Ellen Romer Niemiec
The Gift of No
I stood over my kitchen sink, absentmindedly washing dishes. “I can’t get married,” I whispered. I had finally said it out loud and with it came an outpouring of tears, mixing with the running water, a release I didn’t know I needed. It was six weeks before the wedding. It came bubbling out from there. As my sister excitedly showed me her maid of honor dress. Holding a curling iron to my head as a friend’s roommate peppered me with questions about the wedding. It turns out there isn’t really a ‘good’ way to call off your wedding. My parents will be angry. He will be so upset and hurt. His family will be upset and hurt. I am wasting so much time and money. It can’t be as big of a deal as I think it is. Maybe we can work on it.
No one grows up thinking ‘I will get engaged to someone that I will end up not marrying.’ It certainly wasn’t my plan. Weddings are full of what you want and less about what you don’t want. I did not want to spend the rest of my life wondering if I would be going to Mass alone. And in times of desolation, perhaps not at all, with no one to encourage me. I felt terrified. Walking away felt like quitting and a judgment on my own character that I could come this far and then choose to hurt someone that I still cared about.
My choice had been brewing far longer than I had realized. In many ways I felt so alone in my choice - there were so few who could understand and far more who did not understand and greatly struggled with my decision. Now I can see the way the Holy Spirit was nurturing a ‘no’ in me and stayed with me as everything seemed to fall apart around me. I still remember sitting on a large rock outside my school on the phone with my sister, who was asking if I had unrealistic expectations for a spouse. The answer came more confidently and easily than I anticipated: ‘No. No, I do not.’ I was surprised at how with every repetition of ‘no’ I was able to breathe a little easier, felt a little lighter. Each ‘no’ chipped away at the burden I did not know I had been carrying.
We hear of so many who have offered their ‘yes’ to God. As a woman and as a mother, Mary’s ‘yes’ resonates deeply, but also does not encompass the only way to respond authentically to God’s working in our lives. While I was certainly gripped with uncertainty, the solace of my ‘no’ meant a new openness to what God may invite me to. I now have the comfort of a wonderful marriage and two beautiful children, but at the time I couldn’t grasp what that ‘no’ would mean. The greatest gift of ‘no’ was that I could more fully cherish myself as God cherishes me. ‘No’ reminded me that I should not desire or settle for any less than God desires for me.
Do you have a sense of a growing ‘no’? Where might a ‘no’ feel more like a ‘yes’? Where may the Holy Spirit be inviting you to honor yourself more deeply?