People like to hear the word “Yes”. “Yes, I will marry you.” “Yes, we will loan you the money to buy a house.” “Yes, we would like you to come and work for us.” So often, good things follow when we hear the word “Yes”.
We have made a virtue out of saying “Yes”. We create all sort of ways to help people say “Yes”. When I go online to buy a book, at the bottom of the page I see other similar books that I might want to buy. When I read a magazine, I see advertisements promoting products that might be of interest to me. We sing the praises of people who like to say “Yes” and live by the old adage, “If you want a job done, give it to a busy person.”
“Yes” is such a powerful and seductive word that many people have a hard time saying the opposite. We don’t like to hear the word “No” spoken to us so it can be very difficult for us to say it to others. “No, I don’t like your haircut.” “No, I don’t agree with you about that.” “No, I don’t want to go out tonight.” Saying “No” can create hard feelings and even cause friendships to be broken. But, not saying “No” can create awkward situations and uncomfortable conversations.
Constantly saying “Yes” can cause us stress; it can wear us down and make us tired, which ultimately keeps us from being healthy, productive people. That’s why many religious traditions have discovered the virtues of saying “No”. Some would even say that the practice of saying “No” is as important a spiritual practice as any other, perhaps even one of the most important. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the practice of saying “No” is often called keeping Sabbath.
Sabbath is not so much a day, as it is an attitude. It is the attitude that sees value in everything and says that everything has the right to health, wholeness and well-being. An important part of that well-being includes some notion of taking rest. Not just people but livestock and fields, too, and we could extend that even further to include the entire natural world – streams and forests, oceans and meadows, air and earth. All creation has the right to sabbath rest.
In the eyes of many, there is no payoff for sitting on the porch. A field of weeds earns no one’s respect. If you want to succeed, you must plow, sow, fertilize, weed and harvest. And each year’s harvest must be bigger than the last. After all, that’s what the earth and her people are here for, right? Wrong.
The porch is necessary, not just occasionally but on a regular basis. We resist saying “No” at our deepest level, yet when we do say “No” it is at that same deep level that we find ourselves satisfied and renewed. It also happens to be the level at which we meet the Holy One and the Holy One meets us.
As we come to the end of another summer, a time when many of us get a glimpse of how valuable saying “No” and keeping Sabbath can be, may you find some way to keep up the practice through the coming busy-ness of the autumn and winter. It may be the most valuable thing you do for yourself and others.