As a parent, I flopped at saying “no.” Having grown up with an unreasonable step-dad, I preferred the kind and friendly “Maybe,” or “We’ll see,” which usually translated to “yes.” This penchant for affirmatives explains why the kids came to me for favors ten times more often than they asked my husband Kevin. His “Maybe” usually meant “No.” To children, “no” never means “I love you.”
A few times, I surprised myself and embraced a “no” with fervor. One was when our son Ron wanted to quit school. He had recently celebrated his tenth birthday, and approached me with a proclamation: “Mom, I already know everything, so I don’t need to go to school anymore.”
“I don’t think so, Ron. You know a lot, but you don’t know everything. You are not quitting school.”
Stubborn tears clouded his eyes. “I do, Mom. I know everything!” I would’ve laughed if he wasn’tso serious. Softening my voice in mercy toward his naivety, I remained firm. “Nevertheless, Ron, you are staying in school.”
That little conversation took place over twenty years ago. Two Bachelor of Arts degrees now grace his wall from the University where he made Dean’s list several times. I hope he’s thankful I said “no.”
When “no” meant “I love you” the Second Time Around
When our daughter Esther was a teenager wanting to wear tight jeans, watch R-rated movies, and date before she was ready, we squared our shoulders, lifted our chins and remained impervious to her cries of, “Everyone else…” I hope her future husband is relieved we told her, “no.”
How many times has God said “no” to me, and I thought He was being unreasonable like my step-dad. Then I discovered instead that He was steering me away from danger or toward blessings. Like a child, I could not comprehend why God refused to give me what I wanted. With adult perception, I see that His “no” was the kindest form of love.
God’s “no” in my life meant moving from LA to rural Paris, IL., where Kevin and I pastor the most devoted flock we’ve had in over thirty years of ministry. We live in the loveliest house we’ve ever lived in. And we’re part of a warm and caring community.
I had told God dozens of times that I didn’t want to go back into the ministry after we left our last church. Living the life of an average, ordinary person with no pressure to carry out anyone’s expectations and no pedestal to try to stay on made me feel like a bird uncaged. I did not want to leave the friendships I had built up over twenty years, or my favorite restaurants and malls.
Father Knows Best
But God knew better. He knew we’d make supportive new friends, find new favorite restaurants, and never miss the malls. He knew that moving us here would open doors of ministry for both of us that we’d never had in L.A. So, He said “no.” And, we’re so thankful He did.
At times, it is necessary to say through tears of disappointment and an aching heart, “Lord, I know you love me, and I trust You. If you say no, it must be because saying yes would hurt me.”
It’s okay to tell God you are disappointed, even angry at how something has turned out. But then trust His goodness more than you trust your own perception. He can see over the next hill in our lives. He knows better than we do what roadblocks will keep us from succeeding and what fruit stands will nourish us along the way.
Trust the Divine “no”
We only have to believe His love enough to accept the “no’s” when they come, and realize that someday we will thank Him when our name ends up on the dean’s list or we find “Mr. Wonderful” or we get to live in the best place on earth. Because God’s “no” is divine, He turns it into a “yes” for us. And, he’s the only Dad that can do that.