What’s saying “yes” and “no” got to do with it?

Neon yes sign

As I was getting ready for church on Sunday, I heard my husband singing through the bathroom door. He was singing loudly, which is unusual for my him; Doug rarely sings loudly unless he’s doing Elvis impersonations.

His song of choice on this particular morning wasn’t “Love Me Tender,” but an old, old Christian hymn, one I haven’t heard sung in years. I don’t know from where in his subconscious this song suddenly surfaced, but I couldn’t help singing along:

            I have decided to follow Jesus!

            I have decided to follow Jesus!

            I have decided to follow Jesus!

            No turning back. No turning back.

That song has been a brain worm in my mind ever since, perhaps because it dawned on me that its simple, repetitive words are an example of the next Christian practice I have been reflecting on from the book Practicing Our Faith: A Way of Life for a Searching People. And that practice is: saying yes and saying no.

Through the words of this song, my husband was affirming that at one point in his own history he said “yes” to Jesus. He has said “no” to walking away from Christ ever since.

Chapter 5: Saying yes and saying no by M. Shawn Copeland

It struck me as odd, though, the first time I heard of the premise of the fifth chapter in this book through which I am thinking and blogging my way. How could saying yes or saying no possibly be considered a Christian practice? Everybody says yes and no. But as Copeland makes clear in her essay, “Saying yes and saying no are companions in the process constituting a whole and holy life.”

She writes:

“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.”

Every yes means a related no or series of noes. They go together—like marshmallows and chocolate on graham crackers. Every turning away  from one thing is a turning toward another.

When a couple says yes to marriage, they are also saying no to intimate relationships with anyone other than each other. When a person says yes to church on Sunday morning, they must by default say no to sports or the gym or shopping or any number of other activities during that particular time each week. When a student says no to preparing for an upcoming exam they are likely saying yes to a poor result.

My first big yes

The first big yes of my Christian life was a yes to God Himself, when as an adolescent, I sensed He wanted me for His own. I couldn’t really comprehend why He would want me; I felt unworthy of His desire. And yet, I have a clear and vivid memory of saying yes to Him one night as I prayed alone in my bedroom.

That first big yes to God was followed by countless other, smaller yesses, to things that I thought would add up to a life that would please Him. But it also led to countless noes as I refused things I thought would take me in a direction that would lead me away from Him.

It’s easy to look back on my life and see where my various yesses and noes led me. But “learning when and how, to what, and to whom to give our yes or our no is a lifelong project,” observes Copeland.

So, what might it mean to deepen my Christian practice of saying yes and saying no right now, at this point in my life? That’s been the question occupying my thoughts these past few days.

But I’d like to hear from you, reading friend. What have been your biggest yesses and noes? Are there any you would change if you had them to do all over again?


Practicing My Faith, Part 6 – This post is sixth in a series and part of a culminating project for a course I am taking on Spiritual Discernment and Theological Reflection at McMaster Divinity College with Dr. Wendy Porter. For context, read part 1 and part 2.




6 thoughts on “What’s saying “yes” and “no” got to do with it?

  1. Every day is a series of these choices. Right now what comes to mind is saying no to sharing all information that comes to mind with my husband, when it might disturb his peace unnecessarily. I have to pause and consider why I want to share it, and sometimes it takes great discipline not to–because you know, it might be a juicy bit of gossip–and we are each other’s confidants. It always feels better when my lips remain sealed.
    I believe in maintaining space for God’s agenda. Saying “yes” when your gut warns, “no,” is never good. How joyous to be able to say “yes” when that thing that you know you were created to do, comes along.

    Liked by 1 person

    • How good and wise for you to think judiciously about what to say so as not to disturb your husband’s peace unnecessarily! I could learn from that wisdom! I tend to dump everything – and only later realize the impact of what might have been needless words. Thank you for sharing this insight!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think saying yes and saying no are related to the Spiritual disciplines that are often grouped as disciplines of engagement (i.e. saying yes) and disengagement (i.e. saying no). I find it way easier to say yes to thing than no to things. But what you have rightly pointed out is that my saying yes automatically says no to other things. I think part of the practice of saying yes and saying no requires careful reflection and intentional listening to God rather than the often knee jerk responses I usually give (sure I’ll do that!) which I later regret because I’ve had to say no to time with my family. Thanks for the post Patricia.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Merv! I actually just found your comment in my spam folder – so forgive the delay in approving it. Thanks for reading and commenting. I’ve never heard of disciplines of engagement and disengagement – but what you say makes good sense. Like you, I’ve often found it easier to say yes than no – but I think it’s more related to cowardice on my part, and not having the courage to say no when I know I ought to. 🙂


  3. Thanks, Patricia.
    I must have said too many yesses lately, also, as I flagged this to read and just finally got to it! Worth waiting for! 🙂
    I think I got through High School and University and beyond without getting into too much trouble through another old hymn which helped me say “no” at the right times: “Yield not to temptation”. I still like the line “Each victory will help you some other to win.” And this line will likely fit well with your course: “Look ever to Jesus, He will carry you through.” I’ll leave it to you to Google the chorus to keep on hand for any tough days.


    • How lovely to know you are still reading and finding meaning in the words. Thank you for dropping by in a free moment and for sharing from your life experience. Amazing how those old hymns once planted in our brains have the power to help us in moments of need. That sounds like a good one! I too love that line about each victory – helping us another to win. So much truth there! I will definitely have to see if I can find that one to listen to. Blessings for the day!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s