The Most Loving “No”

My son hates math.

And I totally get it. I do too.

But the weird thing is, as much he hates it, he’s actually fairly good at it. When he tries.

And therein lies the problem–most of the time, he simply doesn’t want to try. Let me give an example of a typical afternoon in our home:

After picking the kids up from school, they are allowed thirty minutes of screen time and a snack as a kind of “wind down” period before starting homework. Then, I leave my son to his homework–almost always math–while I sit down and work on reading and verse memorization with my daughter, who is younger and needs a bit more guidance. Once I finish with her, I return to my son to check in on his progress and see if he needs any help. More often than not, I discover he hasn’t even started.

“It’s just too hard,” he’ll say. “I don’t get it. I need your help.”

To which I will take a deep, “help me, Jesus” kind of breath and look over the problems, explain how to find the answer, and once again leave him to it…during which he will, inevitably, have a break down.

Because, you see, he doesn’t actually want my help doing his math homework. He wants me to do his math homework.

“But you understand it,” he’ll whine. “You know how to do it and you know the answers. I don’t get why you won’t just do it for me. You’re so mean!”

In my eleven year-old’s mind, I had the knowledge to do what he was asking. I also had the power. So the fact that I was choosing not to made me downright cruel. I believe I even achieved “the worst mom in the world” status once or twice.

Now, if you’re a parent (or even if you’re not), it’s easy to see why I’m not doing my son’s homework for him, right? Because the whole point of math is class is so he can learn math. If I were to do the work for him, he may get a passing grade, but he would not acquire any of the knowledge he was supposed to be gaining. I love my son, and I want what’s best for him, naturally. But, when it comes to math homework, loving my son means not giving him his immediate wants (i.e. finished homework); it means saying no because what I truly want for him is to learn math and be successful in life.

Makes sense, right?

But, if we can understand this on a human level, why can’t we understand this with God?

You see, God always answers our prayers. It’s just that, sometimes, that answer is “no.” And this is where faith must come in.

When God tells me no, am I going to respond like an eleven-year old? Am I going to stomp around and declare Him “the meanest God in the world?” Or, worse, give up my belief in Him simply because He didn’t give me what I wanted in the moment? Sadly, there are some people who do. And, even though I like to consider myself a little bit more mature than my kids, sometimes what I do is even worse. I may still call myself a Christian, go to church, sing the songs, and perform all the emotions but really…I’m throwing my tantrum on the inside.

I’m sulking. Pouting. Definitely not praying or seeking any kind of meaningful relationship with Him. Because I’m mad. And, because even if I don’t dare say it, I think He’s mean for not giving me what I wanted.

When I’m tempted to do this (and it happens more times than I care to admit), I think back to the story of the leper in Mark 1. Starting in verse 39 we read:

“He [Jesus] went into all of Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons. Then a man with leprosy came to him and, on his knees, begged him: ‘If you are willing, you can make me clean.'”

There’s more to the story, of course, but I want to pause here because the leper makes such a powerful statement:

“If you are willing…”

The leper recognized that Jesus had the power to heal him. He had faith that He could do exactly what he asked. But he also understood that it was Jesus’s choice whether to answer his request or not. In those few simple words–“if you are willing”–this humble leper showed just how much he trusted Jesus; he made his plea known, yes, but he also ceded that what Jesus wanted was much more important than what he himself wanted.

When I sulk, pout, or throw a fit over a “no” answered prayer, am I displaying this same kind of humility?

Not in the slightest.

In fact, I’m displaying the exact opposite: arrogance. I’m assuming that I’m right in my wants and that God, therefore, is wrong in denying them.

Now, don’t mis-hear me here: I’m not saying that it’s wrong to want certain things. It’s never a bad thing to pray for things like healing, restoration, or revival. These are all wonderful, important things to ask our Heavenly Father for. I believe God is powerful enough to fulfill every single one of these types of petitions.

But, even for things like these, God sometimes answers no.

And we, and we alone, are responsible for how we will choose to respond to that answer.

When we are let down by the response to our prayers, we must choose to lean into what we know to be true of who God is: He is loving. He is kind. He is merciful and good, always wanting what’s best for His children. It’s only by doing this that we can be assured that any “no” answer is only because God has something even better in line for us.

There may come some disappointment first. Even some pain (just ask my son whose fight over fractions is more excruciating than a root canal, apparently). But, in the end, there is always beauty. Always grace. Always God.

Our friend the leper back in Mark 1 was blessed enough to receive exactly what he asked for.

“Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched him. ‘I am willing,’ he told him. ‘Be made clean.’ Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.” (Mark 1: 41-42)

Boy, do I love to hear about those moments of Jesus’s miraculous touch. I’ve experienced a few in my life, as well.

But those moments of refusal can be just as sweet if we humbly remember just to whom we are making our petition.

Jesus. The one who bled for us. Died for us. Saved us.

If He left nothing back for Himself, giving us all, can we trust that His love for us is real? And, much like we do as parents, can we accept that loving us sometimes means telling us “no”?

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