January 15, 2013

Just Say No

Some time ago Bob Newhart did a sketch on a program called Mad TV which eventually made it's way, via the internet, to my consciousness.  In the bit, Newhart plays a psycho-therapist both like and unlike the character he played on his first eponymous weekly television show.  A woman (played by Mo Collins, in case anyone is interested) comes into the office.  Immediately Newhart, as the therapist, explains his billing policy -- "Five dollars for the first five minutes and nothing after that" -- after which he assures her that the session would likely not last even that long.  The woman explains various troubles -- phobias, disordered eating, and the like.  To each of the woman's revelations Newhart responds with just two words:  "Stop it!"

What if it worked that way?  Can you imagine?  It would be the best $5 we'd ever spent.

"Doctor, I keep smoking, even though my physician says it's going to kill me."

"Stop it!"

"Every time my mother calls, I hang up feeling guilty."

"Stop it!"

"I think about going for a run, but watch re-runs instead...I spend more money than I make...I eat Doritos instead of broccoli...I'm tempted to cheat on my taxes."

"Stop it!"

If I called that imaginary therapist today, here's what I'd say:  "I feel sad and powerless when I can't do everything someone else wants me to do for them."

"Stop it!"

Here are some things I'd stop doing:  Saving Christmas cards that I'm never going to answer. Worrying about the committees I'm not serving on.  Wondering if I should sponsor a child or give more to the Red Cross.  Thinking I ought to be writing to my congressional representative.

The list could go on and on, but here's the one that gets to me the most:  Feeling guilty when I say, no, to my children.  Sometimes it's when they ask for more stuff, even when I know they don't need it.  Even worse is when they ask me to save them from their own mistakes.  

The truth is, I want to say, yes.  It would be so much easier to say, yes, even if it would be wrong for them or for me.  Whenever it happens, when I say, no, whatever the reason, I tend to feel guilty.  I fret.  "Is my no valid?" I wonder.

Jesus says, "Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one" (Matthew 5:37).  

The "more," for me, is the worrying and wondering and thinking and fretting.  Maybe my yes and my no are not enough.  Maybe my yes should be no or my no yes.  Maybe I don't have enough; I ought to have more to give.  

Maybe it is not just what I have but who I am that is not enough.  

That's not what God says.  In the gospel we heard on Sunday, the story of the baptism of Jesus, "a voice came from heaven, 'You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased'" (Luke 3:22b).  As a wise friend pointed out to me, Jesus had not yet done anything.  His public ministry was only just on the verge of beginning.  The Father's affirmation was not for the Son's doing, but for his being.  He is loved and the Father is well pleased because of who he is.

And so it is with us.  I think I spend so much time worrying and wondering and the like because I believe that I am lovable for what I do, for my yeses.  If I can give you what you want, you will be pleased with me.  It stands to reason then, if I say no you will not love me.

To what do we, you and I, say, yes, when, perhaps, we ought to say, need to say, no?  

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