3 Steps for Helping You Say “No”

by Virginia Forste

We are a Disney family. We endure the heat, the crowds, and the mask requirement. We suffer and sweat, and we love going back for more. I have a soft spot for Spaceship Earth. It’s the symbol of the Epcot park in Orlando, Florida. The ride shows how the world is propelled into the future with each “yes.” Imagine if we’d said “No” to advanced agricultural practices, the printing press, or the personal computer. Communicate across the world without using Morse Code? Impossible! Our culture’s happiness is based on getting what we want with as little resistance as possible. We often believe “Yes” moves toward a future “so bright you gotta wear shades” and “No” slows us down to a snail’s pace.

Why Do We Avoid No?

  1. We Avoid Disappointment

We want to preserve people’s positive thoughts about us. You have probably heard an example of a child urged to study law or medicine or the family business. In the movie Moana, the main character tries to make herself embrace her role of tribal leader, a role in which she must avoid exploring the ocean like her ancestors, despite her increasing desire to go beyond the shore.

Have you noticed that no one thanks you when you say “No”?:

“Thanks for not joining me on that project proposal at work. I enjoyed the additional time away from my family.”

“Thank you for not going on that date with me. I found someone better.”

Very few people will make statements like these.

  1. We Are Being Followed by Grim Grinning Ghosts

Sometimes we say No because we are wearing an old or ill-fitting identity. Simba (from The Lion King) was blamed for his father Mufasa’s death and was kicked out of the community. He hid for years, wallowing in a false identity. Elsa (from Frozen) ran to an isolated mountain because she could no longer hide the fact that she couldn’t “be the good girl she always had to be.”

I used to teach elementary school. To say that I was green during my first year of teaching is putting it kindly. As I grew as an educator, I would get together with my former coworkers. Although I enjoyed the camaraderie of these amazing women, I found myself discouraged as we repeatedly rehashed some of my embarrassing, first-year-teacher moments.

A Spoonful of Sugar: Making “No” Easier

The three principles below have helped me learn to say No a little more. Maybe they will help you do the same.

  1. Simply Say No

I love the way Jesus says it in Matthew 5:37: “Say just a simple ‘Yes, I will’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Your word is enough. To strengthen your promise with a vow shows that something is wrong” (TLB).

  1. Check Your Reserves

Saying No is one step toward developing healthy boundaries. In 1 Corinthians 6:12, the apostle Paul says that everything is permissible for us, “but not everything is beneficial” (NIV). The question isn’t, “Am I available to do X?” In her book The Best Yes, Bible teacher and author Lysa TerKeurst encourages us to ask, “Do I have the emotional, physical, mental and spiritual margin to give this opportunity my best self?”

  1. Question Your Secret Rules

I used to have a habit of talking out loud while I was teaching. That’s helpful to keep myself on track during a lesson. It’s not so helpful for fourth graders to work hard to discern what is meant for them to pull out of my rambling monologue. “Should I be taking notes on the parts of a plant or her grocery list?” Whether you speak aloud or to yourself, you are constantly reinforcing certain thoughts. Hopefully, these things are true, kind, and helpful. Unless we’re intentional, they’re usually not.

What are your secret rules? One of mine is when scrolling Facebook, I have to respond to each post I see. I feel pressure to respond—especially if a post mentions a sick family member or a child’s developmental milestone. The thought behind the rule is this: “If I don’t at least click the hugging heart emoji then I’m a bad person.” Rules like this imprison us to the worst version of ourselves. Do you get email notifications that Roland saw your post but went right on his merry way (What kind of monster)? Me neither. I don’t even know when or why I started living by this rule. That’s the point—they’re silly, but we don’t question them. Author and speaker Jon Acuff refers to these as “soundtracks” in his book by the same name. Your soundtrack might be, “Saying No makes me selfish.” Is that true, kind, or helpful? No.

If we have made Christ our personal Lord and Savior, the apostle Paul insists we put on a new identity. In Ephesians 4:21-24, Paul says, “If you have really heard his voice and learned from him the truths concerning himself, then throw off your old evil nature—the old you that was a partner in your evil ways—rotten through and through, full of lust and sham. Now your attitudes and thoughts must all be constantly changing for the better. Yes, you must be a new and different person, holy and good. Clothe yourself with this new nature” (TLB). Just as adults should not need help to get out of their pajamas in the morning, we need to be the ones to put on a new identity. God will not force a new mindset on us.

Did Jesus Ever Say No?

He did! Jesus said No to coming quickly to save Lazarus before he died (see John 11:3-7). Jesus said No to saving Jairus’ daughter before she died (see Mark 5:22-24, 35, 36). Jesus said No to show his authority and power. Saying Yes to every healing request would have derailed the gospel and taught us that God is like Aladdin’s Genie. Jesus could have said No to dying for us. He said No to himself to say Yes to us. Perhaps the “No” that God is giving you in response to your prayers means that there is a greater “Yes” in the future.

In what area of your life do you need to practice saying “No”? Check out this message from Christ’s Church. Our lead pastor talks about how a bull’s-eye can help us be more intentional in saying a better “Yes” and “No.” How are you saying “Yes” to Jesus today?

Virginia Forste is a former elementary education teacher and stay-at-home mom who frequently blogs with other moms at textingthetruth.com.

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