“Bunu istiyorum!” Little Syrian eyes searched upward as a bag of chips was thrust into my hands.
“You want this?” I repeated, holding the bag back out to him.
“Evet. Bunu istiyorum, bunu istiyorum!”
“Tamam – Okay.” I put the bag in the basket and walked on, trailing behind his mother. He ran on ahead, zigzagging down the aisle touching everything in his reach. He plucked another bag from the shelf, this time running to his mother.
She looked back at me, holding the bag in her hands. “Bu ne? What’s this?”
“I already got him some chips,” I said, holding up the first bag.
She turned back to her son, “Yok, yok. We already have chips.” And she began to place the bag back on the shelf.
A screech of defiance rented through the air, “YOK! Maman, yok! Bunu isityorum! Please, please, can I have this one?”
She looked back at me, tension drawn on her face. I didn’t envy her – it was hard having six children who were always asking for more than they could…or sometimes needed to have. I walked forward, taking the bag from her in one hand, and the one in my basket in the other. I knelt down so that my eyes met his and held both out to him.
“You can only have one – bir. Which one do you want?”
As Christians we are taught to ask God, our Father, for things boldly – like children do. Being with my friend’s children has surely demonstrated to me what that looks like (because I mercifully don’t have my own kids to teach me that yet). They are unabashed and demanding; unyielding before logic in the throes of their desires. They know where their gifts come from, and they fearlessly approach the source whenever they please, even when it’s rude or inconvenient.
I have greatly benefited from their example, because if there is one area I constantly struggle in, it is being confidently needy before God. I cringe away at asking Him for things, apologetic and timid, afraid of how He will respond. I have struggled in my own insecurity, not understanding what has kept me from coming with the childlike faith I should have. And it wasn’t until I knelt before this little boy, forcing him to make a choice between desires, that my own heart began to unfold before me.
Some of the things we ask for are diametrically opposed without us even realizing it. I so often view my requests as independent entities – scattered cathedrals, each housing a single desire, that rise and fall without consequence on the other’s domain. I have rarely seen how entangled my requests can be within my life, how one request might directly impact another, or even cause chain reactions. Like poorly set up dominos they fall in tandem, though maybe not in the same direction or in my line of sight. I don’t naturally understand my desires that way. Part of that is my naivete. Part of it is my finite humanity. But for our Father to say yes to one thing inherently means He must say no to another. And He is a good father; He loves to say yes, but my heart is so prone to focus on avoiding hearing no.
Like my friend’s son moved on from a lost bag of chips as he munched on the one in hand, there are many requests I have left behind for the instant joy of possessing another. Surface level things, like taking that trip to Morocco I’ve been dying to go on, or finally buying a house like everyone else around me is doing; they come and go with the fickleness of the heart. We are so easily distracted. But some of the things He has said no to have stung, and waiting for the dust to settle is necessary before enjoying the grace in being denied them for a better yes. A coveted promotion, lost love, prolonged conflict, rejected scholarships, broken relationships, barren wombs, and prodigal children. No’s that are redirections to the yes we lost sight of come with greater heartache that pull us into a tension to trust that we are led by a father, not a mercenary. But these are sweet lessons, most frequently becoming the stories we love to tell of discovering God’s faithfulness to provide and of growing more confident in His promises with the yes’s He wraps us up in.
But then there are these no’s that seem to eclipse our vision of His goodness entirely. They are the no’s that pierce and burrow themselves into the soul like splinters and never are fully removed. A brush against its rawness is all you need to gasp in pain over the searing loss of what you wanted. It stops your whole world. I don’t even have to name them for your heart to heave in understanding. Just to breathe under the cascading of no in your midst is all your soul can bear. These are the no’s that not only shatter our philosophy of the world; they shatter our theology. They shatter our understanding of who our Father is. These are the no’s that have caused me to hesitate before approaching His throne; they are the no’s that seem to have no yes in worldly sight, and so age me in cynicism. Suddenly, a child grows up in the shadows, estranged from her Father whom she now fears.
These types of no’s are so baffling, so intense that we often cannot see much less imagine what He could be saying yes to instead. Again, we are painfully aware of our finite helplessness in the hands of an infinite and sovereign God. Not understanding can cause so much unfettered sorrow and fear, and it seems so unfair that at our weakest moments, our grip on belief must be so strong. It’s not that we don’t want to see the good, it’s that it takes too much energy to search for the yes under the burden of the no. Good intentioned people try to help us see their unobstructed view of God’s goodness in the absence of our longing, but in doing so miss that our eyes can see nothing but tears in the wake of such bitter rejection to our pleas. Encouragement tastes like condemnation in our pain; we sink further into hiding. We stop asking for good gifts. We just aren’t ready for the yes yet.
And the one thing that we need to hear – that it’s okay – is so rarely uttered. It is okay to not see the good, to not even care to see the other yes as you are forced to bury the precious no in fresh soil. It is okay to lay by its grave and weep. If the psalms have taught me anything in all my years of searching them, it is that our hearts are allowed to revolt under the heartache of loss, even at the just hands of a holy God. Jesus revolted at Calvary as his Father turned His face away. I’d like to think that the same Jesus who also wept over a friend whom he’d moments later raise from the dead, would just as eagerly weep with you instead of shoving appreciation for an unseen yes down your throat. Just because we are supposed to believe that He is committed to our highest good doesn’t mean that He doesn’t expect our hearts to be torn apart when he must crush our most precious requests into the dirt. If He knows what is best for us, then He knows what wounds will require His tender care and empathy as we shirk from Him in dismay. He is our Father, after all.
And we are not promised when we will see the yes that forced Him to say no. Even if we do, it takes active seeking and active remembering, which can be painful and exhausting. It requires strength and trust that will take time to rebuild. But a truly trusting heart is the one that lays weeping as her Father crouches beside her to stroke her hair and she doesn’t recoil. It is the one that crawls into His open arms and grieves with the One who slew her. It is the one who pounds and screams and rages in the face of her Maker instead of refusing Him altogether. It is the one who takes Him to the graves of no and asks why, and receiving no answer still holds His hand.
Grace comes before the yes. For anyone that has suffered such hurtful no’s in the their lives, understands that it is slow and it almost always circumvents the pain that wounded you. Those wounds never fully heal. Not here. Not now. They reverberate like haunting echoes, growing softer, but never vanishing from your shadow. But when you are ready, you won’t have to force yourself to try to see the good that’s already bloomed over the graves of no’s. It is a strange gift, for to draw close to the good, you must draw near to the pain, and that kind of strength does not come overnight. It takes time; it takes the patience and empathy of a father who knows you and waits for you with the yes firmly in hand. It is okay to not be ready. It is okay to grieve longingly sometimes. But grace will urge you on if you hold His hand. He will know when to direct your gaze, to pluck the good that blooms over the grave and place it in your tear-stained lap. And swollen eyes will behold with awesome wonder that beauty can come from such ashes, that life can be born in the midst of such death. It does not remove the longing, but you will believe, finally, that you would not have seen such breathtaking redemption if He had not brought you here. It is a dark yes to get to walk with Jesus through anything, to have Him save you through anything. But it is a gift. A good, good gift. And He gives us these treasures in darkness because we asked Him to. And He said yes. He always says yes, to something.
He is the Good Gift Giver, who only says no so that we can hear yes – even if that yes is to simply be with Him, the most powerful yes of all.