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Why Saying No is Better Than Thumbs

I’ve been looking for something to give up for Lent. Kristy is giving up some very surgical stuff this Lent and it reminded me, I’ve been trying to come up with something good. Let me say something, first, about why I think it’s important to give something up for Lent.

There is a dearth of opportunities in our culture to look up to people who deny themselves what they could have. Everything focuses around being happy, and in order for us to be happy, supposedly, we’re supposed to buy/have whatever we want. In every area of life, being denied something you want–we are told–is the worst possible thing in the world.

I beg to differ. Disciplining our instincts is what sets us apart from animals. Forget opposable thumbs. Saying NO.

But more than being awesome, giving up something for Lent is necessary. At least for someone like me, who rarely says no to herself, and even more rarely has no said to her. Lent is the only time, really, when I actively deny myself anything. And if you live a life where you deny yourself nothing, you cut yourself off from half the human experience. And most of history. And the requirements of our faith. But that’s the least important reason, for most of us. It may be the most important to some, but let’s be honest, most of us don’t care that much about discipline. Or obedience. We’d rather be the captain of our own ship.

Regardless of why we do it, I’m the most interested in doing it. Try it out yourself. Just say no. I’ll wait.

Saying no over a long term can make you a better person. If the ability to control our instincts really does set us apart from animals (which I can vouch for–my cat doesn’t say no to any instinct… he barely tolerates it when I say no to his instincts), then shouldn’t the compounding of that no make us more human?

Think of it this way. If everyone said yes to every instinct, every desire, every want… that’s how we get drug addiction, gluttony, rape, theft… okay, yes, I’m exaggerating, but follow this track with me for a minute. If what we’re really here for is to have our every desire, every want, every instinct fulfilled, then  who are we to judge those instincts? Why is it not good for us to gratify every single desire, every single instinct? And if we are going to set boundaries on some of the instincts that are inherently bad, then why not on some that may not be bad in nature, but can produce negative effects? This is all we’re trying to do. Curb our baser instincts.

Sure, opposable thumbs will do in a pinch, but I prefer saying no. Opposable thumbs will do for any caveman. It takes a truly human being to say no. And mean it.

So what will I give up this Lent? You know, I’m not completely certain yet. I’m sure inspiration will strike. I’ve put the call out on Twitter and Facebook and surely someone will answer.

But this Lent, I’m going to be doing more than just denying myself. I’m going to add to the world, as well. I’ll find some way to give back, and I’ll find some way to deny. Live a life of fullness while also living a life of denial. Isn’t that also the essence of being truly human? It’s certainly the story of my life.