Why You Need to Embrace the Lost Art of Saying "No"
- Drew Williams trinitychurch.life
- 2017 16 Nov
I descended to a whole new low in my parenting a little while ago. In a moment of paternal virtue, I offered an expedition to a local pottery painting shop to my elementary-aged daughter, For a brief moment, I was indeed “Super Dad!” And then came my spectacular fall from grace.
Sitting at the table, working together with great artisanal dexterity on a new bowl for our dog, I literally fell asleep. Twenty minutes later I found myself with her coat around my shoulders (“Dad, I thought you might be cold”) and Olivia on my cell phone with my wife, asking for advice on how to wake me up. The pottery shop, crowded with kids and super moms, appeared to have gone very quiet. Perhaps it was an attempt to let me sleep?
My falling asleep at the (pottery) wheel was a wake-up call of another type. There is something terribly wrong here. There is a crazy kind of busyness in my life that is just not working! Where do I go with this problem? What does faith have to teach me?
Well, you can’t make the case that Jesus does not know what it is to work absurdly hard and be exhausted. In Luke chapter 4, we observe Jesus pulling an “all-nighter.” We are told that “When the sun was setting” (verse 40) people came to him for healing and then we are told “And when it was day, he departed…” (verse 42), the inference being that He had worked through the night. But by light of the dawn, Jesus stopped what he was going and went to a deserted place to pray. Not surprisingly, the crowds followed. At which point, Jesus ostensibly said to them, “No.” Luke records “…[the people] would have kept Him from leaving them, but He said to them, ‘I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.’” (verse 42b-43). Jesus said “no” that morning to a lot of hurting people, who genuinely needed Him and who had, literally, followed Him into the desert for their healing.
Can we chalk Jesus’ “no” up to exhaustion? Here we see evidence that Jesus’ guidance was from His Father and not from circumstances alone. The Father evidently told Him, “It’s time to move on. I want you to go to Judea and preach there.” The Father said “No” so Jesus said “No.”
What would my life look if I got my guidance from my heavenly Father and not just from my circumstances, no matter how apparently urgent those circumstances appeared? What if Jesus’ rescue plan for me from my state of “crazy busyness” — has a lot to do with my learning to say “no” to a whole lot of good things so that I can be freed up to say “yes” to the most important things? If so, how would I know the difference?
In our crazy busy lives making time to reconnect with the Father will no doubt feel counterintuitive. Perhaps it feels like God has just added yet another to-do to your long list! But if we are to allow God to break the hold that “crazy busy” has over us, this is where we must start. We are invited to bring our unmanageable lives to the Father — and tell Him the truth about how we are doing. I fell asleep in a pottery painting shop with my eight-year old daughter! I confess the extent of my problem and my incapacity to fix it on my own! This step is humbling, but crucial. We must acknowledge before Him that we are powerless to throw off our crazy busy lives, that our own guidance system has crashed! This place of confession is where we start. If not, we are simply going to come back to the place where all we can do is try harder… which will bring us back to the same end, but in a deeper pit.
What will I discover in this place of reconnection and confession? Jesus clearly knew what exhaustion felt like. And He knows each one of us so well. He knows of what we are made and where our particular breaking point is. “For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.” (Psalm 103:14). I was recently convicted by this verse from Psalm 127: “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil...” So, what is the Lord’s response? To berate us? The Psalm continues with His response, “…for He gives to His beloved sleep.” (Psalms 127:2). We expect condemnation, but what we find is mercy and compassion.
Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29). In other words, “I know you are weary. I know what got you here…I long for you to come to Me…And actually, if you will only ask Me, I will lift the burden of your self-propelled life and give you power to break the cycle of crazy-busyness.” He is the one who provides the strength and power to us in all our weakness.
How does He do that? This is the role of the Holy Spirit. Here is our capacity and power to say “no” to the good things so that we might partake in God’s best for us. The Holy Spirit supplies the power for us to live differently — the power to repent when we don’t live differently, the power to live changed lives. And all you have to do is ask. Do we imagine that God would demand some four-month silent retreat in a horsehair shirt, drinking only rain water, before deeming us worthy of the Holy Spirit? No, all we have to do is confess our inability to cease being crazy busy and just ask for His help. Jesus told us, “…how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” (Luke 11:13).
So, having acknowledged my own power to change and having asked for the Holy Spirit’s help, I have suddenly found the inspiration and conviction to put into effect what Olivia and I call “The Saturday Plan.” This means I get up early on Saturday morning and complete whatever is still to be done for leading or preaching at our worship services on Sunday and then the day belongs exclusively to Olivia! And I managed to stay awake for all of it! I owe all of this to the power of God to say “no” to a few good things so that I might break free of being crazy busy and live in the moment.
I confess that I have slipped a few times. Some days “crazy busy” has a pull that is stronger than a black hole. Still, the power of God is greater and I have begun to recognize a process of repentance, compassion, mercy and His power to overcome that counteracts this gravitational pull.
Drew Williams is the Senior Pastor of Trinity Church Greenwich, a writer and engaging public speaker. Drew’s ministry has been directed toward helping people find and deepen an intimate relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Prior to ordination in the Anglican Church in 2000, he practiced as a litigation attorney. Drew and his wife, Elena, came to the U.S. in 2009 to lead and serve Trinity Church.