Have you ever experienced one of those moments where something you knew to be so plainly obvious was spoken or acted out in a way that truly resonated as it had never resonated before? That happened to me last week during a visit with one of our member shut-ins.
Essentially she shared with me the concern that some of her grandchildren had opted to move in with their significant others. She had suspected this might be happening, but it was confirmed when one of the grandchildren called to say she’d be coming to a family gathering at her home and was wondering if she might bring her boyfriend along. During the conversation, the granddaughter admitted to Grandma that she was living with her boyfriend and hoped it would be acceptable for the two of them to sleep together in the same room.
“Honey,” she said with the kindly and gentle voice I know her to possess, “I’ll always love you. But no unmarried couples will be sleeping together in my house. It goes against what the Bible teaches, which means it goes against Jesus, and that means I have to tell you no.”
As soon as she said this, I was struck. Love doesn’t always say yes. Sometimes it says no.
Again, this is an unspoken obviosity for me. It probably is for most of you, too. As a parent, it’s a default reality. Although I’m not so foolish as to think that it’s not an altogether different matter in our culture these days, and most especially when certain unexpected situations hit us close to home. And yet, in that moment, her courageously plain words communicated to a granddaughter a message that was principled and precise. What she’d taught her when she was four years old hadn’t changed now that she was twenty-two. Just as it was back then, it was now. And not because she was a stubborn old lady stuck in her ways, but because God’s Word is immutable—unchanging and absolute. Steady on this, her words were gentle, but crucial in the moment. They communicated that the love of a Christian grandmother for a granddaughter was bound to act in faithfulness to Christ’s Word, and by this, she would seek her granddaughter’s good. She would do what she could to help shepherd her away from something bad to something so much better.
“I have to tell you no,” she said so crisply. Sometimes love says no.
In our world, telling someone no is getting much harder to do. Our society has become so radically individualized that saying no is more so portrayed as cruel, as coming from an intolerant opposition to someone’s personal preferences. In one sense, we all know the sting of hearing someone say no. We heard it when we were young and we’ve heard it as adults, too. I heard my parents tell me that I couldn’t have the cookie I wanted just as I’ve heard the word as an adult in various circumstances. But when it cuts to the core of someone’s identity as it did for this woman’s granddaughter, we often find ourselves in much more dangerous waters. The waves on this sea undulate between personal relationships that go very, very deep. Saying no in these situations can be a hard thing to do because we know there is the chance that it will come with a price we may not want to pay.
In truth, this tension didn’t exist in the beginning. In our sinless origin, Adam and Eve knew God perfectly, as God would have us know Him. In this, whether God said yes or no, there was no question that the answer He gave was emerging from His immeasurable love. And He did say no right there in the beginning. Could we eat from this and that tree in the garden? Yes. How about the tree in the middle of the garden? No. Why not? Because if you do, you’ll die.
Knowing the effects of the fall into Sin, Jesus knew it would be tough. In fact, in an almost rhetorical way, he says no to us when we ask, “Your Word is clearly leading me to tell someone no. If I do it, seeking faithfulness to you and serving in love, everything will come together just fine, being real easy, right?” He knows the significance of Sin’s grip. He knows that the world will choke on faithfulness like an addict coughing up the anti-drug, and so He says so plainly, “Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:32-38).
These words are both terrifying and comforting all at the same time. The longer I serve as a pastor, the more I learn that divine truths can sometimes be that way. But an even deeper digging into the Lord’s words will reveal that He didn’t say any of this until He first preached:
“When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (vv.19-20).
You know what this means, right? It means that Christ is true to His Word that we will never be left to fend for ourselves. The Holy Spirit will be working in and through us. In fact, as the Holy Spirit moves us to seek faithfulness to the Savior, even our words will be captured by His power and used to His glory and the good of those who hear them. We don’t necessarily know how each situation will turn out, and we may even walk away from the conversation feeling as though we put our own foot in our mouths, but we can know by faith the source of the truest courage for faithfulness to Christ and love for the neighbor. We can say the hard things and know that even if we feel alone, we aren’t. The One who spoke the powerful words I noted above is the One who capped Saint Mathew’s Gospel with the words: “And behold, I am with you always, even until the end of the age” (28:20).
I know that a good number of you are swimming in such situations. And if you aren’t, there’s a good chance that you will be one day. As always, I keep all of you in my prayers. I know that God will preserve and protect you in those moments where the courage of a love that says no will be required. He will guide your words. He will shine His love through you to others, even when it doesn’t feel like it, and He will keep His promise that whoever loses his life for His sake, will find it—which is to say the ultimate discovery of eternal life is ours to claim through faith.
Of course you know I’ll do what I can to help in these situations. You only need to ask.