Word of the Week

I never like telling someone no.

I never like hearing no.

I don't like that I just picked out a "no" clip art for this blog post. It's feels so harsh to me. And I don't like to be harsh.

Because isn't it true?

Telling someone no brings on disappointment. It ruffles up community life. It creates disconnection. It's stop word after all. 

Hearing no messes with a sense of value. It can rob a person of their worthiness (if we let it). It usually feels like a door slam shut even if it's messenger approaches with respect and kindness. It's not a word radiating welcome. 

And we love connection and welcome. So there's no wonder we feel that no is such a bad word. Or is it?

Let's start with this: time and time again I've learn that "No" is one of the most spiritual words I can hear. No is one of the most spiritual words I can offer someone else.

Here are two gifts of hearing the word no and saying it to others.

  1. Rejection is part of the drill. None of us, regardless of how smart or kind or thoughtful we are can escape dead ends. We will need to tell people "no" in our life. People will need to tell us "no" too.
  2. "No's" teach. They redirect. They invite us to look deeper in our hearts and stories and intentions and help us walk on new paths-- to the place that the "yeses" live. We need "no" for direction. Thank God for "no!"

I was listening to a podcast recently by one of my favorite authors, Elizabeth Gilbert.

When asked the question about what she gave up to serve her creative process, she talked about the hardship of the word "no."

She bemoaned all the people who felt hurt by her "no's" and how it cost her friends, both personal and professional that she thought she'd have in her life forever. And visa versa.

Elizabeth reminded listeners that: "You have to sit with the discomfort that comes from the sacred no."

And here was the zinger question (paraphrasing here) she offered: what do you need to say no to so that you can fulfill why you are here on this planet?

This question is one that has stuck with me ever since I heard it.

Both to toughen me up when rejections come (believing that even the most devastating missed opportunities remind me that God is God and I am not) AND to have the courage to reject anything out of line with WHO I am made to be and HOW God wants me to use my time on earth.

There are a thousand amazing things to be and do, of course. Yet not all of these things were meant for me (or you either)!

So I'm wondering to WHO do YOU need to say "no" today? 

How do you need to lick your wounds and move on from a "no" that has long kept you paralyzed?

What do the "no's" in your life have to teach you?

Let's keep learning and listening together. And saying no. It's good soul work.

1. Best piece of advice  I ever got about becoming an adult was- "Make good friends and keep them."

I ran across this quote last week from Anne Lamott and posted it on Facebook. Seems to be appropriate to share here too: “It's funny: I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox full of shiny tools: the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of patience. But then when I grew up I found that life handed you these rusty bent old tools - friendships, prayer, conscience, honesty - and said 'do the best you can with these, they will have to do'. And mostly, against all odds, they do.”

2. In the same way, I recently heard Oprah say recently something to this effect "Some people don't have the oxygen to make up life's mountains with you." Some friends are just for a season. They don't have the oxygen to climb with you, and to make them feel bad about this is not fair to either of you. Keep climbing beside those who do. You might have to make new friends. You might need to rediscover friends from long ago,  but it is all good. The climbing partners are there. Keep your eyes open.

3. There's always time for relationship surprises. Henri Nouwen wrote of a now-famous conversation which helped him think about this concept: “While visiting the  University of Notre Dame, where I had been a teacher for a few years, I met an older experienced professor who had spent most of his life there. And while we strolled over the beautiful campus, he said with a certain melancholy in his voice, "You know . . . my whole life I have been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I discovered that my interruptions were my work." Maybe that phone call or email or visit that you didn't expect today could be in fact your greatest gift to give the world today . . .  something for all of us to think about.

4. Friends can be the family we most need. I give thanks this week for one of my dearest friends, Kristina whom spent a lot of time this week visiting DC with her husband and daughter. Somethings never change like the fact that folks either think we're related or they mistake us for one another from a distance. It was fun to be called, "Kristina" this week again when a church member couldn't tell us a part. And to finish each other's sentences!

5.  To love someone, though is not to cling to them. Can I say how much I have loved the book, Awareness by Anthony de Mello. It's a text that I know is not new to the world (was published in 1990) but it has been the gift that has kept on giving to my life in the past month. Every morning de Mello and I have a date and it's wonderful! And he writes this: “Perfect love casts out fear. Where there is love there are no demands, no expectations, no dependency. I do not demand that you make me happy; my happiness does not lie in you. If you were to leave me, I will not feel sorry for myself; I enjoy your company immensely, but I do not cling.”

6. To love someone, is also to hold them close in committment. One of my favorite quotes about this, I blogged about this over a year ago, here.

7.  "You can only be as close to the heart of God as you allow your heart to be to others." A spiritual director imparted this wisdom to me years ago. It was a season of my life when I was wrestling with how much time I spent studying for school and how much time I allowed my daily patterns to be spent with a group of people I was growing very close to. Her words encouraged me that friendship is as much of a spiritual discipline as is prayer, quiet, service, etc.

8. Can pastors be friends with parishioners? Such is a question that is frequent discussed in my clergy circles. Most of my colleagues seem to have a different opinion about it usually based on their personality, family situation and church size. I've come to believe that while maintaining healthy boundaries is appropriate, it's a decision that everyone has to make for themselves. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.

9. Friends are those who walk beside us and love giving the good gift of silence. Sometimes there are no words for the grossness of life that we are asked to walk through with each other.

And because one can't get enough of Henri Nouwen on this topic, here's another quote of his that I adore: "“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.” from The Road to Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey

10. True friends are those whom you tell the same story to at least 10 times knowing that when you need to tell the same story over for the 11th re-telling they'll be around to hear it then too. Who says stories only need to be heard once? Thank goodness there are those who can hear us into understanding!

Here's to hoping your life is filled with some moments to share today with those whom you call friends!

Do we truly understand how much God loves us and wants to bless us?

Today in worship we talked how BLESSING is one of the themes found in Matthew's Beatitudes-- that as Jesus spoke these words of "Blessed are . . ." he was seeking to tell this followers exactly how he already felt about them. Jesus spoke to the disciples not as those whom he was commanding to act a certain way, but as a loving teacher to a group of people he cared deeply for.

We also talked about how hard it is for us to receive Jesus' blessing on us because we want to assume it comes with conditions that sound like "you must do this first." Could Jesus possibly love us even if we don't come to him in perfection yet?

Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest, author and professor, tells the following story about how hard it is for all of us to receive blessing but also how each of us hungers for it more than we realize.

While living in the L'Arche community for mentally and physically challenged adults called Daybreak in Toronto, Canada as a resident chaplain, he found himself in the following  conversation with a patient there while going about his daily chores:

A woman named Janet came up to Henri and asked for a blessing. In response, he remembers walking up to her and giving her a little cross on her forehead.

But, she said, "Henri, it doesn't work. No, that is not what I meant."

Henri notes that was embarrassed and said, "I gave you a blessing." She said, "No, I want to be blessed." He kept thinking, "What does she mean?"

[Later on] there was a worship service. After the service Henri said, "Janet wants a blessing." He had an alb on and a long robe with long sleeves. Janet walked up to Henri and said, "I want to be blessed." She put her head against my chest and he spontaneously put my arms around her, held her, and looked right into her eyes and said, "Blessed are you, Janet. You know how much we love you. You know how important you are. You know what a good woman you are."

She looked at Henri and said, "Yes, yes, yes, I know. I suddenly saw all sorts of energy coming back to her. She seemed to be relieved from the feeling of depression because suddenly she realized again that she was blessed. She went back to her place and immediately other people said, "I want that kind of blessing, too."

Henri went on to recount, "Then, countless people kept walking up to me and I suddenly found myself embracing people. I remember that after that, a man in our community who assists the handicapped, a strong guy, a football player, said, 'Henri, can I have a blessing, too?' I remember our standing there and I put my hand on his shoulder and said: "you are blessed. You are a good person. God loves you. We love you. You are important. Can you claim that and live as the blessed one?"

And this process, according to Henri, went on and on for days as members of the community heard that he gave out blessings."[i]

We all need blessing more than we sometimes know.

So, after I shared this story in my sermon and we had a service of communion with one another, I offered the congregation a blessing if they wanted it. Several deacons assisted in this by standing to the side of the room with hands open wide to give hugs and the blessing of "Jesus loves you." Several folks told me after the service how powerful it was for them to leave worship with the experience of having a blessing instead of just hearing about one for others. I think we might just need to engage in this spiritual practice of hugging more often.

Worship with a hug . . . sometimes it is the smallest gestures that can be so powerful.