The Art of Saying "No"
“No, sorry I can’t. I don’t have any good reason, sorry.”
It feels morally unacceptable to say that to someone we actually like, right? If we are able to make it work, we feel obligated to say yes.
These days, we are told we should be able to work full time, be in the process of starting our own side business, be a fully present wife and mother, and be active in our community. And if you can’t keep all the balls in the air, then we feel we are abnormal and a failure. Or at least that’s how it feels to me. Lazy, unsuccessful, not passionate are a few of the lies that circulate in our culture and hearts if we don’t live up certain expectations.
But it’s just that- a lie. Unlike what Hollywood tells us (and what our sinful hearts want to be true) we weren’t created to be Super Heroes. We aren’t supposed to be able to do everything all at once! And it’s a lie that we are going to be able to do all 10 things well.
So, how then, do we move into living as created beings who experience freedom through limitation? We do it through practicing the art of saying No.
It’s true, there is an art to learning to say no, and I’m not skilled at it. But I want to put my energy into getting better at this skill rather than feeling the dread of being overly obligated. The truth is, when we begin to say no, we are also beginning to say yes to better things. Saying no to dinner with friends is saying yes to sweet family time. Saying no to Netflix before bed means saying yes to feeling the rest that comes from reading a book and going to bed on time. Limiting yourself to one or two social events a week is saying yes unproductive downtime.
There are many reasons why we say yes too often and spread ourselves too thin. We don’t want to disappoint people. We are afraid that with saying no to those we respect and care about, that their opinion of us will change from how we want to be perceived. We also like how successful and accomplished we feel when we are jumping from activity to activity. Along the same lines, we run away from being still, quiet, bored, and alone with our thoughts. So, we are always on the go, always feel exhausted and invigorated at the same time, and we miss settling into our souls and into relationships the way saying no allows us to.
Before you go deeper into the art of saying no, there are some things you should know.
First, it’s going to feel uncomfortable. You’re going to feel bored, lonely, and purposeless.
Just know that your feelings aren’t telling the truth. It’s o.k. to wrestle with those feelings. Good things will come from allowing yourself to feel purposeless, lonely, and bored. But be prepared to preach the Gospel to yourself when those feelings arise. Talk to yourself more than you listen to yourself. Your purpose doesn’t come from how you define success; it comes from your Creator and Redeemer. Loneliness can become an opportunity to press into the one who is always with you. Creativity is born in the midst of boredom.
Second, know that you are most likely going to feel like the people you said no to will judge and think differently of you.
Again, that’s ok! Use this opportunity to preach the Gospel to yourself AGAIN, allowing God to tell you that his opinion is more important than all the others. Friends, repentance is a gift. Lets allow these moments of uncomfortableness to expose our false loves and turn back to our first love.
Third, know that just as saying "no" still is a journey, even though its different from saying "yes".
Allow yourself time to think through what you want to be saying yes to. Write out the long-term benefits of your yes, as well as your motives behind it. If it’s out of guilt or obligation, then it might be best to say “No”, even if you don’t know what you’ll be saying "yes" to in the future!
Photo: Bethany Shaw