We’re told to say “yes” like Mary, aren’t we? True, but sometimes saying “yes” to God means saying “no” to people’s requests.
During Covid, many of us did very little outside our own homes. Gatherings were cancelled and even grocery shopping was minimized. Now that things have opened up, we may face a familiar old problem: saying “yes” to good things that fill up our schedule. Which can give us anxiety that we have too much to do — and not enough time for ourselves or for God.
In The Book of No, authors Susan Newman and Cristina Schreil help clarify when “yes” is not necessarily the right answer to “Can you….?”
It’s usually not a sin to pause before answering a request. In fact, pausing or delaying our response until the next day is our chance to check in with God to see what He wants. Ask that the request be emailed, to be sure you understand what’s involved. Newman and Schreil suggest this list of questions to ask before jumping to “yes:”
Do I have the time?
What will I have to give up to do this?
Will I feel pressured to get it done?
Will I be upset with myself after saying yes?
Will I resent the person asking?
Will I feel duped, had, or coerced?
What am I agreeing to? What’s the gain?
Checking in with God
If you have a decent prayer life, you likely have a good idea what God is asking of you. It’s worth taking the time to consider whether a request fits in with your “core mission.” For example, if your mission is motherhood, you’ll consider first what your children need from you. Or if your mission is writing, you may think twice about heading up a fundraising gala that would take you away from your desk for a year.
Charles Stone, a pastor (charlesstone.com), shares ways to gracefully say “no.” Here are two:
- Say “no” without using the word “no.”
To soften your response, use phrases like, “I’m sorry, but that won’t work for me right now,” or “My schedule won’t permit it now. But thanks for thinking of me.”
That last one, “My schedule won’t permit it,” requires some ground work on our part. I learned from Michael Hyatt (michaelhyatt.com) and David Allen (see Getting Things Done below) that if I put soul-food (prayer, exercise, reading) on my calendar first, it won’t get clogged by other demands. I’m learning slowly to “schedule what’s important first,” and let everything else fill in around the important stuff. We can’t help anyone if we are spiritually weak: prayer, exercise, and reading are “must-have’s” if we want to serve God well.
- Simply and kindly say “no,” and if possible explain why.
I’m not sure I agree with explaining, because some requestors will just argue (remember the Garden of Eden?) Stone adds that “no may feel awkward, but that uncomfortable emotion will quickly pass. However, if you say yes when you should have said no, the feelings of regret last much longer and take a much greater toll.”
In his book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, Greg McKeown ties a thoughtful no to the virtue of courage. Courage is doing something scary because it’s the right thing to do. And saying no can be scary! Thinking of no as a display of courage can help us turn down offers if, after checking in with God, we know it’s not for us.
After all, Mary’s life was not all yes – she had to say no to the devil, and to anything that would lead her, out of fear or weakness, away from what God wants. To put it another way, if we put our effort into to saying yes to God, the no’s will fall away of their own weight.
The business of this life should not preoccupy us with its anxiety and pride,
so that we no longer strive with all the love of our heart to be like our Redeemer,
and to follow his example. — Pope St. Leo the Great
Scroll down and share a time when you had the courage to say no to a good thing because you believed that was the right thing to do. And if you need a little help saying no, pick up one of the books below!
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The Book of No: 365 Ways to Say it and Mean it
Getting Things Done by David Allen
We can’t say “no” until we’re clear what God’s asking us to say “yes” to. Getting Things Done isn’t a religious book, but I’ve found it extremely valuable for getting my prayer life on track by putting on my calendar first what’s most important.
Talk about clarity! The author of Essentialism makes prioritizing (and letting the rest go) breathtakingly simple. I’m about to dive into it for the second time.