The Power to Say No is a Gift

One of the great challenges I’ve experienced in life is struggling with the power to say no. Whether we want to admit it or not, we do possess this power. But like many things in life, there is a counter-power that creates a tug-of-war between wanting to please or wind up disappointing, between our desire to be liked or potentially loathed. 


I fight this battle almost daily. Do I accept this invitation or not? Do I commit to this project or not? If I say yes, I know I will please those extending the invitation, but what will I compromise in return? Family? Health? Other commitments or relationships?


I’m glad I’m not the only one. Author, Greg McKeown, writes,

Whether it’s an old friend who invites you to dinner or a boss who asks you to take on an important and high-profile project, or a neighbor who begs you to help with the school cake sale, the very thought of saying no literally brings us physical discomfort. We feel guilty. We don’t want to let someone down. We are worried about damaging the relationship. But these emotions muddle our clarity. They distract us from the reality of the fact that either we can say no and regret it for a few minutes, or we can say yes and regret it for days, weeks, months, or even years (Essentialism, 135).


In her usual succinct fashion, Anne Lamott reminds us, “No is a complete sentence” (ibid, 163). 


The power to say no is a gift. I suggest we can accept this gift and use it wisely based on three questions:

            *Does saying yes align with God’s purpose and mission?

            *Does saying yes align with God’s plan unfolding in my life?

            *Does saying yes align with the person God has created me to be?


Not all questions, of course, will be life-altering decisions with high-stakes weighing in the balance. Should I accept this invitation to lunch tomorrow? God’s purpose, plan, and the person He has created me to be may not inform my decision to a one-hour lunch meeting…but it might. 


What I find is that when I pause long enough to pray and ask myself these three questions, I discover greater clarity about which answer I should give (cp. James  4:13-17). In essence, I “take myself off the hook” and put God in the chairman’s seat of my life. If this speaking engagement, mission trip, article to write, coaching opportunity aligns with God’s purpose, what I perceive to be His overarching plan for my life, and how I understand the person God has created me to be, then my answer is an unequivocal yes. If not, then the answer is no, regardless of the short-term feeling of discomfort.


The greatest model for effectively and graciously declining every request and opportunity thrust upon us is Jesus Himself. In a moment of hurried ministry demands, the disciples found Jesus praying, of all things, by Himself, and they said (perhaps with a hint of chastisement), “Everyone is looking for you!” But Jesus, with great clarity of God’s purpose, plan, and who He was (and is) as God’s Person, responded, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out” (Mark 1:38). Jesus knew who He was, God’s purpose and plan, and therefore had no qualms with using the power to say no. I encourage us to do the same.