The Purifying Power of No

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I grew up in a family of pretty modest means. My father was a barber, my mother a homemaker. We were not poor. But summer vacation was an overnight trip to the coast a couple of hours away. We had one car, a bulbous older sky-blue Chrysler.

Sure, I had classmates whose families had two cars, each a lot more sleek than ours. My classmates’ parents would take their families on really exciting vacations to faraway places. And on days when we didn’t wear our school uniforms, most of the girls wore clothes that were “department store cute,” not something that came from the loving hands of home.

Shopping was a rare event. There had to be a reason, or several reasons, for the trip into downtown Portland. I remember spending what seemed like hours with my mother in the fabric department, and the low ceilings and florescent lights in Meier and Frank’s bargain basement. Yet I never felt that I lacked for anything.

Today we live in a culture that lures us at every turn with all the stuff we suddenly discover we need to buy, a culture that works incessantly to convince us of all the ways we need to be—the look, the style, the speed. Just click here, and have your credit card handy. Of course you can afford just a little bit more. Think of it as “affordable luxury, just for you, just because.”

Just say Yes. Don’t think now how you will stagger when the bill arrives.

But—before we are consumers, we are men and women of God. We know at some deep level that Yes was never meant to be a consumer word but a sacred word. “Yes,” vocationally, is not a word that’s up for sale. In fact, our Christian faith tells us that Yes is a word of self-giving, sometimes a word of costly and even ultimate self-spending.

Still, when I look at my credit card statement and thumb through my receipts for recent purchases, I discover every month, in black and white, what all I say Yes to. Oftentimes what seemed so necessary in the moment of purchase seems now like such a waste. But if I take the Christian scriptures seriously, Yes is the trusting word of that young girl Mary. And it is the most costly word of Jesus himself.

If Yes, spiritually, is the costly word, then No to the incessant onslaught of consumerism is purifying. Speaking your No to more stuff dials down the noise, the distractions, the time drain that keeps you from paying real attention to the One who has rightful claim to your entire life.

“No” is indeed the interiorly purifying word. It is a courageous and intentional word. It is the spiritually liberating word that actually sets us free to embrace the necessary radical simplicity to be in God’s presence. In turn we become free to be that divine presence for the world we touch.

Some try to convince us of our moral and patriotic obligation to shop, to replace our old stuff—although it may still be perfectly good, and to bolster the economy. But it’s God’s economy that deserves our allegiance. “Stuff management” has no right to drain us of our anointing for doing good in our world. Yet it does drain us, and too often we seem to think nothing of it. Whatever keeps us from giving our wholehearted Yes to God’s willing and desiring for our lives has no place in our lives.

The purifying work of saying No to more stuff, more preoccupations, more mindless distraction in our lives is this: It wakes us up and alerts us to the urgency of God’s work in this world, which is redemptive, healing, life-giving, work which cannot wait. It is the work for which you and I have been anointed and sent to reveal the reign of God.

Copyright 2014 Mary Sharon Moore, M.T.S.

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