In the baptism/confirmation liturgy from my tradition, the confirmand is asked two questions. The first is, “Do you turn from the ways of sin, renouncing evil and its power in the world? And the second is, “Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Lord and Savior.” No to that which destroys life. Yes to the fullness of the abundant life God offers us in Christ. We make these choices every day, all day long whether we’re conscious of it or not. It’s subtle. We turn on the news first thing in the morning and in so doing perhaps we’ve just said no to 20 minutes of prayer. We have a drink when we get home from work and that yes is a no to a half an hour walk. We go to the board meeting and that turned out to be a no to our kid’s band concert. You get the idea.
“Throughout Christian history,” Yale theologian M. Shawn Copeland reminds us, “it has been clear that the life of faith is not a spectator sport. If we are to grow in faithful living, we need to renounce the things that choke off the fullness of life God intends for us and we must follow through on our commitments to a whole and holy life. We must learn the practice of saying no to that which crowds God out and say yes to a life that makes space for God. Learning when and how, to what and to whom to give our yes or our no is a life-long project.”
Shonda Rhimes in her memoir, Year of Yes notes, “The question of what to say “yes” to in life is a glorious one, but its flip side is every bit as important. Saying no to some things is what allows us to say yes to others, and of course, every yes has within it a no, whether it’s yes to doing a puzzle with a child and no to a night snuggling up with a laptop or yes to that last-minute deadline and no to the child holding the puzzle box.”
A new year stretches ahead of us, like a clean slate. Like a resurrection morning.
To what destructive forces in your life or the life of the world is God holding her breath, hoping you’ll say no (maybe even nudging you to say no)? To what loving, bold, difference-making choice is God pining for you to say yes?
As the poet Bonaro Wilkinson Overstreet put it:
You say the little efforts that I make
will do no good: they never will prevail
to tip the hovering scale
where Justice hangs in balance.
I don’t think I ever thought they would.
But I am prejudiced beyond debate
in favor of my right to choose which side
shall feel the stubborn ounces of my weight.
Where will you put the stubborn ounces of your weight in the coming year?
“I call heaven and earth to witness that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life that you and your descendants may live.” Deut. 30:19