Monday, May 14, 2012

The Modern Sin of Saying No

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It used to be that good parenting meant saying "no" to your children to keep them from harm or to teach them the value of things. The word "no" used to be a good thing, at least to parents and their children once they were grown up. Nowadays, however, the word has become synonymous with sin. Saying no to someone means you don't value them or love them as you should because you're withholding something good from them. If you really loved someone, you would not withhold anything from them and let them have whatever they wanted - this is now the sign of true love.

But should it be? Is this really a good thing? Is indiscriminately giving someone whatever they want the best way to show love?

I've talked with countless people in my practice who would all agree that it's not the best way. These people have not suffered from lack from their parents or neglect from others; quite the opposite: they've all experienced this hypothetical "true love" in their lives for many years. While they all received whatever they wanted without hearing the word "no," none of them is content in their heart and not a single one is satisfied. The theme I've heard over and over again is that they do not feel loved at all; in fact, most of them have a deep ache that tells them they have no worth at all. How could this be? How would people who have been given everything be unsatisfied?

I got to thinking about this the other day after hearing of NFL star Junior Seau's suicide. The media is becoming more and more forced to cover stories about famous stars and hallowed athletes that were once at the peak of their stardom but now being found dead due to drug overdoses, chemical addictions, and suicides. Of all the people in the world, you would think these whom the media esteem most and we all aspire to be like (remember "Be Like Mike", in reference to Michael Jordan?) would be the happiest people in the world.

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I'm not a sociologist and I don't spend a lot of time in the mainstream media, but I do work with many people every day in a private office dealing with these same personal issues. To me it seems obvious that giving people whatever they want is not the highest good nor the greatest show of love. In my experiences, and in those of the people I've talked with, saying "no" actually has a greater impact than the initial disappointment of denying the immediate gratification.

Saying "no" can be one of the best ways to show someone you love them because it reflects your wisdom in discerning the value of something and the willingness to withhold the lesser valuable in favor of giving the thing of greater value. In other words, saying "no" to something that may be good now but produce no lasting joy or satisfaction is the desirable display of love because it tells the other person "You are worth more than this simple happiness; I want you to have deep, soul-satisfying peace and contentment."

It used to shock me when people who have "had it all" (or still do have) and say that they wished their parents would have said "no" to something - anything. Then they would've known they were loved. As it were, they never heard that two-letter word and now are paying the costly price of the "yes." If we can learn anything from these hurting people, let it be this: we must learn to value that which has lasting worth and produces greatest satisfaction, and be willing to say no to everything else knowing that it will not produce any gain worth its cost. Let us heed the wisdom of Jesus from Matthew 16:24-26:

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me,
let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?
Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?"


Ryan Hofer said...

How true that we desire principles and authenticity over a cursory granting of our immediate impulses. It's pretty awesome how we are connected to the infinite source, how when we are lost and hurt, God seeks us as in the parable of the Good Shepherd, and how the home of God is within us.

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