When I look back at my childhood and teenage years, the times I feel that I was the most loved were the times my parents told me, “No.” Granted, when I was actually in my teenage years the times my parents told me, “No!” were the times I questioned my parents love for me the most. Looking back on those times, however, there is no mistaking it: No really meant, “I love you.”
Saying “No!” is difficult in a few ways. First, it goes against our natural desire to make our children happy. To say, “No!” often means that you are depriving them of something that they want and that can be difficult, even if we know that what they want will not make them happy in the long run. To say, “No” in these situations is actually a “Yes” to something better. It means that we are raising their minds to something greater than they desire.
But I think the most difficult aspect of saying no is that it requires a lot of energy. Saying “No!” means you are going to have a fight on your hands. You who are parents will understand what I mean. Saying no to a child means it’s about to get very loud. I don’t know of a single instance when a child threw a tantrum because their parents said, “Yes.” It would be so easy to skip the drama altogether by giving in and saying, “Yes.” This is why saying “No” is such a loving thing to do. It takes a lot of work.
The same goes with teenagers. Yes, some teenagers still throw tantrums as if they were three years old, but teenagers can also be much crueler to their parents when the answer is, “No.” Teenagers will openly express their doubt that their parents really care about them at all and will even tell their parents they are hated. As an acquaintance of mine said, “Sometimes you need to love your children enough to let them hate you.” Truer words have never been spoken.
So, beginning with my parents, I want to thank all the Moms and Dads out there who have loved their children enough to say, “No.” Thanks for putting up with all our tantrums and putting up with our manipulative teenage drama. And to all the children and teenagers out there who are hopefully reading this who have heard, “No!” from your parents, I want you to know that you are very lucky that your parents love you enough to say that.
Whether you wanted them to buy you something that you weren’t ready for, or whether it was when you wanted to do something with your friends that wasn’t safe, or whether they didn’t even have a reason, the word “No!” means your parents love you a lot. You should thank them for saying it.
As a Priest, I’ve also struggled to say no to people. This was not over moral issues, mind you. It was mostly over people wanting special treatment. I’ve said yes to things I shouldn’t have because I didn’t have the energy to have a conflict. Saying “Yes” when I shouldn’t have has caused a lot of extra work for me and our staff as well as some occasional confusion among the people in our parish. It was not loving for me to say Yes in these situations.
So, as we enter into a new year of ministry, I’m preparing myself to say “No.” I hope that if I ever have to say it to you or somebody you know that you’ll know it is coming from a place of love. I’m trying to raise your minds to focus on something greater, or to help you develop other areas of your spiritual life. I’m saying it out of a desire for you and all of our parishioners to reach your full potential as disciples of the Lord and to maintain unity in our parishes.