The most difficult word for me to say in the English language (so far) is ‘no’. I don’t like saying no. It’s as if I’m not only letting down the person to whom I’ve said “no”, but myself in the process. However, I know I’m not the only one who’s allergic to saying no. Yes, that’s me making myself feel more normal in my insecurity. But, beyond that, I find there’s an unspoken tension between such certain statements as saying no and the impermanence of life and situations. In other words, how can I say no to something that tomorrow will be completely different? Here is the art of maybe.

“Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.” — Proverbs 27:1

The problem with saying no is it is so definite and permanent. It is the black to the world’s grey. Let’s face it, people change, situations change, our values change. Sometimes, these changes occur over months, weeks, days, but they can even occur in minutes or moments. As our knowledge of the situation changes or our value systems used to evaluate those situations change, we are forced to revisit our judgments. We’re forced to reexamine our reasons for saying no and may find the thing to which we said no earlier is, for one reason or another, something completely different now.

“Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” — Matthew 5:37

While these words were issued in the context of oaths, this is a call to saying no. Jesus is very clearly telling us that we need to either be saying yes or saying no. The latter half of the sentence is very strongly worded. He leaves no room for doubt that we are to answer in the definite. In other words, there is no room for “maybe”. In a world filled with grey, we are to answer in the black and white. You’ve heard it from the proverbial horse’s mouth. But, herein lies the tension I perceive.

Saying no in the here and now

How do we reconcile our impermanence with our call to straightforwardness and integrity? If you’ll allow me to go out on a short limb, it is saying no. But, it is saying no with the full knowledge of why we are saying no. It’s making a definitive judgment with definitive criteria. And when the situation changes or our criteria, our values, change, we reevaluate. We say no, but we know that for most things we are saying not now. We only have control over how we perceive and how we react to those perceptions. We do not have control over our circumstances or the future. Maybe this reevaluation process, if done more regularly, would do us all some good.

It should come as no surprise that we live in tension here on earth. We are called both to live in the moment and to make stiff decisions within a world of impermanence. We cannot count on tomorrow, on the one hand. On the other, let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’. Yet, if we’re truly making decisions, weighing the options and the costs, we know why we’re saying yes or saying no. We are in tune with how we arrived at those decisions. In turn, we can make definitive judgments on situations that may be concrete as water. That way, we can say ‘maybe’, but we can also say ‘no’. Because, we allow for the situation to change, but we’re aware of where it falls short that would allow us to say ‘yes’. So, say ‘no’, but in saying no it’s OK to mean ‘not now’. Just don’t say ‘yes’ to killing babies.