NoLearning to say NO is extremely important.

Although we talk a great deal about saying YES to ourselves and to God  in this community, learning to say NO and mean it is a crucial part of the journey. Writer, motivational speaker and radical Jesus lover Bob Goff reports he “quits something every Thursday” because he understands saying no to distractions and detours is an integral part of choosing his best yes.

As I watch the world around me and talk to my fellow sojourners, I see how many of us struggle with saying no. Setting appropriate boundaries, building healthy relationships and choosing how to use our time wisely is impossible without liberal use of the word NO.

Here are a few brave ways to use the word NO:


No is a complete sentence. Many of us feel compelled to justify our choice to say no, as if we are not entitled to say no unless we have a detailed excuse. Some of us find ourselves performing tasks we didn’t have time or energy to take on simply because we couldn’t quickly come up with a good reason to refuse when we were asked. I can’t count the number of volunteer jobs I was invited to do at church or school over the past two decades where I scrambled to explain the minute details of my busy life to justify to the asker why I was refusing their offer, as if I was begging for their approval. I wanted them to like me, respect me and understand why I was making the choice, when really they just wanted to finish filling out their forms. In most cases, they didn’t care why I couldn’t do it and were ready to move on to the next person on their list. Making excuses is not necessary or helpful in most cases and there are very few people to whom I owe an explanation.

Repeat after me, just say no. In many cases, no is a complete sentence.

“No, I am not fine.”

My daughter recently shared with me her frustration about her living conditions. The college suite she shares with five other girls was chaotic and messy. She was overwhelmed by the disarray and clutter and it was contributing to her feeling scattered. We talked about her options and counted how many days were left until the end of the semester. Several days later, she reported an encouraging turn of events. She had communicated her sense of frustration to her roommates and shared with them how the state of their home was impacting her ability to focus on her schoolwork and her overall mental health. She let them know which things were not working for her and asked for their help. Because she let them know it was important to her, they all chipped in and made some needed changes, cleaning up the suite and talking about what each of them hoped for going forward. If she had continued to keep her growing resentments to herself, her circumstances would have been unlikely to change.

Simply put, other people can’t read our minds, so we must ask for what we need.

“No, that is not ok.”

Several years ago, I was serving in leadership at our church. There was an issue under discussion concerning important denominational issues about which many of us felt strongly. As the situation unfolded, it became clear many on our board assumed we all agreed with the majority opinion. As I listened, my discomfort increased as I grew more and more uncomfortable with the direction the conversation was heading. I disagreed vehemently, but I knew my opinion would be unpopular. Eventually, after praying about it, I knew I needed to speak up for the sake of my integrity and those in the congregation who I knew felt as I did. I shared my opinion and found others had also been struggling in silence. My choosing to speak up gave others the courage to voice their concerns as well.

We live in a world still broken by injustice, inequality and evil. In recent months, even our presidential election has deteriorated to an unprecedented level of ugliness and vitriol. Although withdrawal and cynicism is appealing, nothing changes if we choose not to become part of the conversation. Albert Einstein once said “If I remain silent, I’d be guilty of complicity.”

Our outrage is wasted when we don’t speak up and say “No, that is not ok.”

“No, not right now.”

We cannot do more than one thing at a time and we cannot be in more than one place at a time. I find this reality endlessly frustrating. I am a joiner and a starter. I want to do ALL THE THINGS. Unfortunately, this tendency often translates to a lack of focus and follow through. I see many of my friends falling prey to this tendency as well, great ideas and multiple connections contributing to a watering down of their efforts. When I decided to concentrate on my writing and speaking ministry, I joined multiple communities and signed up for a number of growth opportunities. I soon discovered I was spending more time talking and learning about writing than I was spending writing. I would head in the direction of my well thought out goal and then get distracted by something shiny and appealing along the way. Since it is Thursday, I am in the process of quitting a number of good things in order to hone my focus. Every wonderful thing to do is not MY wonderful thing to do, every opportunity is not meant for this season. I must choose.

I am the only one who can make the final decision about the best use of my time. This reality requires me to say no more often than I say yes.

“No, I don’t understand.”

As a culture, we are spectacularly bad at listening to one another and I am as guilty as the next person. Our tendency when another person is speaking is to listen with partial attention while formulating our own response. We can’t wait to offer our opinion, analysis or counterpoint. Perhaps all of us, myself included, would be better served by pausing and listening with our full attention and, if we don’t yet feel we fully understand the viewpoint of the other person, say so. Other ways of saying “no, I don’t understand” which would encourage additional dialogue might include statements like:

  • tell me more
  • sounds like you feel…
  • I’ve never thought of it that way
  • I’m listening

Truly offering another person the gift of our presence and attention is the path to understanding and healthier relationships. We all want to be seen and heard, so we are wise to offer the same gift to one another.

If discovering how to choose your no’s and yes’s more wisely appeals to you, consider joining us for our Being Brave retreat on April 9th.

Registration and more information

Linking up today with my brilliant friends at #LiveFreeThursday. The theme this week is “Um, no!” Click HERE to read more insightful discussions of the ways in which we use the word no.

What did I leave out? Tell me in the comments below, what are your brave No’s?