Friday, December 7, 2012

The Art of Saying No

11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,
Titus 2:11-12

Some people are very good at saying no to things. They approach offers skeptically, and are able to quickly not commit to multitudes of things. I am on the opposite side of the spectrum of these individuals. I struggle to say no, and more often (unless in highly unusual cases) say Yes. To practically every opportunity, event and chance that comes my way. I also am notorious for saying yes when people ask me to donate money. Partially because I get excited about so many things, that I can see positive opportunity and a window to contribute in so many things! And for my enthusiasm, I do live a very exciting and dynamic life. I love all the things I am involved in, I love excelling and trying new things and making a difference.

And there is some virtue sometimes to being active, busy and involved. Activity can breed courage, a sense of purpose, an ability to do more than what one thought previously possible. It is healthy to be up to things in life, to challenge yourself to move ahead with rigor.

In times of great stress or adversity, it's always best to keep busy, to plow your anger and your energy into something positive. –Lee Iacocca


Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy. –Dale Carnegie


Lately however I have discovered saying yes to everything is leading me astray. By saying yes to so much, I lead myself to be overcommitted, overworked, overwhelmed and overall less effective. By saying yes I cram my schedule with so many things I hardly leave myself a chance to breathe, much less sleep, eat healthy and rest. The quote below unfortunately speaks to my condition:

A man too busy to take care of his health is like a mechanic too busy to take care of his tools. –Spanish Proverb

I sometimes find myself praying- God let it all slow down, let me get through this- when my crazy schedule is not only fully my fault, but also when I do get a chance to breathe, I fill up my time with more things! I am my own worst enemy on this front.

I think my pace in life stems in some ways from a fear of missing out. Fear of failure. Fear of not making a difference in the world. John had the courage to tell me last night (while I was stressed working on something until midnight) that these fears are all fairly self-serving and self-centered. And he is right- as much as I am genuinely excited about giving to others and living my life for God- the way I am living my life and prioritizing my motivations right now is not reflective of this at all. And I don’t always take things on for selfless reasons.
“Beware of the barrenness of a busy life” -Socrates

My stereotypical way of dealing with this problem is to commit to more. To say Yes to other things to try to solve the problem, or to just charge through it and get as much done out of what I have committed to as I can. Really, what I need to start practicing is to say no. To say no to things- and to stop feeding into the fear I would be missing out. The truth is, I will need to learn to say no if I want to lead a great life, to make a genuine difference, to give my life up to God. And I need to realize that part of living my life for God is practicing saying no every day. And in some ways, by saying no to other things I am saying yes to him. To allow myself the space to be filled with things I would not necessarily expect.

In this conversation, I pray for discernment, wisdom, and the courage to live my life differently than how I have been.


  1. oh, I am with you. I often just wish, wish, wish I didn't have to sleep. Then, it seems, I could get everything I wanted to get done in a day done!! I sleep too little, but I also love being busy so I have just accepted lack of sleep! I feel totally unable to say "no" to something I want to do . . .I always seem to make it all fit, but sometimes my family does not appreciate this so much and there have been times when I really wished I could say no.

  2. Just finished a book called "A Life of Being, Having and Doing Enough" by Wayne Muller. One of his points is that the speed of the human heart cannot possibly keep up with ever increasing mind-driven technologies. The slower, more ancient and eternal pace of the deeper aspects of the human heart cannot keep up with the pace of the mind. There is time needed to process emotions, spirituality, friendship, trust and love. If we pack our days with constant action and commitments piled on top of each other, there is no way for the emotional processing and harvesting of wisdom from these experiences. Our minds race along very fast, but our inner self cannot always keep pace. So it seems better to seek a balance of activities and actions, and learning to say no and to even allow for some measure of a margin in life takes discernment and self discipline. Part of this is for ourselves, and part of this is for the other significant people in our lives who depend on us to be fully present for them.

  3. So recognizable Kelsie. If I am honest, in so much of my exhausting busyness doing "good" I often was inwardly thinking, "Look God at how much good I am doing for you" and somehow seeking His acknowledgement. But, I now know that sometimes His response is "But I didn't ask you to do any of those things". I am too busy to pray and reflect on where my energy and talents should be spent. "To obey is better than sacrifice".