No. Such a small word, yet such an important one. Why do we have such a hard time saying it? Why do we have such a hard time saying no to things that we know deep down in our souls are not ours to do? I recently read a blog post by Francisco Sáez that I felt gave some very good reasons.
First, we want to help. Simple as that. We love to help others whenever we can. If someone calls me up and asks me if I can help with something, everything in me wants to say yes even when realistically it might not be possible. We don’t want to say no because we love to help other people.
Secondly, we want others to like us . . . all of the time. We would rather spend our time doing millions of things that we know are not ours to do rather than tell someone no and face possible rejection. Wouldn’t you agree? We want people to like us. Therefore, we have a hard time telling others no.
Thirdly, and this is one I hadn’t thought of, but realize I do this a lot. Sometimes we don’t say no simply because we respect someone. Think of someone in your life that you highly respect. Maybe it’s your parents, a teacher, or a good friend. If that person asks you to do something, is it easier to tell them yes or tell them no? For me, there are some people in my life that I just can’t say no to because I love and respect them so much. Do you have someone in your life like that? Do you have someone you just can’t say no to?
Next one . . . sometimes we don’t say no because we want to avoid conflict. Do you enjoying being in conflict with another person? If you’re like me, then I would have to guess that you don’t. Often, I think it is easier for us to say yes then confront someone and say no. For me this ties back to number two. I want everyone to like me, and I avoid conflict like the plague. We often don’t say no because we don’t want to face potential conflict in our relationships.
Now, this next one is a huge one for me, and I’m guessing it’s a big one for many of you too. Guilt. We don’t say no because doing so will make us feel guilty. Guilt is that feeling we get when we think that we have done something wrong or we have failed someone. This is the one that kicks me in the gut every time. I hate having that feeling that I have disappointed or failed someone. I feel this especially in my role as a mom. I question the decisions I make concerning my kids all of the time and worry that I’m failing as their mom. Can you relate to that at all? Sometimes, we don’t say no because we feel guilty, even in those times when saying no is perfectly reasonable.
The last one is the fear of missing out on future opportunities. Sometimes, we’re afraid that if we don’t say yes when someone asks us to do something that they will never ask anything of us again. Maybe your kid’s soccer coach asks you to help lead practices this spring. You would love to say yes, but with your husband doing a lot of traveling for work and three other young kids at home, you just can’t make it work right now. But, if you say no now, will the coach consider you next season? Or, maybe your boss at work offers you an amazing promotion. You know you have the skills to do the job well and the salary increase would be huge for your family. But, you also know that with the promotion come longer hours at work, and you feel like you barely see your kids now as it is. Saying yes seems impossible. But, if you say no, will your boss think of you the next time a promotion opportunity comes up? Sometimes, we’re afraid that if we don’t say yes now, we will be missing out on future opportunities as well.
There are many reasons that we choose to say yes when we actually should be saying no. But why is it important to say no to begin with? First of all, the more times I say yes to the needs of others, the less time I have available for those things dearest to my heart. Those things that I’m passionate about. My family. My ministry. My Best Yes assignments from God. If I am spending most of my time saying yes to assignments that aren’t mine, I’m missing out on the ones that are.
Secondly, saying yes all of the time affects us physically, mentally, and spiritually. Taking on assignments that aren’t yours can easily lead to anxiety, stress, or even burn out. I love this one quote from Lysa Terkeurst. She says,
“Saying yes all the time won’t make me Wonder Woman. It makes me a worn out woman.”
She’s absolutely right. Taking things on that God did not create us to do can leave us feeling stressed and depleted over time.
Thirdly, saying yes when we should be saying no can affect our relationships with others. Think about it. If you have a friend that you repeatedly say yes to when in reality you should be saying no, what is going to happen? Over time, you may begin to resent that relationship. Over time, you may begin to resent that friend. It is important to remember that sometimes we have to say no.
Now, even though there are times that it is important to say no, there are still times that you have to say yes. You cannot say no to avoid responsibility or say no to purposefully hurt others. If you are working and receiving a paycheck for the work you complete, you are obligated to complete it. If you have given your word to someone and promised to complete a task, you are obligated to complete it. If your baby has a poopy diaper, you are obligated to change her. Not every responsibility is going to be your responsibility, but you still have some responsibilities. This lesson is not to encourage you to say no to every opportunity that presents itself at your door. The word “no” is not to be used to avoid responsibility or used to hurt someone else.
So, how do we do this? How do we graciously and effectively say no? It’s important to start practicing what we are going to call the small no. What do I mean by that? A small no is a no given early before expectations and disappointments can build.
Last year, our school secretary was working through some difficult health issues. Due to the lack of substitutes for that position, she often was forced to come in for work despite the pain she was suffering. I empathized with her and told her I wished I could help her out, which was completely true. I love to help people. But, I admit that when I said those words, I didn’t expect her to then ask if I would apply to serve as a substitute in the district. Immediately, I knew that this was not something I could realistically do in my current season. So what do you think I said? Yep! You guessed it! I told her I would take a look at my schedule and see if it was something I thought I could do. Deep down, I knew my answer had to be no. But rather than telling her that right away, I chose to delay my no. I chose to delay it thinking that maybe she would forget that she asked me. Now, let me ask you something. From her perspective, what did my answer tell her? It told her that I was possibly interested and that I would look into it. How do you think that made her feel? Hopeful. She was hopeful. She was hopeful that I would come on as a substitute, and she would be able to take the time off that she needed to get well.
Delaying our no answers does three things. First, it builds hope. When we chose to not say no right away, we give the other person hope that we might actually say yes.
Secondly, giving a delayed no prevents that person from making other plans. The school secretary was hopeful that I was going to say yes. And though I don’t know this for certain, I wonder if she held off asking others to consider subbing because she thought I might actually do it. When we fail to say no early on, it can keep others from making other plans.
Lastly, delaying our no answers makes the eventual no so much harder to receive. After a few weeks of skirting the substituting request from her, I finally had the courage to tell her that I just couldn’t do it. She was extremely disappointed which made me feel even worse. Lysa Terkeurst says, “A small no pushes through the resistance of awkwardness and disappointment because it’s better to nip something early on. Early on, expectations and disappointments can be managed better with a small no. But the more we let things develop and progress, the harder the no becomes.” And that’s true. I delayed telling her no and when the time came that I finally confessed that I couldn’t do it, it was extremely hard to say the words.
In the book of Matthew 27:11-26 (MSG), we find the story of Pilate. Pilate served as the Roman governor of Judea from 26-36 AD. In his position, he was responsible for seeing that the people in his jurisdiction obeyed Roman law. After having Jesus arrested, the Jewish religious leaders brought him before Pilate. Pilate saw the situation for what it was. He believed that Jesus was innocent and that the religious leaders arrested him purely out of envy. But rather than tell them no at the start, Pilate delayed his response. Instead of saying no he questioned the Jews and the charges brought against Jesus. Instead of saying no, he offered to pardon one prisoner. The crowed could choose to pardon Jesus, or they could choose to pardon a well know murderer named Barabbas. Pilate delayed saying no until it got to the point where he no longer felt he had the power to do so. As the Jews threatened to riot, he washed his hands of the situation and turned Jesus over to be crucified. I think it was God’s plan that Pilate did not use the small no because I think things would have turned out much differently on that day if he had. The small no. When used wisely, expectations and disappointments are easier to manage.
But how do we actually say no? How can we graciously and effectively tell others that the assignment they have asked us to take on is not ours to take? Comedian John Crist gives us some example. Check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B3oc735Ay2k.
Just say no. He’s right. When it comes down to it, all we need to do is say no. Matthew tells us,
“And don’t say anything you don’t mean. This counsel is embedded deep in our traditions. You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk, saying, ‘I’ll pray for you,’ and never doing it, or saying, ‘God be with you,’ and not meaning it. You don’t make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true. Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong.” Matthew 5:35-37 (MSG)
Just say no. A simple no. As a culture, we have gotten it into our heads that saying no is not nice. Saying no is selfish and hurtful to others. However, a simple no can be gracious, honest, and life giving. A simple no can be used to encourage and build others up.
When you must tell someone no, be gracious and kind. Ephesians tells us,
“Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift.” Ephesians 4:29 (MSG)
When you must tell someone no, be honest. Proverbs says,
“An honest answer is like a warm hug.” Proverbs 24:26 (MSG)
Dishonesty only builds hopes and expectations. Choose to be honest.
When you must tell someone no, look for an opportunity to encourage and build them up with your words. Ask yourself what you can say that will encourage that person despite the fact that you are saying no to them. Ask yourself what you can say that will build them up not tear them down.
Lysa Terkeurst gives some great examples of how we can graciously and effectively say no.
- While my heart wants to say yes, yes, yes, the reality of my time makes this a no.
- I am honored by your request but I’m in a season of refocusing my priorities and have committed not to add anything new right now.
- After living at an unhealthy breakneck pace for too long, I’m learning to realistically assess my capacity. Though I would love to say yes, the reality of my limitations means I must say no this time.
- I so appreciate you asking me, but I must be brave and decline this opportunity. Saying no is hard for me but necessary in this season. Thank you for understanding.
- I’ve promised my family not to add any new commitments to my schedule right now. Thank you for our friendship that allows me to be honest with my realities.
I have a friend who also gave me a great example. She told me that when I tell someone no that I don’t have to give my reasons or apologize profusely. She said that she usually just says, “I’m sorry. I can’t at this time.” And . . . that’s it. Simple, yet honest and effective.
To close, I want to remind you that God’s desire is not for us to always say no. He has assignments before us that He wants us to say yes to: our Best Yes assignments. But to make room for those assignments and to complete them in a way that honors God, we have to say no to those things He did not create us to do. Graciously, honestly, and simply say no. It is in those moments that we turn down those assignments not meant for us that God opens the door to what He has next. Have the courage to use the power of the small no. Have the courage to say no so that you are ready to say yes.
Biblegateway. www.biblegateway.com. Accessed 4 Feb. 2019.
“The Psychological Cost of Never Saying No.” Harley Therapy Counseling Blog. https://www.harleytherapy.co.uk/counselling/saying-no.htm. Accessed 5 Feb. 2019
Saez, Francisco. “Why You Should Say No More Often, and How to Do So.” Facilethings. https://facilethings.com/blog/en/say-no. Accessed 4 Feb. 2019.
Terkeurst, Lysa. The Best Yes, Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands. Nashville, Nelson Books, 2014.
“Who Was Pontius Pilate?” Got Questions. https://www.gotquestions.org/Pontius-Pilate.html. Accessed 5 Feb. 2019.