When I was in high school, my parents used to refer to me as “the yeah buts girl.” My husband will tell you that if you that I am a master of excuses (I prefer to call them “reasons”) and always seem to manage to get out of doing things I don’t want to do. My friends will tell you that I my favorite word is “actually” as in:
Friend: Have you ever experienced the hazelnut and chocolate deliciousness that is Nutella?
Me: Actually, it’s pronounced New-tella.
I like to argue and debate. I enjoy the challenge of using reason and logic to manipulate my way out of tasks I don’t enjoy or into projects that pique my interest.
I haven’t decided yet if it is fortunate or unfortunate that my son has inherited my affinity for debate. He’s only 7, but is quickly honing is manipulation skills. Here’s a taste of a typical scenario:
Vinny, I need you to go clean up the toy room.
Awww…Mom, do I have to clean it up all by myself? I wasn’t the only one to make the mess. It would be fairer if you had Elizabeth come help me since most of it is her mess.
No, Elizabeth is doing something else for me right now, I want you to go clean up the toy room.
How about if I just clean up half of the mess and then when she’s done she can clean up the other half?
Vinny, I just want you to go down and start cleaning. Don’t worry about what your sister is doing, just get it done.
Can I clean for just 15 minutes?
No, you’ll clean until it’s done.
But what about Elizabeth? What about her toys?
Vinny (said in the “mom tone” that warns, “I’m starting to lose my patience”). Go. Down. And. Clean. Up. The. Toy. Room.
Can I get a drink first?
(By this point, I’m almost ready to yell.) No. Now!
When he first started working in his debate skills, I’d let it slide. After all, given my track record I thought it would only be fair to give him his chance to try to change my mind. It quickly got to the point, though, that I would dread hearing the phrase “how about…” come out of his mouth every time I asked him to do something. My husband and I agreed to change tactics and now, whenever we hear him gearing up for an argument we gently remind him that he needs to be obedient. Now the scenario sounds more like this:
Vinny, I need you to go clean up the toy room.
Aww…Mom, do I have to clean it up all by myself? I wasn’t the only one to make the mess. It would be fairer if you had Elizabeth come help me since most of it is her mess.
When I ask you to do something, what are you supposed to say?
The obedience lessons have made our house a lot more pleasant. My husband and I lose our patience less often, and our kids are learning to honor their parents. I’m not fooling myself enough to believe it will last through middle school and high school (I’m sure his “yeah but” days are coming), but for now it’s working.
You can imagine then, that I was a little rocked to hear the readings this Sunday. It felt like I was getting my own gentle reminder from God to practice what I’m preaching to my son. You see, God sends a pretty clear message in these readings. On the Mount of Transfiguration, His heavenly voice calls down “This is my beloved son,” followed by a very simple, three word command:
Listen to him
It brooks no argument. There are no excuses, reasons, or arguments available to me in light of that command. The first reading reminds me that I am called to same kind of obedience that Abraham had – the same kind of obedience I am calling my own children to. When God told Abraham to offer his beloved son as a holocaust offering, Abraham did not engage in the “yeah, but” litany. He didn’t try to bargain, debate or manipulate the situation. He simply responded, “Yes, Lord” and obeyed.
When Jesus says, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27), my response is often, “Yeah, but do you know what she did to me? Don’t I have a right to be angry?”
Or how about when Jesus says, ““Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear…Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?” (Matthew 6:25 & 27). My reaction is usually, “Yeah, but I don’t know how we’re going to pay for these school loans now that we’re getting pay cuts. I have to worry about it or else we’ll end up unable to make ends meet.”
Some how, I have let myself forget what happens when I choose anything but obedience. I have let myself forget the first story of disobedience and its consequences. Adam and Eve were the first “yeah, but” people in history. God gave them a simple command and the disobeyed and spent the rest of the story making excuses, bargaining, and manipulating – all to no avail. I need to remember their story the way Abraham remembered it and be a “better listener” (another frequent phrase in our home).
Jesus offers many different simple (if not easy) commandments in the Scriptures:
- “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” (Matthew 7:1-2)
- “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36)
- “Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’…”(Matthew 5:35)
- “Remain in me, and I will remain in you.” (John 15:4)
- “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
- “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19)
This weekend’s readings were a much needed reminder to me that every time Christ is calling me to grow closer to him, to reach out to those in need, to follow in his footsteps, and to forgive as he forgives, I need to quit making excuses and engaging in debate.
This is my beloved Son; listen to Him.
Yeah but…What about when…How about…Actually…
Listen to Him.