When I first started dating my husband, I decided that whatever he asked of me, the answer would always be 'yes'. Would I give him a neck rub? Yes. Make him dinner? Yes. Ride a motorcycle? Yes. Drive across the state to see him? Yes.
This was terrifying at first - what if he asked me to do something that violated my principles or values, or put me in danger? What if he took advantage of my generous nature and wanted me to be his servant?
Then I realized that this was the discernment: I could never share my life with anyone who did those things, and what quicker way to find out if my 'yes' was justified? If he asked me something that put my 'yes' in jeopardy, I would know he was not the one for me. He never did. In the meantime, he did stretch my comfort zone and my assumptions about who and how and how much I could love, and I found myself happier and more trusting than ever.
And I ended up married to a man who, far from taking advantage of my generosity, instead finds joy in returning, even exceeding it. He says 'yes' to everything I ask - well, almost. I still don't have a pony...
I also had to admit that saying 'yes' to him challenged me in another way - my own selfishness or laziness or fear or whatever other quality might make me want to hold back from him.
I once read the blog of a mom who said that she realized early on with her kids that she could say 'no' to their requests unless there was a reason to say 'yes', or she could say 'yes' unless there was a reason to say 'no'. She consciously chose to do the latter, to challenge herself and to challenge her children into a more positive and adventurous life.
Because how often does 'no' mean 'I'm tired' or 'we've never done in that way' or 'I don't want to be bothered'? How much does 'yes' help us see how we can grow, in our own lives and in our relationships?
It seems to me that all relationships are ultimately about love, and all love is ultimately about trust - about balancing our fears against our need for closeness. Getting close to others means that they could potentially harm us, and we do so judiciously. And yet, once we start getting closer we can let ourselves trust more. Saying 'yes' helps us get there.
In the Gospels, I notice that Jesus is always asking people to follow him, and he is often challenging people to be more than what they think they are. From asking the rich young man to give up all his possessions to asking Peter and Andrew to put down their fishing nets to asking the Samaritan woman at the well to give him a drink of water, Jesus makes simple requests that are profound in nature.
He is really asking the young man to become poor, Peter and Andrew to give up their livelihoods, the Samaritan woman to break social and religious convention. All for the chance to learn what love really means. And they say 'yes' (well, we don't really know what the rich young man ended up saying, but I like to think that after he walked away sad, and thought about it for awhile, he did say yes!)
It is a small and yet profound thing in our lives, too. Every day we have the chance to answer many questions, large and small, from strangers, friends, loved ones, family. Do we say 'yes'? How often? What holds us back? Sometimes, 'no' is prudent, 'no' is necessary. But maybe not as often as we think. Maybe love really is waiting on our assent.