Skip to main content

the NO

I am 16 days away from moving back onto the island of Montreal. In the last few years, almost despite myself, I have developed a strange love for this city and her inhabitants. Quite unnatural, really. Last night as part of our home group session on taking risks in areas that we have had bad experiences in, we were wandering the streets on the lookout for anyone that we could connect with and show some love to. We started out at Second Cup but soon realised that everyone was in their own little world: on their laptops, reading, or talking intimately with a group of friends. Not much of a place to connect. So we headed out down Parc Avenue to see whom we would meet. The streets were pretty empty and as we walked on, I felt this love grow big inside me and I yelled out some spontaneous thanks and prayers to God to bless this place. Yes, we were on our way to changing the world, I could feel it.

On the way back up Parc to fetch my car, my friend and I came upon a lady with several large and heavy bags. One was on her back and she was straining to carry the other two up the slight incline. We both stopped and offered to help her carry these items, our hands ready to grasp the handles and haul. But the lady was not that interested in our help. She politely refused, we asked again, and she refused with a shake of her head. She really did not want our help. So we walked on, puzzled and sure that she really DID need our help.

We glanced back and saw that the lady had dropped both bags on the sidewalk and was leaning over with her hands on her knees. Hardly the stance of someone managing nicely. My friend noted that this was not as it should be, so we did an about face and headed back to the burdened soul. We again offered our assistance and at this point, the lady became less polite. In no uncertain terms she let us know that our persistence was wearing on her patience and that she would really prefer us to move on and leave her alone. I tried one more time to make conversation but a glare stopped me. We got the point and walked away.

This event made me sad. Not just sad, I was hurt in some way, pained at the refusal, and conflicted over the inability for us to give help when it was so obviously needed. I could not understand the NO. I do not know what the lady's story was, perhaps she had been a victim of a robbery at some point and was wary of strangers, lovey and soft-spoken as they might be. Perhaps she was an independent loner. Perhaps she was carrying valuable possessions and did not want to entrust them to any other hands. I do not know, but I do know that her insistence on carrying her own burdens was the wrong choice.

Other people from our group also mentioned that it was hard to connect to anyone that evening. It was like the people of the city had established their own little personal safety zone and did not want to move from it, especially not to have an encounter with a stranger. What confused me and tore at my heart was that I finally have some compassion for the people I see in this city and they don't seem to care. They don't want me nor my little offers of help. They don't want anyone intruding in their lives.

Earlier that evening we had read from Hebrews 13: I'll never let you down, never walk off and leave you...God is there, ready to help. Yes, God is ready to help, but often, like the lady on Parc Ave., I insist on doing this myself, on carrying my burdens and the weight of situations on my own back. I refuse to let God or anyone else in, and I suffer and grow tired as nothing much changes. I say NO over and over again to the help that comes in strange clothing.

I wept for the lady with the bags. I cried out for God to soften her heart and heal her wounded soul. I cried out for my heart not to lose its compassion in the face of rejection, and I asked that when I see Jesus on this road I am on, offering to help me, that I not refuse his hand.

This is a street in St. John, New Brunswick.


Popular posts from this blog

the songs we sing

NOTE: I am going to make some pretty strong statements below, but understand that it is my way of taking an honest, hard look at my own worship experience and practice. My desire is not to be overly critical, but to open up dialogue by questioning things I have assumed were totally fine and appropriate. In other words, I am preaching to myself. Feel free to listen in.


When I am in a church meeting during the singing time, I sometimes find myself silent, unable to get the words past my lips. At times I just need a moment of stillness, time to listen, but other times, the words make me pause because I don't know that I can sing them honestly or with integrity. This is a good thing. We should never mindlessly or heartlessly sing songs just because everyone else is. We should care deeply about what we say in our sung, communal worship.

At their best, songs sung by the gathered body of Christ call to life what is already in us: the hope, the truth, the longing, t…

comedic timing

One of my favourite jokes goes like this:
Knock, knock.
Who's there?
Interrupting cow
Interrupting cow w---

Timing is important in both drama and comedy. A well-paced story draws the audience in and helps it invest in the characters, while a tale too hastily told or too long drawn out will fail to engage anyone. Surprise - something which interrupts the expected - is a creative use of timing and integral to any good story. If someone is reading a novel and everything unfolds in a predictable manner, they will probably wonder why they bothered reading the book. And so it is in life. Having life be predictable all of the time is not as calming as it sounds. We love surprises, especially good surprises like birthday parties, gifts, marriage proposals, and finding something that we thought was lost. Surprises are an important part of humour. A good joke is funny because it goes to a place you didn't expect it to go. Similarly, comedic timing allows something unexpected …

singing lessons

When I was a young child, a visiting preacher came to our country church. He brought his two daughters with him, and before he gave his sermon, they sang beautiful duets about Jesus. They had lovely voices which blended well. The preacher, meaning to impress on us their God-given musical talent, mentioned that the girls had never had any singing lessons. The congregation nodded and ooohhed in appreciation. I was puzzled. I didn't understand how not learning was a point of grace or even pride. After all, people who have natural abilities in sports, math, writing, art, or science find it extremely helpful to study under teachers who can aid them in their development and introduce them to things outside their own experience. Being self-taught (though sometimes the only option available to those with limited resources) is not a cause for pride or celebration. Why? Because that's just not how the communal, relational Creator set things up.

I have been singing since I was a child. …