I’m going to start this post by telling a story about Jesus. Even if you are one of my readers who is not into Jesus, I hope you will keep reading because I think the message of this post is so important. The message is this: “You can say no to people who want to throw you off a cliff.”
What cliff? – you might ask.
What people? – you might ask.
Stick with me, and it will make sense soon.
First the story about Jesus. It is a bit of an odd one, which is one thing I love about it. One day Jesus returns to his hometown and is invited to participate at the synagogue (kind of like someone being asked to participate in the service when they return to the church in which they grew up). Jesus reads from Scripture, and when he does, all the people are amazed. They are excited about what he has to say, and it is clear that they are feeling hopeful that he may be a prophet or even something more. As they sit in awe, however, Jesus challenges them. He tells some stories that imply that God’s saviour is not going to only be for their people, but also for those that are not Israelites. He suggests that the fullness of God’s story would ultimately include everyone – which meant a whole lot of people they did not like.
This is not regarded as good news.
In fact, the crowd grows so angry that they basically form a lynch mob. They drag him out of the synagogue and take him to the outskirts of town, and push him to the edge of a cliff. This is where executions happen, and their clear plan is to put an end to Jesus then and there by throwing him off.
This is a terrifying moment to picture. Here is Jesus, surrounded by friends and family he had known since childhood (remember he was in his hometown), and now the whole town is facing him down, ready to fling him over the edge. What can he possibly do?
I’ll tell you what he does, and I have to say it is awesome. To quote the Bible: “But he walked through the crowd and went on his way.”
When a crowd of angry, afraid, self-righteous, infuriated bullies is ready to toss him over a cliff, Jesus says: “No. You do not get to throw me off this cliff.” He walks away.
As we continue to talk at our church about times to say “no,” this story reminds me that one of the times that we can say “no” is when people want to throw us off a cliff. This is profoundly important, but easily forgotten.
“Cliffs” can look like a lot of things. For you, a cliff might look like a relationship that constantly pushes you to the edge – one that demands and demands, and takes so much that you feel you are close to the tipping point of not being able to take anymore. A cliff might look like a leader who belittles and shames you and makes you feel inadequate so that you begin to wonder if you should even continue in your role. You might be on a cliff if you find yourself saying: “Maybe I’m not cut out for ministry after all.” “Maybe I’m not good enough for this job.” “Maybe I should throw in the towel.” A cliff might even be someone who claims to love you that tells you that you are ugly or unlovable or not capable of being more or only good enough for certain things or obliged to fulfill the roles they see you filling.
I talk to people all the time who are on the edge of cliffs they don’t even recognize. They have been pushed and shoved and cornered so long that they have begun to think it is normal. They are captive to another person’s definition of their value. They don’t see an “out.” They falsely believe that they deserve to be on a cliff.
This is where I want to say something very important: Nobody deserves to be on a cliff. I’m not saying we never do things wrong, or that we are never right to be challenged, or that hard relationships are always bad ones. I am saying that even at our very worst, being held hostage at the end of an emotional cliff is not a valid, helpful, or godly response. What leads people to bring others to cliffs? It is not love, or health, or hope. It is usually fear or insecurity or the need for power and control. That’s what it was with the crowds and Jesus. The people were scared. They were afraid of what Jesus had said, and to deal with their fear they decided Jesus had to go.
It was the wrong response, and it is always the wrong response.
That’s why Jesus said no. No –you don’t get to do this to me. No – I will not let you tell me who I am. No – I will not let you decide how this story goes. No – you do not get to throw me off a cliff.
We can do that, too. If you sense that you might be in a situation or a relationship where you have been dragged where you don’t belong, consider these three steps:
Recognize the cliff
It can be really hard to acknowledge that we have been manipulated or harmed or misused by another person. We don’t want it to be true. Especially if it’s someone we love putting us on that cliff, we can spend a lot of time justifying their behaviour. “Oh, I’m not on a cliff. This is actually just a nice escarpment. I kind of like the view. I don’t mind heights.” That’s why step one is naming things for what they are: “This is a cliff.” “This is harming me.” “I don’t want to be here.”
Remember that you don’t deserve to be on a cliff
As I’ve already said, no one deserves to be on a cliff. You may find yourself wondering: “Is it my fault?” You may wonder if you should have acted differently, or done things differently, or been a different person in order to somehow prevent your abuser from shoving you so far. No. A cliff is the result of someone else’s bad behaviour. Every person is worthy of love and respect, because God tells us so. This includes YOU.
Say “No thank-you.”
It can take a while to get here. It may not happen right away. But when you recognize the cliff, and when you remember you don’t deserve to be there, the next thing to do is walk away from the cliff. This can look like a lot of things. It can look like refusing to listen to the lies someone wants to keep telling about you. It can look like letting a text or a phone call go without responding as you learn to set boundaries. Like in Jesus’ situation, it can look like physically walking away. It always looks like saying “no.”
Why do we have to say no? Because if we don’t, we may get pushed off the cliff. The damage can become so great that it can shatter us. I promise this not God’s plan for you.
Let me end with an invitation:
If you are teetering on the edge, picture God, who loves you, on the other side of the crowd. Picture God with an open hand, inviting you to a different place – where you are safe, valued and loved. Your accuser will try to stop you and hold you back, but remember you can say “no.” You can holler: “YOU CANNOT THROW ME OFF THIS CLIFF!” And you can walk to something new.