I’m sorry for my absence in this space last week, but I was saying yes to the life here beyond the screen. Saying yes to an unexpected car repair, saying yes to meal planning and a recommitment to living simply this month. Saying yes to a son’s eleventh birthday and a yard full of boys and flying soccer balls and chocolate buttercream. Saying yes to being present and thankful in the mess and the merrymaking. And all those yeses meant a temporary no to the quiet morning tapping on the keyboard.
In a way, that is what my post is about today, as I consider again how we can live deeply and fully in these coming weeks of worship and wonder, of gathering and giving. Last week I talked about a map of yeses, to plant our feet in what we and our loved ones find most resonant in this season that is too often about excess. The road becomes clearer when we have in hand their real answers, not the glittery assumptions we’ve dreamed up.
It feels great to say yes, to imagine carving out time to honor tradition and connection. But saying yes well to a few things means saying no to many others. This seems so obvious that I hesitate to write about it, but it trips me up every time.
Simply put, saying yes means saying no.
If quiet evenings by the fire, reading Dickens aloud are a treasured tradition, those same evenings cannot be spent out at a dozen parties, or caroling, or last-minute shopping. If every year our tree needs to come from the same tree farm on the mountain with the hot cinnamon cider that is a two hour drive away, we must trade a day for the experience. If making life materially easier for those less fortunate at this time of year is a part of our worship, our own wants and the budget must give way to give generously.
The same intention and purpose applied to make our map of yeses will be needed when we face the truth that these five weeks or so cannot hold, in time or energy or money or focus, all that will be offered to us. It is not possible to organize and list-make our way out of this reality. We have to expect to say no if we are going to say yes fully to our priorities.
And this is not about self-centeredness. Most of us are part of larger families beyond our homes, who have expectations for our presence and participation. The space we make when we acknowledge that we can’t do everything allows room for honesty and grace. Sometimes that makes room for a yes to something unplanned but important to someone outside our family circle. Sometimes even grace to ourselves, knowing we cannot necessarily meet everyone’s expectations.
It is often a question of good and best. If Grandma is turning 100 in the middle of December, that celebration is a yes, but might mean a no to participating in three cookie swaps that week. A family evening at a special concert might mean fewer packages under the tree in favor of the gift of shared experience.
There are traps in this season that are “bad,” but those are easier to avoid than the many many “goods” that would crowd out the best.
Take a deep breath with me. And then know that your map of yeses will compel a list of “no, thank yous.”