Saying Yes and Saying No

"Christian asceticism is not spiritual boot camp, but neither
is it effortless. Learning when and how, to what, and to whom
to give our yes or our no is a life long project."

— M. Shawn Copeland

Tough decisions and persistent effort are required of those who seek lives that are whole and holy. If we are to grow in faithful living, we need to renounce the things that choke off the fullness of life that God intended for us, and we must follow through on our commitments to pray, to be conscientious, and to be in mutually supportive relations with other faithful persons. These acts take self-discipline. We must learn the practice of saying no to that which crowds God out and yes to a way of life that makes space for God.

Training for Faithful Living
Many of us long to grow stronger in the Christian life; we want to learn how to say "no" to what crowds God out and "yes" to making space for God. But are we really ready to exert ourselves?

Spirituality is not a spectator sport. We can't simply rely on others to get in shape for us. The spiritual life requires personal effort over the long haul. How has our culture trained us instead to expect immediate results for our efforts?

The word asceticism comes from the Greek root askesis, signifying exercise or training. The ancient practice of Christian asceticism comes from the training early Christians imposed on themselves in order to be deliberate and purposeful toward Christ's abundant life. What notions does asceticism conjure up for you?

In what ways might the following practices be a training ground for a lively spirituality: shared communal life; gathering to remember Jesus; meeting the needs of strangers, the infirm, the imprisoned and the poor? Where in these practices would you need to stretch yourself? How could you be an encouraging coach to others?

Pros and Cons of Christian Asceticism
Consider the stories of Christian ascetics such as Julian of Norwich, St. Francis of Assisi, Dorothy Day, or the walker known as Peace Pilgrim. What aspects of their lives attract you? What aspects disturb you? How does the passion and intensity of Christian ascetics call into question our society's demand for order, control, calculation, and propriety?

Sometimes renunciation can become an end unto itself. Does turning our hearts towards God's abundance require us to reject life's simple daily pleasures? When does saying "no" lead us closer to God with greater openness and compassion for others?

A Whole and Holy Life
How does having relatively unlimited choice in our culture make it harder to say "yes" and say "no"? When is it sometimes easier to have no choice, or to have choices made for us?

We make promises about change -- famous New Year's resolutions! -- but when they begin to feel like deprivation and loss, our good intentions falter. Why is a life-affirming "yes" necessary to making an effective "no"? What fears, new tasks or changes might tempt you to pull back when you want to say "yes"?

Jesus calls us from certain behaviors, but always offers an alternative: "Come, follow." What's the most demanding "yes" you ever said? What Gospel stories remind us of ourselves by telling of people who hesitated, who were drawn to Jesus' radical compassion and wisdom, but were shy of his passion?

Strengthening Our Yes or Our No
•   Through prayer: Who is someone you believe knows how to pray? Reflect on what you know of this person's prayer life, or ask the person to talk with you about it. Consider how prayer might strengthen your ability to say "yes" or "no" to something. To what must you say "yes" or "no" in order to come to prayer?

•   Through examination of conscience: How do things stand between you and God? To what are you really saying "yes" with your life? What kind of person are you making of yourself in your daily choices?

•   Through faith-sharing groups: Do you have adequate spiritual nourishment or emotional support for the "yes" you seek to say? To what do you think your community needs to say "no"? Is God inviting this community to say any particular "yes"?

Learning when and how, to what, and to whom to give our "yes" or our "no" is a lifelong project. It means learning to live in passionate discipline, choice, and action. What ways to practice might help us find support and challenge, courage and correction?

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Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one.

— I Corinthians 9:25

I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.

— Deuteronomy 30:19

© 2006-2011 The Valparaiso Project on the Education and Formation of People in Faith