The secret to a life of YES

iStock 000008393203XSmall The secret to a life of YESA while back I posted a link to this fantastic post by Carrien, in which she suggests that the secret to an extraordinary life is simply saying YES. The whole thing is well worth reading, but here’s an excerpt:

That got me thinking about other people I admire. I found the same theme. They said yes, when they could have said no. […]

In 1976, at the age of 60, a woman by the name of Pauline Fell began walking the streets in the downtown eastside of Vancouver. Although she was a new Christian she asked God what He wanted her to do with her life, and felt His prompting to befriend people in the neighbourhood. For the next 25 years, almost every day, she faithfully walked the streets and alleys, visited the bars, prisons, local hospitals and hotels where her many friends could be found. She is known to many as “sister” or “mom” and virtually everyone in the downtown eastside respects this elderly woman…She said “yes”.

Mary, mother of Jesus. “May it be unto me as you have said.” She said yes.

Elizabeth Elliot and her friends, when asked if they would come and live with and teach the tribe that killed their husbands because they wanted to know why the men hadn’t defended themselves with the guns they carried said, “Yes.” Imagine that. The Auca tribe is completely different as a result of that journey.

Would you say yes? Do you?

Wow! YES! I thought after reading that post. And then I got a comment that made me smile, because it is exactly the type of thought I’d normally have after reading a great post like Carrien’s. In fact, I was surprised that this hadn’t already occurred to me when a reader named Michelle asked:

I’m trying to figure out how to put that into practice, exactly. I usually feel like I need to say no to more in my life. There’s always plenty that’s being asked of me, and if I said yes to it all, I would be shortchanging the people who need the most of me — my husband and kids — in favor of those on the periphery.

Umm…yes. That’s my problem too. What Carrien wrote rings true, and sounds so right…and yet I think that saying yes has often caused me to end up getting complete overloaded. I say YES to joining the weekly women’s prayer group, YES to writing a new article, YES to hosting a party, YES to attending a potluck, YES to cooking a meal for a mom with a new baby, YES to leading a field trip, YES to coordinate a ministry at church…and before you know it I end up on the brink of a nervous breakdown, my prayer life in shambles (because I hardly have time to breathe, let alone pray), my true priorities buried under a blur of frantic activity.

I’ve been pondering this a lot lately, and I think what it comes down to is this:

The spirit of saying yes is ultimately a spirit of making prayerful decisions without fear.

No fear.

When I think about it, I say yes to many of these activities out of fear: I’m AFRAID people will think I’m rude if I don’t join the prayer group. I’m AFRAID the publication will implode if I tell them I can’t write the article right now. I’m AFRAID that the party will never come together if I put it off for a while. I’m AFRAID that I’ll miss out on something if I skip this month’s potluck. I’m AFRAID to ask the mom with the new baby if it would be okay if I just got takeout from her favorite restaurant. I’m AFRAID that nobody else will be able to lead the field trip if I don’t. I’m AFRAID that that ministry will never get off the ground if I’m not running it. (Hello, my name is Jennifer, and I am a control freak.)

In none of these examples did I think and pray about the activity and feel peacefully led by God to commit to this. No. In each case I just heard about the opportunity, got scared, and said yes as a knee-jerk reaction.

And so I think that this is really how we live that wonderful life of YES that Carrien writes about: pray — a lot — about which opportunities you’re meant to pursue, and then throw yourself into them with an undaunted, whole-hearted YES. Understand that in order to protect your YES, you must now say NO to competing activities. And trust God to work out the rest.

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38 Responses to “The secret to a life of YES”
  1. Denise says:

    Great post; so true.

    Having an intense prayer life is soooo critical, and my biggest continuing epic fail. You have to know what God is calling you to, what your priority should be; and you have to have no fear in following it, whether it’s saying “yes” or “no” in its pursuit. Thanks for putting it all so eloquently!

  2. drummie says:

    Jennifer, thanks for this post!! You have again spoke to me with your post! I’m one who says “yes” to everything I am asked by friends, family etc that sometimes my real commitments and responsibilities get blurred, incurring the wrath of my mother who thinks I help in everything except with the chores at home. And I have been fretting over how to balance all these as well and your post says it so clearly – it’s out of fear. Many a times I say yes was because I am afraid I would offend the other party who asked me, and sometimes it is also fear that I won’t be asked to do this thing again if I say no. And this reminds me of how our “yes” would be all the more valuable if we can say “no” at times, and at these times when our plates are full, we need to have the courage and the humility to say “no” so that we can say “yes” to the things God really wants us to do! God bless you Jennifer! Thank God for this post again, as it helped me to put things into perspective now!

    • Saying yes to something necessitates saying no to others. What you decide you should be doing should then determine which things you have to refuse. The old “get the priorities” thing works here. The woman who befriended people on the street didn’t help out at the CWL or join another ministry, she focused on one thing. Elizabeth Eliott gave up many things and said no to them, when she went to minister to that tribe. You didn’t hear her say no, but it was implicit.
      Julie Culshaw recently posted..A Great Man Passes

  3. Michelle says:

    What a great perspective. I often find myself saying YES to lots of things out of fear…you put the correct word to it for me…and I need to be sure my prayer life is strong so that I can say YES to the correct paths, not just all the paths.

    Thanks!
    Michelle recently posted..Five Years Ago

  4. Robin says:

    Terrific post. Two thoughts: With respect to your conclusion: Years ago when I was doing the training for volunteering for hospice, one of the points made was: Of what value is your yes if you never say no? I have used that as a standard ever since, not realizing for a long time that the word for my thought process was “discernment.”

    And second, I am preparing to preach this Sunday’s text (I’m Presbyterian) on Jesus’ words that we should never be anxious (which is an easy one for all of us, right?), and your point that we are often afraid of the repercussions of saying no and so neglect prayerful discernment is going right into my folder, and may actually make an appearance in the sermon!

    • Mary Beth says:

      “What value is yes if you never say no.” Perfect. I need that emblazoned on the back of my hand.

      This speaks to the virtue of temperance, and even has relevance in using NFP, I think. All part of training our will to align with God’s will.

      Thanks, Robin.

      And, as always, thank you for the challenge, Jennifer.
      Mary Beth recently posted..Your Attention Please

  5. Laura says:

    This is so true. It really takes a lot of prayer to understand this concept, even. The more time you spend in prayer, the more you get to feel the movement of the Holy Spirit and become familiar with the pushes and nudges of God. I definitely agree that you should wholeheartedly say YES to those things that God is leading you to say YES to. In order to get to where that is somewhat easier, you must say YES to a solid prayer life. Make that a priority in your day and the rest will come a bit easier! God Bless.
    Laura recently posted..Wordless Wednesday

  6. Uh, yes. But what about if you’ve prayed about something but you don’t feel “led by God” to one course or the other? That’s what usually puzzles me. I think it would be easy to commit without fear if you just knew what you were supposed to be doing.
    Catholic Bibliophagist recently posted..Update From the Madhouse

    • Jen G says:

      I know that Jennifer has written some wonderful posts about discernment, which may be of help in answering your question. My short version would be, do that which brings you the most peace. And, sometimes God requires that we wait for an answer. I’ve learned that waiting is not necessarily a wasteful occupation. You can wait and still be doing things of value.

      • Erin says:

        Exactly right Jen G. I find in my discernment that God first and foremost wants me to have a open and willing heart to anything He puts in front of me. Once I am willing to say Yes to His will, not matter what it is, He then guides me to His will.

        For example: I have always thought the idea of homeschooling is great, but never thought it was for me and my son and that is exactly what I told people whenever the subject came up. My son is very head-strong, just like me, and I imagined us fighting all day, accomplishing nothing, and ending the day exhausted and frustrated. I convinced myself that he was better off at school under the authority of someone other than myself. I had closed myself off to possibly God’s will.

        Last November, something started to happen. I won’t tell since it’s a long story, but I opened my heart to the option for the first time. Mind you, I was still NOT going to homeschool, but my body didn’t tense up ever time I allowed myself to entertain the idea. A few weeks later, God put something in my reading that I felt was a “pro” to homeschooling discernment list. Since November, about every few weeks, the Lord adds another “pro” to that list. The “pros” are now out numbering the “cons”.

        It took my opening of my heart, my purity of intentions, before He could reveal His Will in this situation. As long as I was closed off to the option, He couldn’t reveal His Will to me. His will for my family could have very well been to not homeschool (I do believe God calls Christians to public school, otherwise who would witness to the non-Christians), but I had already made that decision without Him. I hadn’t given it to Him.

        I would encourage anyone discerning God will in something specific to first just open your heart to God. Let Him know that you are fine either way, it is up to Him. Then look for His answer in things people say, books you read, homilies at mass, etc. God speaks through all of these things. God used all of these things to convey His will to me, once my heart is willing to listen.

        God Bless!
        Erin recently posted..To Dye or Not to Dye

      • Erin says:

        Exactly right Jen G. I find in my discernment that God first and foremost wants me to have a open and willing heart to anything He puts in front of me. Once I am willing to say Yes to His will, no matter what it is, He then guides me to His will.

        For example: I have always thought the idea of homeschooling is great, but never thought it was for me and my son and that is exactly what I told people whenever the subject came up. My son is very head-strong, just like me, and I imagined us fighting all day, accomplishing nothing, and ending the day exhausted and frustrated. I convinced myself that he was better off at school under the authority of someone other than myself. I had closed myself off to possibly God’s will.

        Last November, something started to happen. I won’t tell since it’s a long story, but I opened my heart to the option for the first time. Mind you, I was still NOT going to homeschool, but my body didn’t tense up ever time I allowed myself to entertain the idea. A few weeks later, God put something in my reading that I felt was a “pro” to homeschooling discernment list. Since November, about every few weeks, the Lord adds another “pro” to that list. The “pros” are now out numbering the “cons”.

        It took my opening of my heart, my purity of intentions, before He could reveal His Will in this situation. As long as I was closed off to the option, He couldn’t reveal His Will to me. His will for my family could have very well been to not homeschool (I do believe God calls Christians to public school, otherwise who would witness to the non-Christians), but I had already made that decision without Him. I hadn’t given it to Him.

        I would encourage anyone discerning God will in something specific to first just open your heart to God. Let Him know that you are fine either way, it is up to Him. Then look for His answer in things people say, books you read, homilies at mass, etc. God speaks through all of these things. God used all of these things to convey His will to me, once my heart is willing to listen.

        God Bless!
        Erin recently posted..To Dye or Not to Dye

  7. Kris says:

    Saying “no” to the periphery is saying “yes” to the mission God has called us each to do. For example as a wife and mother I could be asked to do a million wonderful things for my church. One might think that I should say “yes.” But my primary vocation, my mission that God has set before me is my being a wife and mother. Saying “no” to the periphery in this instance is continuing to say “yes” to God regarding the mission he has for me in my vocation. Blindly going around saying “yes” to everything actually would be irresponsible in many instances and requires prayer and discernment.

    • DorkusAmongUs says:

      Yes- well stated, Kris.

      Our first calling is to our family nest.
      If time, talent, or treasure can be tapped after that, then I say “yes” to whatever little things I can.

      Little things = maybe doing some small gesture to help either at the parish level (say, donating to the food pantry) or to an individual (say, taking a meal to a new mom).

      I think overdoing our ‘yeses’ is easy. I think we’re more at peace when we can say “Yes, I can and will help with that situation, but not right now….”

  8. I love this – it demands defining and living up to a real yes, not just a haphazard go along to get along “okay”. It isn’t just about being friendly or agreeable or wanting to be liked and not left out. An examined Yes! is a huge concept.
    the cottage child recently posted..New tricks7 quick ones!

  9. Nadine says:

    One of my kids’ most favorite meals after the birth of a new baby was when the other mom (also a mom of several young children) brought takeout pizza. That was such a massive hit that I’ve done it again with another family. Everyone is so carefully healthy when they give meals, it seems, that my kids were thrilled to pieces to see some nice, greasy pizza on the table.

    Years ago I adopted the parenting philosophy of using “yes” as my default choice, so the kids know that if I say “no” there’s a definite reason and not just because I was too tired to think. I think this has spilled over into my regular life. I like this analysis of “yes propelled by fear” and shall ponder it today. Especially while I’m fulfilling some of those commitments today.

    • Anne says:

      Fear of not having a BIG FACEBOOK or BLOG FRIENDLY life…documenting your activities, friends, crafts, amazing meals, gatherings hosted in your home, date nights with husband, cute things your kids do or say…can we just be hidden, simple, ordinary anymore?

  10. You know, I didn’t even think of this. Probably because my knee jerk fear reaction is to say no. Even the things I end up doing that I would rather not the word in my heart is still no, followed by a begrudging sort of, well ok, if I have to.

    So for me, to say a joyful yes to the things that God gives me to do, and yes it’s important to know which things those are is different from all the things I night do out of obligation.

    I like what some comments are saying about a true yes containing an implicit no to everything that isn’t consistent with what you have said yes to.

  11. Kristy says:

    I am so glad I read this! This is something I have struggled with without being able to put it in so many words. This was VERY helpful for me to put things in proper perspective.

  12. C says:

    I have gotten much better at this the last few years…I usually follow 2 discernment “rules” –
    1) saying no to some little stuff leaves room in your life to say YES to the big (truly important) stuff
    2) when in doubt, go ponder your decision in front of the Blessed Sacrament

    Finally, I agree we all need to be a bit more “simple and hidden” – the American obsession with fame is not very supportive of this…

  13. Sue says:

    You said a big yes to all of those beautiful babies. When I hear younger (and I’m a wee bit older than you:-) women who have families say that they are concerned about their involvement in…you name it…., I always think, You are doing the absolute, most perfect thing you can be doing. Bonding. Holding. Being present. Feeding. Remember – the woman that I saw above was….60:-). When you are there, you will definitely be saying yes. I have no doubt.

  14. I absolutely LOVE this. Thank you!

  15. Monica says:

    I suppose it boils down to saying YES to God, and feeling free to say no to anything else. Why have I not thought of this before?

  16. magda says:

    Your point is very good. You can’t say yes to marriage and motherhood without saying no to a lot of other things.
    I don’t regret resigning from big time altruistic glory and being impt socially and instead taking on marriage, motherhood and being a daughter as my primary yeses
    Neglecting children and “turning them over to God” doesn’t work. They have been given to you.
    God bless.

    • Brittany says:

      I was thinking about this again today and wondering if you believe God can also use not-so-peaceful leading as effectively as he uses peaceful leading. (?) I realize God can ultimately use whatever He chooses but my experience has been that God’s leading requires me to stiff-arm myself into doing what I know is right. It’s probably my fault but there’s little peaceful compliance going on when I say “yes” – usually it’s a knowledge-love-discipline-action drag-out prior to any important decision. Am I the only one?
      Brittany recently posted..Relationtrips- Reading the Signs

      • I see what you’re asking, but remember God is a God of order and peace and not of chaos. So if you’re trying to discern to say ‘yes’ to something but there is a small doubt there, then don’t commit right away.

        Sleep on it, pray over it. Either you’ll find a peace about the decision that needs to be made, in which your yes will be right. Or you might be too unsettled to jump in at anytime in which a no isn’t a bad thing.

        I’m of the opposite mindset usually, I usually run ahead of God b/c I like change (change of scenery, change of company, change of residence even!) I have learned I need to slow down before committing, even if all signs point to a peaceful “yes”, I still need to ride the brakes a bit …anyway, my two cents.

        • EM says:

          Great point about how God is a God of order and peace, not chaos.
          I would like to point out that your advice to not act yet if there is still a small doubt might be suited to personalities with your own (endearing-sounding :) ) impulsive tendencies. If one tends to overthink thibgs or is working through fears or struggles with doubting your own discernment no matter how prayerful….all of which have applied to me in the past… then there may BE some small doubts you need to just walk on past while making your choice, keeping your eyes on Christ, trusting Him to lead you despite your weaknesses and fears.

          To be honest I’m not sure I would have gotten married to my amazing, meant-for-me husband if I had waited til every small doubt was gone. (I should note however that I was fairly certain from praying that any doubts came from my own wounds/fears… I would never tell just anyone to ignore doubts they have before marriage.)

  17. Beth Carrell says:

    I love your blog! I am an adult Catholic convert, and a recovering alcoholic for more than two years now. In working the twelve steps, we learn to “get out of ourselves”, say “yes”, and learn to let go of fear and let God work it out. Getting out of my head and into action is amazingly helpful. Knowing that it isn’t important what is worrying me, but what is important is my ability to refocus and “act”.
    One of my favorite prayers: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as a pathway to peace. Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, and not as I would have it. Trusting that you would make all things right if I surrender to your Will, so that I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with you, forever in the next, amen. Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom, pray for us!
    Beth

  18. Marilyn says:

    Your post echoes what I’ve had on my mind all day – “Perfect love casts out all fear” (1 John 4:17). Yes God give us your perfect love, perfect wisdom, perfect freedom!

  19. Erin says:

    Sorry for the double (long) post. Not sure what happened.

  20. Meghan says:

    Thanks so much for this. It enouraged me to finally say yes to 1 thing thats been on my mind. I have 1 more to go, I’m working on it!
    Meghan recently posted..Fast and Feast in Lent

  21. Jennifer, your message here is so lucid for me and all that I’ve been processing and praying about lately. Thank you for your continued support of the community of believers here with your conscientiousness.
    Ashley @ Seeking Steward recently posted..Thursday Throw-down

  22. Nina says:

    Jen, seriously: you inspired me to say YES a few more times in the day or two since I read this post. Yay for encouragement. My husband and children thank you. :)

  23. Erin says:

    Ya’ll are going to get tired of me b/c I posted so much, but what I forgot to say this.

    For me, a wife and mother, I believe that saying “Yes” to God is as simple as waking up, giving Him your day, and trying to do His will THAT DAY. Living in the present. Yes, Lord, I will scrub my floor today for you and my family with a joyful heart. Yes, Lord, I will stop and ask you for patience when dealing with my 3 year old’s tantrums. Yes, Lord, please give me the kindness I need to greet my husband at the end of the day with a smile rather than a look of exhaustion and frustration.

    If something is presented to me that involves service out of my home and it appears to be something I am able to do, I will say, “Lord, I am open, let me know if it is in your plan for my salvation”. And then WAIT, expecting and looking for an answer. In my experience, if it is in His plan, He will provide little confirmations over the course of a few days or months. If I am praying about something, riddled with turnmoil, and don’t see Him confirming it, He is NOT calling me to do that thing.

    Of course, I don’t do this with perfection, I have myself in a few things right now that I jumped into and didn’t discern. They are piercing my peace, but I try to just start anew everyday.

    God Bless!
    Erin recently posted..To Dye or Not to Dye

  24. Zach says:

    Im sorry if im in the wrong place but i need a quick answer is it a sin to be glad someone was killed