God's No is a Yes

When I was single I acutely remember sitting behind a couple in church. His arm around her, her shoulder leaning into him, and I physically ached. I felt so unfelt in my singleness, untouched, and unloved. Of course I knew I was loved, by God and by others, but touch, for me, was where I felt my lack the most. I wasn't alone in this feeling and it led me to write this piece for Christianity Today years ago and has formed in me a desire to think through touch in a more comprehensive way—the basis of the book project I'm working on. Details here

I am conscious of that painful ache often in church once again as it's impossible to avoid the plethora of blessings in the form of babies on Sunday mornings. Fathers standing off to the side with babies in the crook of their arms swaying right to left. Mothers intuitively knowing what their babies need, and yet still so much they're learning. All the folks behind them with smiles that reach their eyes, knowing the common and collective joy of a newborn. I catch Nate's eye every once in a while and know he's thinking it too. The ache. We feel it most when we're captive in a row with our church family: I have to be here. I have to see this. And I still can't have it. 

Last night we met with a couple with whom we're doing premarital counseling and one of the questions we talked through was, "What dreams do you think you'll need to give up in marriage." This morning I'm thinking through all the noes we've gotten from God since we said yes to one another. They are plenty. They sometimes feel never-ending. They all feel unexpected. And they all hurt. 

Life for the Christian who is captive to this earth, and captive to the Church, is going to be a series of noes again and again. This is why the prosperity gospel is so damaging to our souls, lives, and minds. We are ultimately yes people, but our primary yes is to Christ, and that means we live caught in a yes-world to sin for a season while we look like fools for saying no. I could have had touch and plenty of it in my singleness, but saying yes to Jesus meant saying no to my flesh. The problem with saying so many noes to so much in life, is that we can begin to project those noes onto God. We can begin to believe he is a God of noes instead of a generous, always abounding, abundant, and faithful Father. Because we feel the death of our dreams, we can begin to believe he is indifferent to our desires. 

The thing is, though, when I look behind me at the slew of noes God has given me in life, I see how each one led precisely to a better yes. I'm not sugar-coating this either. I'm looking at deep, difficult disappointments like death, divorce, financial strain I didn't think I could survive, depression, sickness, prolonged singleness, doubt, and more—each of these led me to dark places where the light, when it finally came, shone brighter than I could have hoped. 

II Corinthians 1 shows Paul explaining why something he said would happen didn't happen in the order he or the Corinthians expected. He's saying in the face of disappointment: God is not a God of no. He always keeps his promises

One of the great tragedies of mediocre faith and biblical illiteracy is that we can confuse our dreams with God's promises. We can begin to believe that simply because we have a strong desire for something, or a deep longing, or we can't imagine ourselves without it, that God intends it for us. And we can get caught in a loop of perpetual disappointment—not in the failure of a dream to materialize, but in the failure of what we think God has promised to be delivered. 

Paul is saying in this passage that all God's promises have their Yes in himself. But the promise is not the house we want, the spouse we want, the baby we want, the job we want, or the health we want. God is the promise. The seal of the Spirit is the promise. The coming of the Messiah is the promise. The Father's love is the promise. And the answer is always yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. 

Wherever we find ourselves captive—in our job, our home, our marriage, our singleness, the row at church behind the couple who finds comfort in touch or the parents passing their baby-blessing back and forth, we may feel the no of God. He may be saying no to our dreams, but he is not saying no to his promise. He is saying, "Hang on. I'm coming for you. And it won't be long now." 

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How Can I Be More Like You?

I'll never forget the year of my life when I lived with my pastor's family in New York. My whole life was in the throes of some trauma around then and my little attic bedroom at their home was safe and warm. There were predictable rhythms in their home: dinner every night, devotions in the morning, guests constantly, really special holidays (and every excuse to celebrate something or someone), and always, always thoughtful questions. 

My pastor was the first person I heard use the phrase "Be a 'There you are!' person instead of a 'Here I am,'" and the concept, for me, was life-changing. He modeled in his words and actions, and particularly by his questions, what this meant. He has always been about the other. His intention is to disarm, put at peace, draw out, and care for the person in front of him. And one of the ways he does this is by asking thoughtful questions. 

I was painfully shy when I came to live with them, was deeply caught cycles of fear and shame, and struggled to look many adults in the eye, and yet, night after night, we'd be called on to both answer thoughtful questions and ask them. Particularly of our guests. The prompt was, "Lore, do you have anything to ask our guest?" And I'd go into a mad mental scramble trying to think of a question that didn't make me look dumb, when all along, the exercise was mostly to make our guest feel welcomed. Sometimes our questions were rudimentary: Do you like your job? Sometimes they were deep: How did you choose the work you do? Sometimes they ebbed into personal: How do you feel about the work you do? But there were always questions. 

I left that home changed in many ways, but the primary of which—and the value I hold most dearly still today, is a desire practice my "There you are-ness" by asking questions. It's one of the questions I get most often from you, dear readers: How do I become a good question-asker?

It's hard to teach this in writing and is best done around folks who are good question-askers. So the first thing you should do is find someone in your community who seems to always ask questions. They're also probably someone who isn't the life of the party or who shines when the spotlight is on them. They might be a bit of a wall-flower, so you're going to have to chase them down and ask your first question: How can I be more like you in this way?

(Actually, that's a great question to ask everyone. "How can I be more like you in this way?" says to the person to whom you're speaking: I see you and I admire this quality in you. That's a good start.)

The first thing to understand about asking good questions is that answerers can see straight through your genuineness. If you're asking questions because you simply want information, it becomes clear almost immediately. If you're asking questions because you simply want to turn a conversation in the direction you want it to go, that also becomes clear. Both are disingenuous. So the first rule of question asking is that it's not about you. It's about them. It's about their heart, their story, their cares, their joys, and their sorrows. The second rule of question asking is: they direct both the information and the direction of the conversation. Think of it like a stream you step into. You don't know if it's going to widen to a river, an ocean, or amble along forever, you're just going to walk in it as long as it continues.  

The third rule of question asking, especially if you're a follower of Christ, is our questions should be aimed at the heart of the person to whom we're asking. Most people in most contexts are uncomfortable both asking and answering about the heart. We don't like to intrude and we like less to be intruded upon. But for the Christian, "the matters of the heart are the heart of the matter." As I said, you can't control whether they widen the stream or turn the conversation in another direction, but you can control the question you ask when you first get in. 

"How's your heart doing?" is, I think, the easiest way to state your intention (I'm after your heart) and ask a question. People are always taken aback by that question. We're used to being asked about our day or our plans, but our hearts? Ick. Back off. It's a humbling question to ask because the risk of rejection is high for the asker. But the risk of an unchecked heart is greater—and worse—for the one being asked. So risk rejection and ask. 

Here are some other great questions to have in your pocket: 

How did that situation make you feel? 

What did your response to this thing tell you about yourself? God? The other person?

Who told you the lie that XYZ? 

What's your story? 

Are you where you thought you'd be at this point in life? What would you change? Why?

What's hard for you today? What's a joy for you today? 

How can I pray for you? 

There's a prevalent belief out there that we always have to have the answers to the questions we're asking. For example, I'm only asking how your heart is because I already know it's a wicked, dark hole that hardly sees the light of the gospel and I'm going to preach at you until the crack of light gets in. But that's not really helpful, not in the long run. How much better to care for the person in front of you by showing interest in their life, heart, fears, and more, and seeing where the conversation goes. The thing you set out to prove might be the final result, but the journey there will be deeper, better, and more like Jesus along the way. 

Here's another post I did on why and how Jesus asked questions

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