Lent is a season of saying “No” to some things in order to say “Yes” to others. To die a little to life on our own terms and find a richer, deeper way of living. Let me illustrate this principle of saying No to something small in order to have a bigger Yes, with the following story.
It’s a story of someone I know who was very stressed about the expectations upon him between home and work. This young dad felt as if he were riding two elephants, left foot on top of one and right foot on the other—the reigns of both gathered into his hands. Demands of home and work were becoming difficult to steer.
One day he met his wife and children for lunch between a crazy morning and a busy afternoon. It did not go well. The children were hungry and restless. He could not understand his wife’s patience with their spills and complaints. Looking back, he said he didn’t appreciate the supple nature of her leadership, a baby in one hand while the other hand quietly calmed, reminded, guided the older children.
Meanwhile, he grew even more impatient than his toddlers. He thought, “Why did I agree to shoehorn this lunch into such a demanding day?” Where is that waiter! Why won’t these kids settle down?” Another spill sent him over the edge. Milk dribbled off his pressed, wool-blend pants. He barked at the four-year-old as if she meant to do it. Then he turned to complain to his wife about her unrealistic expectations she had of him.
“What do you mean?” she said. “No one made you meet us here. You have created a whole story in your mind about what everyone is expecting of you, especially me.”
He took his lunch in a to-go box and drove off.
On his way back to work, her words began to sink in. He thought, “Could that be true? Am I the one putting all this pressure on myself?” The scales began to fall from his eyes as he realized how unkind the had been. Without even thinking he turned the car around and headed back to apologize.
But doubts began to frame a bleak sketch of the situation: “You’re always the one giving in and saying you’re sorry. Isn’t it her turn for once?” He fought through these thoughts and decided to press on, even rehearsing what he would say. Practicing a very uncomfortable admission. Reflecting on the moment he apologized, he said he felt about an inch tall, yet that was the very moment he began to grow in stature and maturity and strength before his wife.
What to give up?
Jesus said unless a seed goes into the ground a dies it cannot become something greater. An apology can feel like a death to dignity or power or image. But the story I just told illustrates how an apology can be the very seed for new life in a relationship.
It’s the principle of dying a little to live more.
In Gospel of Mark, chapter 8, Jesus rebukes Peter in order to say No and Yes. No to life on his own terms and yes to the principle of dying to self. He says “No” to self-preservation, “No” to self-aggrandizement, in order to say “Yes” to a bigger vision of his life and purpose.
During Lent, some people give something up. Take care that it not become a way of earning— a way of saying, “I’ve given this up, so God, now you owe me.” It’s not a transaction.
You might try giving up something as a spiritual discipline like chocolate or Instagram or screens during weekday evenings. But only if you approach it as its own reward, making room to say “Yes” to the life you may have been missing. What if you said, “No” to all forms of exaggeration in order to say “Yes” to living more freely in truth?
Giving something up may be a way to feel a deeper hunger, but in the end, to make room for what your deeper appetite needs.
The practice of giving something up is not to earn a blessing. Saying “No” to something you want can help you say “Yes” to what you really need.
Dying to the right thing
Dying to self does not mean losing all sense of self but rather, to self-centeredness.
Are you focused on yourself in a way that is making your shrink, like self-pity or defensiveness?
Are you distracting your senses in a way that keeps you from feeling not only the bad but also the good? Distracting with hurry, noise, or crowds?
It is the season of the cross. Jesus said, “Whoever would come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” So, lent is not just about saying “No” but saying “Yes” to the cross we’re call to take up.
What cross do you need to take up?
a sacrifice of something you want for someone else’s need?
a sacrifice of time w/ a friend to visit a difficult person who needs you?
a sacrifice of your comfort zone to go on that mission trip you’ve put off for “some day?”
a sacrifice of what feels like dignity to mend a quarrel?
The young man in my story who hesitated to apologize said, like Jesus, “Get behind me Satan!” He died a little in order to live a lot. He said no in order embrace a bigger yes.
This column is based upon Mark 8:31-38