A year ago I wrote a blog post, “Ten reasons you can dare to put your heart out there.” I return to it often. But sometimes the daring to say no is as hard as the daring to say yes. And as important.
I met them on Saturday – an Iranian man who had been in Canada for ten years, and his newly arrived wife. I surprised them by addressing them in their language. I hadn’t expected the desperate unfolding of the conversation. “Will you teach her? Do you have time? She needs someone to help her with grammar.” She’s enrolled in an English as a Second Language school, but they don’t have the lowest level, which she needs, and she’s struggling in her level two class. “I don’t think I’m the right person for that. I don’t have any training in teaching English.” “She needs you. She needs you. Just a couple of hours a week. To teach her English grammar.” He begged. I prayed.
I felt deep compassion for her. I know what it’s like to be a stranger in a new country. I know that love is at the heart of our Christian calling. I wrestled with the commands to care for the vulnerable: was God’s voice in those commands enough to mean that I should take this on? Yet it felt like a burden rather than a challenge. There was no sense of God's voice calling me into it, it didn’t fit with my gifts or training, and I was already feeling the limitations of time and energy in being faithful to the things I know I’ve been called to do. Yet I still wrestled with guilt. What about all those commands to host the stranger? Was God disappointed with me?
He brought me back again:
- A need doesn’t constitute a call. Jesus finished His earthly ministry leaving many sick who hadn’t been healed, many hungry who needed food, and many Jews who hadn’t heard that their Messiah had come. Yet He could still pray “I have finished the work You gave me to do.” (John 17:4) Paul, faced with a need—and even a door that God had clearly opened—left for another region because he “still had no peace of mind.” (2 Cor 2:12-13)
- Even Jesus said no to say yes. Reading Luke 6, I watch Jesus spend the night in prayer then choose from the crowd of followers, all wanting to be close to him, twelve. Just twelve. Tens, hundreds maybe, disappointed. (Was there an Iranian husband wanting English lessons for his wife among them?) But Jesus knew that He could only build into His apostles as He was called to do if He intentionally chose and guarded time for these few alone. He invested in the few for the good of the many: those few, having been well discipled themselves, would disciple others.
- We respond to God's commands as individuals. And as a body. Right now my call is not to teach ESL. It's to mentor someone who does.
- God knows my heart better than I know it myself. “O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. . .” (Psalm 139) He knows my desire to please Him, He hears my prayers for guidance, He sees my attempt to choose wisely. I can ask Him to correct me if I'm seeing wrongly—and then leave it with Him.
- I can trust His voice. He promises that His sheep will hear His voice (John 10:27), that He will lead me as I ask Him (Prov 3:5-6). I can trust His voice when He says yes. And when He says no.
- He knows the deeper reasons for my struggle—and desires to set me free. Do I want to keep everyone happy? Get my own sense of worth from meeting the needs of others? Fear that God will be disappointed with me if I say no to a need? Do I want to love well (with that love that springs from God’s freedom and invites others into it)—or do I just want everyone around me to feel loved? “Jesus, please help me to see beneath the surface. And do in me what only you can do to set me free to follow You.”
- This is His work, not mine, His kingdom, not mine. I'm given the honor of working alongside Him, but I'm (thankfully!) not asked to run the show. He cares for them. “Jesus, if you’re not calling me to meet their need, will you please bring someone else into their life who is called to walk alongside them in this?” And He cares for me. He knows how much I can handle and what He has created me for. Jesus is gentle—and He’s bigger than my limitations.
- I'm helped in this stewarding of what has been entrusted to me. “Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.” (2 Tim 1:14).
- This struggle (like any other) can be a gift, a love-offering to Jesus (as well, of course, as a place He wants to love me.) It can be hard to learn a new way of being in the world. Hard to listen and follow. Hard to disappoint others even when I know that, this time, saying no is part of living faithfully. And I can hold out to Jesus my willingness to do it anyway—Here, Jesus, for you, because I love you—and He who knows my heart and delights in my love will smile on me and whisper Thank you.