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Just Say “No” (To Almost Everything)

by Rev. David Arthur Auten, First Congregational Church of Ramona

When I was in the sixth grade we had a couple of friendly police officers come into our classroom to tell us how to “Just Say No.”  The instruction was directed toward drugs and alcohol.  The officers opened a huge case full of various kinds of drugs that we might encounter in the years ahead.  And to all of them we were encouraged to “Just Say No.”  But in recent years I have found myself rediscovering the importance, and wisdom, of being able to just say “no.”  Less so with regards to drugs – I got through that phase of my life, thank God, by grace – but more so by saying “no” to the many things which become obstacles to enjoying the gift of life that Jesus says he came to freely give us. 

     It is curious to me that pastors are currently the second leading professional group to experience depression and burnout.  We are supposed to be the bearers of Good News.  Yet how good is it when the very leaders of our congregations are so often out of touch with basic necessities like rest, joy, and a sense of balance in life?  I understand that there is a cost to discipleship.  And I will be the first to admit that my life is far from perfect.  Periodically I, too, feel the ennui and emptiness that is simply part and parcel of existing.  Yet I believe Jesus when he tells us that we will have joy, even joy that overflows (John 15:11) and not just as a heaven-bound reality. 

     So, for the past ten years, since I first began serving in the church, I have made an intentional effort to once again just say “no” – to almost everything.  Why?  In order to make room for the promise of Jesus in my life.  To make room for joy.  How can I authentically offer others Good News if I am not experiencing it myself?  How can I point others to a way of costly discipleship and joy if I do not know this way personally?

     Jesus tells us, let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no” (Matthew 5:37).  That is, there is a right way and there is a wrong way to just say “no.”  We can say “no” out of apathy, for example, to the many commitments and opportunities that pull on us.  This would be an example of saying “no” in the wrong way.  But to commit ourselves to not over-committing, to reclaim the value of not doing in our lives, this might be one form of saying “no” in the right way.  As I have been learning, saying “no” actually has the wonderful consequence of freeing me to say an even bigger “yes” to those things God has called me to do, rather than to just anything and everything.  For me, my “yes” is a focus on three things and three things only, all of which are expressions of my devotion to God:  my family, my church, and my discipline as a martial artist (yeah, I like to throw people around).  To almost everything else, I am learning to politely just say “no.” 

      Wishing you blessings and simplicity, 
      Reverend David Auten

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