A Christmas No

“Grammatically, the negative, our capacity to say No, is one of the most impressive features of our language. The negative is our access to freedom. Only humans can say No. Animals can’t say No . . .No is a freedom word. I don’t have to do what either my glands or my culture tells me to do. The . . . well-placed No frees us from many a blind alley, many rough detour, frees us from debilitating distractions and seductive sacrilege. The art of saying No sets us free to follow Jesus.”

Eugene Peterson, Subversive Spirituality

            I’ve been unsubscribing a lot recently. Like the happy owner of newly replaced knees, I wish I started this practice much earlier. I wish I hadn’t waited.

            My email inbox gathers emails from organizations that I’m not interested in hearing from regularly. Or, to put it this way: If I want to hear from you, I’ll let you know. Even if I simply wanted to ignore the unwanted email, it still fills my box and adds time to review and delete. It’s easier to take ten seconds to tell the sender that I no longer want to receive their emails. I do that by clicking the “unsubscribe” link and the senders have to honor my request and send me their messages no more.

            I think we need to unsubscribe from unwanted messages our cultures sends us at Christmas. Of course, American culture hasn’t a clue what Christmas means or how it should be celebrated. I don’t look to our news media, popular culture or politicians for useful spiritual direction. Here are some messages we’re getting that we’d be better to ignore, delete and pay no more attention.

It has to be perfect.

            Many of us are driven to exhaustion by a vague sense that we haven’t done enough to make our family’s celebration of Christmas perfect. Please stop! There’s no perfection to be found on Christmas Day. Enjoy your family, as you are able to gather together. Be grateful for whatever gifts you receive. Focus on persons, not some impossible ideal of perfection.

Everyone has to be happy.

            No they don’t. Happiness is illusive enough for you to find let alone trying to find it for your surly teenager. Give them their unhappiness and find your own. I know the adage that you’re only as happy as your least-happiest family member. Say No to the crazy-making task of keeping everyone happy.

Stop comparing.

            This is a deadly message you need to delete today: someone’s life or family looks better than your own. This easy to do as you look around the sanctuary or the neighborhood or, worst of all, on Facebook. When you look around everyone looks happier and healthier than you or your family. Unsubscribe from all comparisons. Instead, deepen your gratitude for the life you have, and the people God gives you.

            Greg McKeown is the author of a wonderful book called, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. McKeown insists that learning the power of a graceful No is critical for finding self-respect. He writes, “Essentialists accept they cannot be popular with everyone all of the time. Yes, saying No respectfully, reasonably, and gracefully can come at a short-term social cost. But part of living the way of the Essentialist is realizing respect is far more valuable than popularity in the long run.”

            There you go: Learn to say No, find some self-respect and by all means have a Merry Christmas!

No frees us to follow Jesus.