I absolutely hate being told no. I have a very perfect little plan in my head of how I would prefer things go—of how I want things to look and feel for me.
I’ve received a lot of no’s lately—and I’m sure you can think of quite a few you’ve been told yourself. This time of worldwide panic and uncertainty provides a unique opportunity for us to all learn what it means to sit wholly and healthily in a place where we are constantly hearing “never’s” and “not yet’s,” where we have to continue pressing forward when the weight of all the things we can’t and aren’t allowed to do are overwhelming and painful. No’s are so difficult, but they don’t have to be our defining thing.
(And don’t let this be confused with when no’s need to be pursued into yes’s. Accepting a no as an important decision and part of a process requires discernment. Don’t take no’s as an excuse to be lazy and avoid pursuing what you think God is calling you to.)
When I say that no’s often act like our defining moments, I mostly mean that we are prone to emphasize the things we haven’t done. The missed opportunities flood our minds instead of the possibilities ahead of us. We look back in regret instead of looking forward with hope and expectation.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely space and necessity to grieve our disappointments and allow ourselves to feel the full range of let down and frustration—Jesus was known as the Man of Sorrows, He knows what it’s like to get no’s and grieve and be very discouraged. But the purpose of His life was not led by the discouragement—the purpose of His life was guided by the upward call of God that cut through the no’s, not yet’s, and unimaginable difficulties. Maybe we too often forget that, right before the cross, Jesus—the God of the Universe, the Savior of our souls, the Prince of Peace—asked the Father if there was anything that could be done to achieve our salvation in a way that wasn’t so painful for Him. And then He said, “Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” (Luke 22:42b) And He went to the cross.
“For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2b) Jesus had vision for beyond the no. He didn’t sit with the no and just beg for an answer to His “but why,” He instead said “But God.” He said “But Joy,” “But Foresight,” “But Hope,” “But Salvation.” There is more good hiding behind the no’s we receive than we could ever imagine, especially when we are constantly looking back at it wishing we could change the answer.
A lot of people, myself included, who have fought to turn a no into a yes will tell you it’s never worth it. It’s only striving and falling, frustration and fruitlessness.
The relationships that don’t work, the careers put on hold, the lack of call backs, come throughs, and sales—they aren’t meant to be the defining moments in your life. They’re directional, they’re important, they’re critical to your following in the footsteps of Jesus—but they are not the moments that define you. “Failure’s never final when the Father’s in the room.” (Corey Asbury) Every no is not a “you’re not good enough” or “you’re not wanted”—it’s an opportunity to turn, to rest, to sit in prayer, to be reminded of where you are going even if one door shuts, even if every door (from what our limited perspectives can offer) seems shut.
More often than not, when we are so focused on how we want things to go, we lose sight of what God is doing. We forget that He doesn’t make pathways that look all that familiar (or even desirable) to us. Look at the trajectory He put Himself on when He was wrapped in human flesh! His path went straight to a cross. But then after the cross, unbelievable Glory. Who are we to say we so well understand the mind of God that He ought to listen to when we don’t want to hear a no? We have limited perspective and isolated ideas about how being told no impacts our trajectory. There will be no’s, let downs, and disappointments before we see the final picture of the purpose of all those moments we wish could have looked different.
And we will thank God for the no’s when we finally have perspective to realize what they were for. It sucks when physical healing and emotional healing don’t receive an instant solution—when they become a thorn in our side. It is painful when the interviewer doesn’t call again and the question of what next comes to a screeching halt because “I thought this was going to be the answer.” It is hard when we see those around us getting the yes’s we thought were ours and continuing to trust God that the no right now is not the end of our story.
I think that’s an important thing to repeat: The no right now is not the end of our story. We are more than the conglomerate of no’s we’ve been given. We’re more than the yes’s, too. We are moving into further sanctification, and that means further sacrifice, suffering, and communion with God. Where there is a no, though, there is always a yes to something else—there is a yes to the plans God has for us.
“We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)
The no right now is not the end of our story. It may be the beginning of our greatest breath throughs, most important relationships, and significant points of worship.
It may be that the no is an answer to prayer we never could have conceived of asking for.
Maybe no is a yes to the heart behind the desire for this particular thing to be fulfilled. Maybe no is the yes we needed. Maybe no is the open door, the freshly paved path. Maybe no is not anything like what we expect no to be in the moment. Maybe no is Holy and Redemptive and Rest-filled. Maybe no will reveal everything God is calling us to—after all, He knows.