One word your fall can’t do without


A number of people tried to shush him yesterday before he could speak the words: “the end of summer.” I wondered why. Is it simply that we like the beach? Warm sunshine and grilled corn and sitting outside to watch the sunset; in summer the world seems colored gold. Maybe we dread the coming of winter with its rain or snow. But my guess is that more, even, than we want to postpone the winter weather, we want to run from the return of busyness.

Some busyness is good. Life has its seasons; there is a time to work and a time to play. But maybe more of us than care to admit feel trapped by busyness and unable to change it.

We don’t know how to say no. Or we think we can’t.  We believe that the Christian life is one of constant availability (known, in Christianese, as “selfless service,” but meaning, in practice, that saying no – whether to a committee or to a someone who phones at mealtime – betrays a lack of love for God).

I have good news for you.

“The concept of boundaries comes from the very nature of God.” (Cloud and Townsend, “Boundaries.” p. 35). Really? They go on: “God defines himself as a distinct, separate being, and he is responsible for himself. He defines and takes responsibility for his personality by telling us what he thinks, feels, plans, allows, will not allow, likes and dislikes.” (Ibid) God says an unequivocal “no” to some things to say a wholehearted “yes” to others. And, in entrusting us with our own bodies and souls, our emotions and talents and choices, He calls us, likewise, to protect our treasure. Or, better, to protect His treasure, placed in us.

There is no question: God calls us to a love willing to suffer.  That will mean hard work. Being stretched. Bleeding in some way or another.

“And yet. And yet. . . . If love is a matter of holding fast to, and identifying with, and suffering for, the ones we love, it is a matter also of standing back from, of leaving space for, of letting go of. To become, through loving and needing them, as involved in the lives of others as I was involved in the lives of my children is in the long run to risk being both crippled and crippling. . . . I think of Jesus himself, who in the profoundest sense bled for people but was never what is meant by “a bleeding heart”; who did what he could for the sick and suffering who came his way and then moved on; who wept for Jerusalem but let Jerusalem choose its own way; who kept his own mother at arm’s length and, when Mary Magdalen reached out to embrace him at the end, said, ‘Do not touch me.’” (Frederick Buechner, “Now and Then,” p. 103-5)

Our life is in our yes. Fullness is found in pouring ourselves out, not in selfishly guarding our own interests. But our no enables our yes. When our no is so weak that our bodies and souls are stretched thin, our yes becomes thin too. Our tired, distracted selves are unable to do anything, let alone everything, “with all our hearts” (Col 3:23). And, sometimes, our no enables the yes of others as well, allowing them the space they need to grow into their fullest selves.

Think with me, will you? What do you want to say a wholehearted “yes” to this fall? Where might you need to say “no” to free your “yes”?


Need help (like me) learning when to say yes and how to say no? Try Cloud and Townsend’s “Boundaries.” Highly recommended.

Need the motivation to learn? Check out Gabor Maté’s “When the Body Says No.” More often than we like to think, our body learns to say no when our mouth won’t.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Stephen Cox

    Excellent and timely, for me. This is something I struggle with. Guilt, perhaps false guilt sets in and it’s very hard to say no. I will check out the books you recommended for sure. Thank you.

    1. hearingtheheartbeat

      The balance of yes and no – without guilt – seems to be such a hard thing to learn. . . for me, anyway! I hope you find the books as helpful as I’m finding them. Much grace to you in the process. . .

  2. Pam

    Another good article! Thank you!

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