BY REV. TOM EARLY - ST. ALBAN'S EPISCOPAL CHURCH
About a decade ago, Jim Carrey starred in the film, "Yes Man." Carrey plays Carl Allen, a bank loan officer who has a pessimistic view of life and habit of distancing himself from friends. One of these alienated friends reaches out to him and suggests Allen attend a “Yes!” seminar. Lo and behold, Carl is called from the crowd on to the stage. The leader of the seminar coerces a tentative Carl into a pact: Carl will say "yes" to every opportunity presented to him.
The movie explores this thought experiment and presents a world where saying "yes" to every opportunity will lead one to new and exciting experiences while saying "no" leads to calamitous, if not amusing, consequences. While I hesitate to criticize any work of Jim Carrey's I believe there is a dangerous temptation in the subtext of this film.
Being affirming and positive is actually quite easy. We want to say "yes" to things. We want to volunteer for every opportunity. We want to make our family, friends, neighbors happy all of the time. There are so many good things to do and we want to do them all. There is a temptation to desire the freedom to do anything we want and to agree to every suggestion. Saying "yes" to everything is actually quite easy. In my ministry, I meet far more people who say "yes" too often than I do people who too often say, "no."
And why not? Sure, there are things to which it's easy say "no." But there are so many good things we want to which we want to say "yes." But the more we say "yes" the less power that "yes" has. If we say "yes" to being on all of the committees, covering the car pool, taking care of Mom this week and watching our brother's cats, slowly we won't be able to do any of those things well. And worse the important things, people we have vowed to honor like spouses or signed contracts to do, like jobs, will suffer from our diluted "yes." Slowly our "yes" will mean little more than "I will probably try."
So, if we are not to find direction for our lives from Jim Carrey, to whom can we orient our moral compass? Perhaps it is the bias I carry as a priest, but might I suggest Jesus? If there ever was a human who could say "yes" to everything, Jesus would be the one. And yet, even he set boundaries. Even he took time for himself. And, most importantly, even Jesus said, "no."
A passage worthy of contemplation comes right after Jesus in baptized by John in the river Jordan. We are told the Spirit drives him into the wilderness. There, Jesus is tempted by Satan. He is tempted in many ways. The most poignant temptation for our topic is when Satan tells Jesus to jump from the top of a high temple. Jesus responds, "you shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test." Here, Jesus shows us the way to perfect humanity. Jesus proves he is in solidarity with our human experience. And in this solidarity, we learn that we have limits. We cannot do it all. As much as our heart may say we have to do it or our ego says we can do anything, Jesus keeps us humble. Jesus reminds us of our limits.
Although it is hard and sometimes painful, the more diligent we are in saying "no" and the more prudent we are in saying "yes," we will begin to see something miraculous. Our "yes" will become powerful. Our “yes” will actually mean something. Perhaps this is another way Jesus wants our "yes" to mean "yes" and our "no" to mean "no" (Matthew 5:37).
Ultimately this is the practice of building integrity. People will know that they can trust us. I pray for your perseverance in the practice. Like building a muscle, it will hurt at first but it will become easier and you will become stronger. And soon you will discover that the freedom you desire is only found when you find and mind your limits.