The Holy No

For Christmas last year, my husband gave me a “NO” button. It’s big, it’s red, and when you push it, a loud voice says (in one of eight ways), “No!” It was a silly stocking stuffer, meant to make me laugh and roll my eyes. But even silly gifts can impart a deeper meaning. My husband knows that I have a hard time saying no, and he thought the reminder—sitting right there on my desk, staring up at me day after day—would be helpful. 

 

Saying no is hard for many of us, particularly for women. We don’t want to let people down. We want to show that we can handle it. We want to come across as accommodating. So we take on work that isn’t ours to do, we fill our schedules with commitments we don’t have time for, we let people treat us with less respect and kindness than we deserve, and we go underpaid for years, in part because saying no doesn’t come easily. 

 

And if we do manage to say no, we soften the blow. We make up fake excuses to get out of that meeting we don’t want to attend. We dole out less-than-authentic encouragement when we think someone’s brilliant idea isn’t, actually, brilliant. We shrug off an inappropriate comment or action, laughing awkwardly and walking away. We don’t want to say no bluntly and directly. It’s hard. It doesn’t feel kind, or good, or right. 

 

I wonder how our Christian narrative has played into the relationship many of us have with saying no–and how this narrative might offer another way. Our foundational story—Jesus coming back to life after death—communicates that there is always room for hope. There is always room for reconciliation. There is always room for improvement. There is always room for something new. It’s expansive, this narrative. It allows for endless opportunities and possibilities. 

 

This expansiveness is what I cherish most about the faith I live and teach and preach. I have the word “hope” tattooed on my wrist as a constant reminder that our God is always capable of doing a new thing. The end is never really the end. Even in death, life wins. Even in grief, love wins. No matter what, there is something more, something better, something new, waiting. This truth is beautiful and powerful and transformative. It is, perhaps, the most important gift we have to share with the world. 

 

But there is a shadow-side to this belief and the way we’ve interpreted it.

 

It has formed us to be a people who can’t say no. 

 

The stone, after all, has been rolled away. The tomb is empty. Possibility is endless. Who are we to roll the stone back and seal off the tomb with our “no”?  Who are we, in the words of the United Church of Christ, to “put a period where God has put a comma”?

 

But maybe we should. 

 

Maybe saying no is just as holy as saying yes.

 

God, after all, says no.

 

God says no to murder and deceit and adultery and the worship of other gods in the commandments given to God’s people as they enter into a new, freed reality. 

 

God says no to Moses, denying him entrance into the Promised Land after years of wandering the wilderness.

 

God says no to remembering our sin, telling us over and over that God will forget our iniquities the moment they leave our lips in confession. 

 

And Jesus says no. 

 

Jesus says no to Satan in the wilderness, not just once but three times. 

 

Jesus says no to the money-changers at the temple trying to extort those who are simply trying to offer a sacrifice to God.

 

Jesus says no to a group of people about to stone a woman, forcing them to examine their own sin before casting judgment on hers. 

 

But the biggest “no” of all comes as God says no to death. 

 

In that very story that we interpret as God’s forever and final “yes,” God actually says no. The stone has been rolled away, the tomb is empty, possibility is endless—all because of God’s “no.”

 

Sometimes saying no can be the healthiest thing we do. Sometimes saying no honors our boundaries, energy, emotional health, and discernment better than anything else. Sometimes saying no, bluntly and directly, can be the holiest thing we do, full stop. 

 

No begrudging agreement. No niceties. No commas. Just, no. Only, no. No, period.   

 

No to that idea. No to that program. No to that meeting. No to that behavior. No to that relationship. 

 

Because let’s face it, not every idea is good. Not every program supports the mission of the congregation. Not every meeting is productive, not every behavior is appropriate, and not every relationship is healthy. 

 

So, no. No. NO. 

 

What if we stopped viewing “no” as prohibitive and started seeing it as freeing? What if we stopped viewing “no” as rude and started seeing it as assertive? What if we stopped viewing “no” as closing a door and started seeing it as opening one?

 

We have a beautiful, powerful story to tell. It’s a story about the endless possibilities of new life made possible through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s true. 

 

And it all started with “no.”

 

A Blessing for Those Who Say No

 

Blessed are you who say no.

Blessed are you who close the door,

who end the chapter,

who say there is not enough—

not enough time, not enough resources, not enough energy—

and who refuse to create more.

 

Blessed are you who call a thing what it is: 

A dead end.

An epic failure.

A terrible idea.

 

You have looked deep within and taken stock.

You have been honest with yourself and others.

You have not sugar-coated things or softened the blow or forced the idea.

You have examined the possibilities, counted the costs, and analyzed the benefits.

 

Be at peace with this tiny word that spells freedom.

Let the release it provides wash over you.

Be assured that it is a sacred thing you’ve done, saying no.

It is holy and brave,

and so are you.

 

Blessed are you who say no.

Blessed Are the Meal Makers

As my husband and I celebrate our daughter Jo (Josephine) coming into the world this week, I’m reminded and grateful for the ways love surrounds us and literally feeds and sustains us.

 

This blessing was inspired by The Ministry of Meals at the First Congregational Church of Glen Ellyn for the ways they have nurtured by body and soul and the bodies and souls of so many.

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A Women’s History Month Blessing for Clergywomen

 

I grew up in a Christian denomination that still opposes the ordination of women, but this March I’m celebrating my first Women’s History Month as an ordained clergywoman. When I left my childhood church at the age of 18, it took me a long time to find a church home where women were recognized as leaders and teachers. It took me even longer to respond to my call to ministry. Like many of us, my path toward ministry was winding, and I’m a pastor today only because I had the support and example of so many incredible women along the way.

 

My ordination service last October was held at my new home church in Baltimore, a Disciples of Christ congregation I joined shortly after graduating college. It was the first Mainline Protestant church I ever attended, and I remember how amazed I was my first Sunday when women greeted me at the door, read scripture during worship, and presided over communion. I couldn’t wait to go back the next Sunday—and every Sunday that followed.

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A Prayer of Thanksgiving for Zoom

This prayer marks the transition from online back to in-person worship. You are welcome to adapt to your context.

A Prayer of Thanksgiving for Zoom

Holy God, we give you thanks that we can worship you together in-person in the church building as of next Sunday!

At the same time, we mark this last service together on Zoom, and we give you thanks for this software platform. Thank you for giving your people the talents and skill to develop this communication tool.

For over a year, Zoom has enabled us to safely have and be church from home in the midst of a terrible pandemic.

We give you thanks that we have had access to computers, phones, tablets, and stable internet.

Of course, it hasn’t always been easy – we learned a great deal along the way. There were those times when someone not being muted led to a phone ringing or a dog barking during prayer or the sermon.

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A Prayer for the Waiting

Do you like waiting? I write about how in dealing with infertility, you are often stuck in two-week increments: two weeks to ovulation, two weeks of waiting. Repeat. Only, it isn’t always so simple either — long cycles or short cycles, closed clinics or other disruptions. For 53 months, I felt like I was endlessly waiting. Advent is celebrated as the liturgical season of waiting, waiting for Christ to come again. But waiting is exhausting. It’s even demoralizing sometimes. The following prayer does not romanticize the waiting but seeks to be open to God’s presence in the midst of it.

God who wipes our tears away, hurry up already. The weight of waiting has left me spent, unable to focus. I have no control, no reasoning can get me out of this, and scrolling often makes it worse. I want you to swoop in and zap my struggles away. I want you to lift up the lowly, now. I want you to make the world new, now.

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Advent Family Prayers

Advent 2020

For my daughter’s first Advent and Christmas, my husband and I got an Advent wreath for our home, wanting to expose her to a tradition that has been spiritually meaningful for us over the years at church. During her toddler years, it was chaotic to light the candles in a place she could see but not touch, and it was nearly impossible to try to get her to focus for just one minute on saying a prayer.

But last year when she was four, one night at bedtime she told me, “Today was hope candle day. And next week is peace!” She remembered joy and love too. This year, with a five and three year old, we light the candle(s), share answers to a question, and say a short prayer. In response to the hope question, my older daughter inevitably answered, “I hope I get everything I want for Christmas.” Before we could talk that through, our younger daughter chimed in, “I hope for Mama, Papa, Eve, and Rose to be happy.” The girls looked at each other, then us, and then the purple candle burning, and it was quiet for one sacred second of kairos time.

I offer the prayers and questions we’re using this year for you to adapt in ways that fit where you are and who you’re with this Advent season. May they point you to the Light of the World, the One who is already here and who is on the way again this year, yes even in 2020.

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A Prayer for World AIDS Day in a Time of Coronavirus

The author with faith community leaders at a Methodist HIV/AIDS awareness and response event in Durban, South Africa in 2011

Bonjour, mon Dieu.  Comment ça va?

(Hello, my God.  How are you?)

Je suis triste aujourd’hui, mon ami.

(I am sad today, my friend.)

 

But God, you knew what this plague was, as we floundered and feared for years for explanations.

And God, you know what this plague is, as we struggle and stumble to disperse treatment.

 

And you know us – so well – every fragile sinew and cell of our being.

 

And we know you –

we know you to say that if one suffers, we all suffer as one.

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A Prayer for Unseen Parents

Today, we offer a prayer for those individuals and families who grieve the absence of a child due to death, infertility, or other loss. The absence of a child does not take away the coveted title of “parent.” Love for a child, seen and unseen, is what makes an individual a parent and what forms a family. We pray that all of these parents and families feel God’s peace this season.

 

In this season focused on joy and hope, we pray for the unseen parents, carrying the hope and prayer for a child out of the sight of others…

Aching as they send another Christmas card, filled with adventures and excitement but missing the laughter of a little one…

Looking past the dinner seat where a high chair should be…

Struggling to be thankful when so much seems wrong…

Grateful for a reason to miss a family party where they will feel forced to celebrate another new baby, not their own…

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The author prays over her morning coffee.

A Prayer of Thanksgiving

The author prays over her morning coffee.

The author prays over her morning coffee.

Holy One,

Source of all good things in this world:

Let’s be honest. It’s 2020.

You’ve seen this year happen.

In a year of pandemic, and politics,

and isolation, and exhaustion,

we feel a lot more like saying,

“How long, O Lord?”

instead of “in all things, give thanks.”

 

Give us eyes to see your wonders, O God,

even in a year like this one.

Give us hearts that overflow with gratitude

for the ways we’ve made it through.

For binge-worthy shows and new crafting skills,

for fresh pots of coffee and surprise deliveries of wine,

for fires to burn and rooms to paint,

Good Lord, we give you thanks.

For decent internet connection and love-to-hate-it Zoom,

for the ding of a text and long phone chargers,

for online shopping and unemployment checks,

Good Lord, we give you thanks.

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2020 Thanksgiving Prayer

“Thanksgiving Drive” by katmeresin is licensed under CC BY 2.0

God of all of us,

Life as we knew it has changed.

Thanksgiving as we knew it is different this year.

We have lost people we love.

We have lost gathering in the ways we used to gather.

Some of us have lost jobs or trust or optimism.

So we grieve today, even as we give thanks.

We lament today, even as we hold onto moments of joy.

You are a God who hears and knows our lament.

We also lament the state of our nation and the division among us.

We don’t want to move too quickly to unity

without addressing the pain that lies under that division.

We give you our hurt. We give you our anger.

May your hearing of our prayers and our pain

open the way for healing and new hope and restored community.

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