The only thing I know that I have permanently – and I do not speak out of conceit or imagination – is what I have day and night, wherever I may be… It is: first, Faith; Second, Faith; Third, Faith… That’s it! There is nothing else I can say to you, It animates and guides my life. Since I have faith, if someone were to come tell me: “will you go with me to Lebanon?” I would answer: “yes.” “How can you say ‘yes’ just like that?” they may ask. “Yes! I say *yes*, because I believe that if it is not for my own good, God will arrange things so that the very same persons who invited me will tell me *no* – for instance, there may be some delays and formalities which will prevent our departure and so on… I have seen this occur in my life regularly, these last fifty years – not just one or two years, as I am not ninety-one years old!
Mother Gavrilia, The Ascetic of Love p. 195
I’ve read and heard it said that some people have a problem saying *no* to things. That they keep saying yes and yes until they become too stressed out to be any good for anything – or something to that effect – and the only result is tiredness, stress, and worry. The other day Fr. John mentioned “in Christ it is always Yes,” meaning always yes to God – and Mother Gavrilia extends that to meaning that it’s always yes to others, because God most often talks to us through other people. She also considers tiredness as something not worth considering; if God wants us to do something, He’ll prevent us from being too tired to do it, regardless of what we might think of the situation. But there must be something to the advice of saying *no* as well, because there are so many people who are anxious and stressed from being busy all the time. There are exchanges all the time of: “How are you?” “Busy! Stressed! Tired!” But I have heard, and it seems right, that the real problem isn’t that we have much to do, and are busy doing it, but rather that we carry the concerns of each activity into all the others, as a kind of weight, either from worry, or because we ought to have gotten something done and have not, or because our lives are disordered and we do not know the proper manner and limits of accomplishing a task.
So, for instance, when I was in Alaska teaching, it always seemed that I had too much work to do, not because the work itself was too much – after all, I had little else to do! – but because I didn’t know what I had to do, nor how to do it, and would put too much work into one part, and none at all into another. So it was from disorder rather than excess that I was never quite free of the work. Also, both myself and the other teachers there would worry that what we were doing wasn’t working, because we and the administration expected a certain outcome from our actions: that the students would respond in such-and-such a way – and took on not only our own work, but, mentally, the work of the students as well.
It’s from that sort of thing, rather than from our responsibilities themselves, that we become tired and stressed and disheartened. If I agree to organize an event, say, and become responsible not only for organizing it, but for ensuring that it succeeds as well. Of course, I can’t ensure that it succeeds, and really the failure of most anything we’re responsible for is such a little thing, it’s only our pride that’s hurt.
But also, Mother Gavrilia intentionally put herself in a position where she was able to say *yes* all the time, by not working all the time, nor having a bunch of possessions to have to deal with, nor amusements to keep herself occupied – and didn’t have a family. On the last, she mentions that within a family the *yes* must first, after Christ, always be to the husband. Late in life she joined a monastery, and there the situation is similar, as a nun cannot just go off and do something, but must first ask the blessing of the abbess. I suppose they’re two different kinds of obedience: the one to Christ in the person of whomever one happens to meet, and the other to Christ in the form of a particular person – a husband or abbess or bishop. The idea, though, is to submit to someone outside ourselves, with a certain “Yes,” always, no matter how we may feel at the moment. And it’s important that it not only be the voice of God, but also God in others.