Saying No

How ironic is it that toddlers frustrate their parents so much with their obscenely frequent use of the word no? Meanwhile, the answer adults wish we’d give more often is no. The same two letter word our toddlers have mastered, we can’t muster up the courage to use. Saying no is a skill to develop that takes courage, honesty, and maturity about one’s authenticity, availability, and passion.   

Why is it so difficult for people to say no? If you are one of them, you are among great company. Lots of folks struggle with no. I get it, people don’t want to disappoint, hurt feelings, feel the finality, or sincerely don’t know how to say no. Others don’t say no because they like to be in charge, in-the-know, feel busy, wanted, or needed. Maybe many don’t say no because of the still, quiet space it may bring for a season or the grief & sadness that can go hand-in-hand with a no. Whatever the reason, lots of people in our culture have an extremely difficult time saying no.  

The problem occurs when our yes begins to look like a no. When we don’t have the ability or courage to say no, but lack the passion, skill, availability, or desire to continue on, it will become noticeable. For many, saying yes in these situations means avoiding the awkwardness that can come with a no response. (After all, the no can be sent later in an email, when they are no longer face-to-face with someone.)

I remember an older minister telling me I was going about getting volunteers the wrong way because I presented them the opportunity and asked them to think about it. Instead, he suggested I should catch them off guard, in person, and ask for an answer on the spot. In my opinion, this is not a good method for getting volunteers. While your high-pressure sale may create a yes from the potential volunteer, it’s not worth forcing someone to be involved with a project they aren’t passionate about or dedicated to.

Many feel obligated to explain their no and follow it with an apology. This is a huge misconception. You don’t have to explain yourself or apologize for your decision. It is your choice to make. For example, a PTA member comes to you and says, “We are really running low on people helping with XYZ event. Will you help us next week?” If XYZ event is not something you’re interested in doing or you have other engagements, instead of saying “Oh, I can’t. I’m so sorry. I have to do this, this, this… “
Don’t apologize.
It’s your choice.
Don’t try to rationalize your answer.
You have nothing to prove. 
Simply respond, “I can’t, but thank you for the invitation.” Or maybe it feels more natural to say, “I can’t due to other engagements.” (No need for details though.)
It’s okay to say no unapologetically. 

We will feel more fulfillment and joy in our lives when we begin to say no to the things that deserve no and yes to the things that deserve yes. Our lives are a precious gift we are given to make something out of: to co-create with one another and something greater than ourselves. We are given a finite amount of time to invest in the people and work around us. Why would we want to invest our precious time in things that no longer bring us joy or fulfillment?

One of my favorite songs by the Byrds (let's be honest, probably the only song I know by the Byrds), Turn, Turn, Turn, which is also based on one of my favorite chapters of scripture in Ecclesiastes, talks about there being a season for everything.

A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep
A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together
A time of love, a time of hate
A time of war, a time of peace
A time you may embrace, a time to refrain from embracing
A time to gain, a time to lose
A time to rend, a time to sew
A time for love, a time for hate
A time for peace, I swear it's not too late

There is no greater truth. There are seasons for everything, every experience and every emotion in our lives. There will be seasons we are “called to,” feel energy toward, or deeply desire to do certain things: have a career, raise children, stay single, join this group or that group, or whatever the choice may be. There are times in our lives we need to be doing those specific things we feel strongly led to do. Just as strongly as we feel compelled to start and be a part of those things, there will also be a day we feel strongly to end those things. 

Our lives are always in a constant state of change. We are evolving everyday.

Hopefully, each day we are collecting and using the information, experiences, emotions, and passions we’ve experienced up to that point and using them to assess what we are doing with our lives. Maybe it’s a huge existential question that most people aren’t sorting through poolside while their kids are swimming, but I am. I’m always wondering,
Is this right?
What’s next?
Is this working?
Should I move on?
Is this still a yes or a no?

We don’t question the constant changes in nature because it is science. Fact. Undeniable and undebatable. There is always movement in nature. 

Problems arise when we don’t give this naturally occurring cycle, these seasons, ups and downs, yes’s and no’s the space they need in our lives. We have to be honest with ourselves and those around us, allowing more authentic living. This means accepting there will be no’s and some may be quite scary.

I recently resigned from my ministry position. No one asked me to leave, and I didn’t feel God “calling” me to another church. What made things really awkward (and I just decided to embrace the awkward because it was my truth), I felt this churning uneasiness deep in my gut. It was as if my insides where being tightly gripped, twisted, and wrung out like my grandmother’s laundry, just before she hung it on the line to dry under the blazing Georgia summer sun. I took the job with a most enthusiastic yes. It remained a yes for a long time. We wake up everyday with the choice of saying yes to our job, relationships, activities, etc. One Sunday morning while attempting to put on makeup and get ready for church, I couldn’t fight back tears. I wasn’t 100% sure where they were coming from, but I was forced to face these changing emotions, sadness, and grief. My work in that place, at that time, for that community was done. It had shifted from yes to no. It was time for something different in my life. It was difficult for so many reasons, but right. When we follow our instincts to boldly and unapologetically say no to what’s been a yes for so long, we will be amazed at the opportunity, energy, new life, and growth that presents itself. By saying no, we give ourselves the dignity of moving this thing into our past and the gift of new possibilities for our future. 

Carra Greer