ColumnsNaming Grace

No leading to yes!

After being disrespectful at the dinner table, I gave a firm “no” to one of our teenage sons who was planning to go out with friends. When a car horn blared, our son angrily left the kitchen table and pushed through the front door. My heart raced as I held my breath: would my word hold? Within moments, he stomped through the front door and sulked up the steps to his bedroom. Thankfully, my “no” meant “no.”

This Sunday’s readings reflect on the commandments, the law, which can “save you” (Sir 15:15). Yet Jesus takes us beyond a strict interpretation to the heart of the law—love and freedom. Each commandment’s “no” leads to a grander “yes” to God; Jesus’ entire life spoke “no” to self-will to voice an unconditional YES to the Father.

“No” to adultery leads to a wholehearted “yes” in our committed relationships. “No” to anger opens the path to a peaceful “yes” with others. “No” to an oath requires an outright “yes” to truthfulness. “No” to death and destruction establishes an unequivocal “yes” to life. “No” to evil allows for an absolute “yes” to God! As proclaimed by Sirach: we choose, we choose, life or death, good or evil. We choose with each “no” or “yes” spoken over the course of a lifetime.

The most difficult aspect of parenting is prayerfully discerning each “no” or “yes” to our children. Each “no” should purposefully lead to the greater “yes” of freedom in Christ over slavery to the world. Saying “no” to exert power or release our temper leads children to resentment. “No” whittled down spoils —makes rotten—our children. Yet, “no” in light of an authentic “yes” to Christ will discipline our children until they are self-disciplined enough to live as disciples of Christ.

As parents, we name grace—God’s guiding presence—through each “no” or “yes” to our children. “No,” you may not attend a party with underage drinking, so you will maintain the freedom of saying “yes” to God’s plans. “No,” you may not exclude others, so you will remain open to the “yes” of genuine friendship. “No,” you may not spend excessively, so you will freely say “yes” to a life of stewardship. “No,” you may not have premarital sex, so you will experience the joy of saying “yes” to a Godly vocation.

Recently, speaker Leah Darrow encouraged young parents: “Keep saying no, no, no to protect your babies while saying YES to Jesus.” My children, now all young adults, laugh at how I glued myself in front of the television screen, like a spider on a wall, to block inappropriate material. They chuckle at my “no’s” to “PG 13” movies or to buying the latest gadget or trendy fashion. Yet now, as adults (several parents themselves), they appreciate the “no’s” as leading to the greater “yes” for their lives.

As parents, our vocation is to lead our children into a relationship with Jesus—to salvation. Our children may dislike us at times, but we are accountable to God—and only God— for each “no” and “yes” we speak. Our son, angry for a while, spent the night in his bedroom, but respectfully joined us at the breakfast table. Our “no” has hopefully, prayerfully, led him to a lifetime of saying “yes” to respect for himself, family, friends, colleagues and God. Now, that’s good news!

In what ways is God calling you to say “yes”?

How can you lead your children to a “yes” in God?