By an act of faith, Abraham said yes to God’s call to travel to an unknown place that would become his home. Hebrews 11:8, The Message
Recently, I've been looking at how we discern God's will for our lives, and this produced a bit of conversation in social media. All of which brought me back to A Time for Yes, the book I wrote in 2012. I figured it might be good to serialize a few entries as a way of keeping the conversation going. As a ramp-up, it seemed worth recounting why I wrote the book in the first place.
I had written Say Yes to No with a period of struggle in 2001 (and finished it around 2008) where I had said, and tried to live out, too many yeses. I’m happy to say that I’m no longer enmeshed in the stress outlined in the first chapter of Say Yes to No, but now the struggle is subtler and never fully leaves. Healthy practices that fight the gradual onset of what I earlier described as “schedule obesity” (an over-fed commitment to tasks) are habits that take time to cultivate. And then dogged insistence… I keep working on the right rhythm of yeses and nos and realize that this is an ongoing project. (You won’t believe how many times friends have quoted to me, “Greg, I think you need to learn to ‘say yes to no.’”)
The global economy also helped my cause a bit, or at least made the need for no even more apparent. The serious economic crisis of 2008 and its continuation over the past four years, the meltdown of the stock market, the crisis of confidence in our banks and Wall Street leaders, all led us to the recognition: we had declared too many yeses for too long—yeses to buying things we can’t afford. The United States government has spent too much without sufficient revenue. We’ve bought houses we couldn’t afford and too many HD TVs on lines of credit.
There is also one additional, subtler element: With the public relations campaign for Say Yes to No, I began to focus more on the marketplace. I found myself engaging more business-related topics and commenting on CNBC.com’s blog, in interviews on Business News Network and businessweek.com, as well as the American Management Association’s publications like MWorld and Executive Matters. I began to ask why and realized that calling—or to use a bit more expensive term, vocation—is critical to what I’m doing with yes and no.
This experience led to one conclusion about calling and yes: it’s not just about work, it’s about how we respond to the whole Triangle of life—our personal life, work, and love.
Finally, yes is basic to faith. As the noted author Kathleen Norris has written in the introduction to Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, human infants “build a vocabulary, making sense of the chaos of sound that bombards the senses.” She continues, “Eventually the rudiments of words come; often ‘Mama,’ ‘Dada,’ ‘Me,’ and the all-powerful ‘No!’ An unqualified ‘Yes’ is a harder sell, to both children and adults.” Actually I had always thought that nos were harder, that setting out boundaries in a world of seemingly infinite possibilities posed the greatest challenge. But Norris ties saying yes to realities of faith.
To say “yes” is to make a leap of faith, to risk oneself in a new and often scary relationship. Not being quite sure of what we are doing, or where it will lead us, we try on assent, we commit ourselves to affirmation. With luck, we find that our efforts are rewarded. The vocabulary of faith begins. Kathleen Norris, Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith
Yes is also central to understanding Jesus Christ, at least according to the early Christian writer Paul who declared,
In him [that’s Christ] it is always “Yes.” For in him every one of God's promises is a “Yes” (1 Corinthians 1:19-20).
By that, I believe Paul is leading us to see that God’s final word in Christ is an affirmation. Our nos, as it were, are to make way for yes. And yes is the main message of this book.
One final note: faith is also basic to saying yes. The shift in emphasis from no to yes has required that I become more explicit about God in this pursuit of finding the time for yes. I realize that we can say yes “to the Universe” and say yes “to the way we are made.” If you translate my references to God in that way, I won’t quibble. I have always wanted to communicate to those who are spiritually open, but not religiously identified. But I do write as a Christian. And, as Kathleen Norris pointed out, yes is a bit of a leap of faith, and it opens us up to their being a greater Yes behind this universe. Or perhaps put another way, saying yes to our calling implies that someone calls us. In my mind, this means God’s call, expressed definitively in Jesus.