“Nooo!” The young girl’s sobs could be heard all over the shopping mall. “Nooo! Want the rabbit! Want the rabbit!”
My daughter, wife and I were in front of a pet store in Florence, Ky., during a “one-day car trip” vacation. No sooner had we entered the mall than we were greeted by the wails of a toddler pleading with her grandparents that she be allowed to take one of the soft, cuddly rabbits home. (This is the same pet store where my daughter fell in love with baby skunks for sale. Priced at $250 each, I thought something stunk).
While we were deciding how and where we would shop, we watched the drama unfold. The toddler pleaded, and the grandparents, struggling not to seem uncaring or cold-hearted, were trying to coax their granddaughter away from the rabbits. It was easy to see who was wrapped around the little finger! I told my wife, “Let’s stay here. I want to see how this turns out.”
“A prosperous state makes a secure Christian, but adversity makes him Consider.”—Anne Bradstreet, U.S. Poet
One of our adults recently joked at church that the first word learned as a child was “no,” since it was the word heard most often. All of us face a “no” of some sort or another, and how we respond to it matters a lot. What is your reaction when you are rebuffed”?
Of course, our reaction to “no” depends on who says it and why. Parents have a responsibility to provide guidance and correction for children, so a parent’s “no” sometimes is done to protect children from harm, or to remind them of the truth that we don’t always get our way.
As adults, it sometimes becomes harder for us to hear “no” without trying to prove that—as adults—we can do what we want. But even adults live with some rejections, and part of being a mature person is acknowledging that we need to hear “no” from time to time.
As Christians, we are called to a love relationship that God made possible through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our relationship to God is not built on “no” but on “yes.” In other words, God wants to relate to us not through rules and regulations, but through love.
Scripture reminds us that “no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘yes’ in Christ” (2 Cor 1:20, NIV). The Bible holds this “yes” of Christ before us in a creative tension. On the one hand, “Christ has set us free,” but this freedom is not a license to “indulge the sinful nature” but is instead given for us to “serve one another in love” (Gal 5:1, 13).
“Consider it pure joy … whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.”—James 1:2-3, NIV
Sometimes our hardest struggles in faith come when God says “no.” Paul experienced such a struggle, hearing “no” each time he made a particular request to God. In God’s “no,” Paul learned that Christ’s grace was sufficient during such times, since his weakness became the occasion for God to display (and Paul to rely on) the power of Christ (2 Cor 12:1-9).
But not every “no” in life is of God. The character of human life itself presents us with hardships and difficulties that cause us to examine our motives, desires and expectations. Sometimes our greatest witness to others comes in our response to the “no” we are facing.
What happened to the little girl? After what I considered an extraordinary amount of patience and listening, the grandparents gently picked the child up and, while she cried and protested, took her out of the pet store. The little girl was infatuated with the rabbit, but she couldn’t care for it, and the grandparents knew that.
We would do well to see those grandparents as a model for how God acts toward us, patiently desiring to pick us up when we’ve been hurt by the “no” of life, and embracing us, carrying us with him forward in faith.
Lynn Traylor is pastor of Westport Baptist Church in Westport, Ky.