe she’s misunderstood when something is going to happen. In those times, I have a different approach. I don’t sit across the table from her and say, “no.” I don’t shout it at her from across the yard. For the things that I know are personal to her, the things that she’s attached meaning to, I always come close to her. I come down right to her level, sometimes I pick her up on my lap. I have to get close, because I’m about to speak softly. Gently, I say, “No.”
Sometimes she still cries. Sometimes she gets mad and doesn’t want to be held. Sometimes she says she doesn’t want it anymore. Other times it’s not a big deal. I make a focused effort to keep the same posture toward her, no matter what the response: I hold firm to gentleness, to kindness. Even if she’s mad at me. I don’t focus on the fact that she’s mad, I focus on the fact that she’s my daughter and it’s my job to hold her close. Sometimes that means I have to wait until she wants to be held again.
This perspective has changed the way I view a “no” from my creator. It’s easy to be angry when we don’t get what we want, and I think he understands that. Our God is familiar with the human condition, but he doesn’t run from it. He doesn’t reject it. He does the opposite: even though to be God is clearly better than being man, he chose to become a man. And suffer. And die, horribly. It’s a comfort to know he understands me at that level.
It’s also a comfort to think of him holding me in the “no.” Though his thoughts are higher than my thoughts, his ways higher than my ways (Jeremiah 55:9), he doesn’t despise us when we just don’t get it. He doesn’t reject us because we can’t see what’s good for us, that we just keep asking for the same stupid stuff over and over. What his ways provide are perfect, but he feels the anguish of our humanity. Because of that, he stays close to us when he tells us no. God’s declined invitations are not his rejection, they are his way of showing us where not to go.
I have a friend who has been through a heartbreaking season of life. My wife and I were fortunate to be close to the family during a time when things that had seemed clear became blurry, when things which seemed certain dissolved like sandcastles. There were tears, there was sadness. There were doubts.
It’s important to know that this family follows Jesus like he has his own bedroom in their house. Being near them in this season has helped me understand what it’s like to live in community with one another, and seeing them begin to emerge on the other side of the pain has been nothing short of inspirational. I have watched as they took the pain with the joy, and very seldom did the two come in equal measures.
On a day not long ago, an emergence happened in my friend’s quiet morning time. In the silent morning hours, sitting with Jesus holding an empty cup, a whisper was heard in the closeness of being held. This is the result, something I wish I would have written.
A new pen
I just threw away one of my favorite pens.
God is giving me a new voice. In the old color I was defeated and weighed down by burdens. So much that I couldn’t say no when something was wrong or harmful.
“No” should always be spoken out loud but even when you’re too weak to utter it, it should always be heard and honored.
I couldn’t find my voice. My “no” wasn’t heard. Except by God. So he said no for me.
I thought He was saying no to me. Actually He was defending me. Fighting for me. Saving my family.
So I threw away my pen this morning. I have a new voice, a new color.
Trust. Surrender. Joy. Promise. Fierce love. Safe. Abundant. Family. Purpose. Serve. Create. That’s my new ink.