My Year of Saying Yes
I’ve had a pretty sheltered upbringing and I am also an introvert. Probably the most classic of introverts in that silence is my favorite sound, and a party is any group larger than five. I am known to be a cautious over-thinker, to the point of mental anguish. Do I have a safety net? More like a safety bomb shelter, designed to keep out any activity where risk is involved in all aspects of my life.
When I turned 23, I made it my year of saying “no.”
I had experienced a lot of things that led me to this resolve. Primarily ministry burn out that led to the end of my spoken word ministry as well as taking part in worship in a role I wasn’t happy with. I was dealing with a great deal of bitterness and depression. After a year of being involved at a new school, it felt like my ties from back home were loosening. I found that my worlds of home, school and church were not meshing well. It seemed logical that I had to say “no” in order to establish some kind of balance. While my worldview and understanding of myself was being changed academically, my faith was being tested. I found myself being deeply critical of everyone and everything, leading to a reluctance to experience anything new. I wanted to learn about boundaries and how to say no, so I created shelter from a need to preserve my sense of self, which at the time was a selfish person with fragile self-esteem. When my birthday came around in December, realizing that I had avoided terrible loss and failure but I also did not experience much growth and success. So I decided I would make the 24th year of my life the year of saying yes.
Saying yes for me didn’t mean I would make foolish decisions on the drop of a dime, or put myself in dangerous situations. It meant taking great leaps of faith when necessary, accepting challenges that would help me grow, even when I was initially uncomfortable. I knew that saying yes would be hard for the chronic naysayer and scaredy-cat that I was.
There were many opportunities that presented themselves to me that I might have avoided before I was 24 and even prior to that. I could probably fit all those experiences into a book, but I figured I would just take a moment to share the lessons I’ve learned from my year of saying yes.
1. Saying yes made me stronger.
Once I started saying yes to difficult things, I learned that I am stronger than I ever imagined I was. Prior to my year of saying yes I would say no because I thought I knew what I could handle. I had a vague idea of what my limits were based on where my comfort was. But in stretching beyond my comfort in many areas I found my true limits.
2. Saying yes lead to failure.
While this may be true, there are no experiences in this last year that I regret. There are no experiences that haven’t led to some kind of pay off, whether in teaching me what’s good for me and what’s not.
3. Saying yes caused me a lot of pain.
I went into this year knowing that there would be pain and rejection along the way. I may not have been ready for it, but I expected it. In life, there are no brake pads to lessen the impact of painful experiences. I have had painful experiences in the past long before this year. However, in my year of saying yes, I’ve sought to make use of my pain to help others. I’ve found that my painful experiences were transformed into redemptive expressions in friendships and my art among many other things but especially in returning to ministry.
4. Saying yes brought me a lot of joy.
Some of the hard things I’ve tried have taught me how to “count it all as joy (James 1:2)”. Without many of those trials found in saying yes, my understanding of joy would still be a feeble theorized understanding, rooted only in scriptural knowledge. What I experienced in the mess of yes gave me great resolution to be grounded in reality while still clinging to hope and optimism based on experiences. I’ve watched more trials be counted as joy in this year than ever before.
5. Saying yes is habit-forming.
It has almost formed into a spiritual practice for me. When I see a challenge I haven’t overcome and I haven’t said yes to I find myself in a conversation with God. It becomes a process of releasing my distrust and doubt to go with the flow and allow the situation to transform me. Scripture is full of examples of men and women who say yes to God and are used to make an impact. Many of them had their doubts about their abilities in the beginning, but allowed themselves to be transformed through obedience. In saying yes, I’ve seen spiritual transformation in habit-forming ways. Being yes has in itself become a spiritual practice, since it’s brought me so much closer in my relationship with God.
6. Saying yes cost me a lot.
I don’t think I can stress the risks of saying yes enough. Sacrifice is found in all areas of life, and as a Christian it is a part of the process of becoming Christ-like. I’ve said yes to many opportunities that cut against the grain of what I am used to and experienced what felt like loss in the moment, but turned out to be an increase in wealth at the tail-end.
7. Saying yes taught me about myself.
In the same way I’ve discovered my strengths in saying yes, I’ve also discovered my weaknesses. I’ve learned where I can grow in the years to come, but I’ve also learned how to lean on God and others. When I was playing it safe, I thought I didn’t need anyone. This illusion was supported by the fact that I didn’t challenge myself in ways where I would seek support from others. I had this “secure” sense that I would be okay alone and didn’t need people, but saying yes showed me the gaps that were missing in my life, gaps that have been filled by the insight of new and growing relationships with others.
8. Saying yes is exhilarating…but also exhausting.
I’ve never been much of a thrill seeker, and most of the things I’ve done in my year of saying yes might not seem like big risks to other people. (See above where I talked about my sheltered life.) But in saying yes, I’ve had more rushes of adrenaline than I’ve ever had in my whole life. I’ve had more anxiety than I’ve ever had. I’ve experienced high emotional states and low emotional states. But most of all, I’ve discovered a whole new level of “tired”. In fact, this kind of tiredness has become a part of my life I’m learning to enjoy. It is vastly different than my old kind of tired. This tiredness is found in looking back on what I’ve done and feeling a need to rest. Rest has become so much more pivotal when on the other side of it are amazing energy-zapping life experiences.
9. Saying yes taught me how to love (better).
In this year I’ve said yes to new relationships with people, to opening up and allowing others to see who really am. So I’ve saught experiences that placed me in deep relational contexts. There was no escaping the lessons learned from saying yes to loving others. In my more reserved years, when people failed me, they were blocked out. This year I’ve had multiple experiences of failure in friendships that I would have otherwise turned away from in the past. I’ve learned how to love despite myself and in doing so I’ve experienced the reality of love from others in the same way. I would have thought the best way to protect my heart was to close it up and be careful with who I let in (I mean, I’m still careful with who I let in). I was always emotionally distant from most people, thinking I was preserving my fragile heart. But in this year my heart has been exposed to brokenness, rejection, and pain and has grown stronger because of it. I’ve allowed some people to see me for who I really am, brokenness and all, and I’ve done the same.
What I’ve learned is love is messy and sometimes it involves feelings but 99% of it has nothing to do with how you feel. I’ve experienced my feelings in new and different ways, what they’ve contributed to the lessons in love have been priceless. However, I’ve also experienced how to manage them and how to keep loving when they fall short.
10. Saying yes taught me how to say no.
What a plot twist! I used to say no to avoid pain, discomfort, and exhaustion among other things. In this year I’ve said yes so often that I’ve had a clearer sense of what a good “no” looks like. My “no” and my “yes” have both improved in their clarity. I can say a firm “no” based on what I’ve experienced and what I’ve learned from myself. I can say a firm “no” to opportunities that won’t be fruitful for me. I can say a firm “no” when I am wholly satisfied with saying yes in other areas of life. My “no” is grounded in a deeper understanding of myself than I’ve ever had in years prior. It’s no longer this anxiety-ridden reluctance to experience new things and be challenged at the risk of getting hurt. It’s rooted in satisfaction and happiness, and hope for better opportunities to say “yes” to.
Looking back on what’s definitely the best year of my life so far, I’ve been thinking about what 25 will be the year of. I am understanding that saying yes will still be a part of my life. I think I will continue to seek opportunities to say yes and I’m sure there will be many changes, whether good or bad. You can’t stop bad things from happening to you and around you. And as tempting as it can be, saying no doesn’t always help you avoid them. In saying “yes”, I’ve said “no” to being a PASSIVE recipient of the life I’ve been given, and instead embraced the role of becoming an ACTIVE participant of the life I’ve been given.