There is an old story from early America that found Thomas Jefferson and a number of his companions attempting to cross a flooded river. They were on horseback, but this did not make the task easy. Each rider plunged into the raging current, man and animal fighting not only to cross, but to stay alive.
Another traveler – one on foot – watched this group navigate the waters. Finally, needing to get to the other side himself, this man asked the President to take him across. Jefferson quickly agreed and the two made it safely to the other side.
Once across, one of the men in Jefferson’s party asked the traveler why he had selected the President to carry him across. The traveler was stunned. He had no idea it was the President who had carried him through the flooded river. He simply answered: “All I know is on some of your faces was written the answer ‘No,’ and on some of your faces was the answer ‘Yes.’ His was a ‘Yes’ face.”
I try to keep a “Yes” face when it comes to those around me, especially my children. And while they would disagree, I probably say “yes” more than I should. But while I tend to overindulge them, I am certainly not afraid to say “no.” Because some of the things those boys ask for would not be good for them.
No, my sons do not need a pet duck off of Ebay. None of them are quite ready for their own cell phone or Facebook page. No, they can’t have a half pipe in the front yard for their skateboard addiction. I am no killjoy and remained convinced I still have a “Yes” face, but it is for their own good, and usually the good of the family checkbook and the neighbors, when I answer “No.”
Yes, being children, my boys have the perspective of children, so they don’t always understand. It takes some trust on their part to believe I have their best interests in mind with my decisions, and that I can provide them with what they need – not what they necessarily want.
Soren Kierkegaard told a story about a schoolboy who refused to learn. The teacher tried her best to engage him and get him to apply himself, but he simply would not. Finally she asked the boy, “What is it you want to do?” He answered: “I want to sit in the back of the room, draw pictures, and take a nap.”
Exhausted, the teacher granted his request. The boy got what he wanted, Kierkegaard said, because the teacher had given up on him. He adds, “Beware when God answers some prayers.” It could be that he has been “worn down” by our request for something less.
I believe God has a “Yes” face. “Every good and perfect gift is from above,” the Apostle James said, “coming down from the Father.” He indulges his children with goodness and grace. But his propensity to say “Yes” doesn’t mean he is overindulgent. He isn’t afraid to say “No.” God may sometimes refuse to give us what we ask for because in his love for us he wants to give us something better.
Now, that something better might be patience. It might be spiritual growth and maturity. It might be a change or improvement of character. It might be the good fruit of love, joy, peace, kindness, or self-control. Two things are certain: These gifts are better for us than the more immature things we crave, but they are not always easy to receive from our Father.
But what choice do we really have? If we believe our Father to do and give what is best for us, then shouldn’t we trust him? If what God wants for us is far better than that anything we could desire, shouldn’t we give up on the lesser things we want? God still has a “Yes” face even when he doesn’t give us what we want. In those times, he often gives us what we need.
Ronnie McBrayer is the author of “Leaving Religion, Following Jesus.” He writes and speaks about life, faith, and Christ-centered spirituality. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.