My Journey to No


It’s not fun to say no. It’s more fun to say yes. People want to hear about your season of yes, not your season of no. No one picks “No” as their “word of the year.” It’s not positive. It’s probably because no one really likes saying no. We don’t like saying no and we don’t like when we are told no. No is a bad word; a word used by not nice people (or so I thought).

I’m in a season of no. It’s very hard and uncomfortable. In some ways, it started with our decision to homeschool. The years leading up to homeschooling, I had overcommitted to activities to the point of total burnout. That is my way. I don’t like saying no, so I don’t. I wanted to give my kids and everyone around me what they wanted. I wanted everyone to be happy. We’ve moved a lot the past few years and at each new place I was looking for ways to make friends. I thought keeping busy with lots of activities was the answer.

For several years, I dragged myself through the month of May, desperate to finish the school year of commitments and feeling an enormous weight of relief when things were done. I didn’t like feeling like that, but I thought that was normal.

Once we started homeschooling, I couldn’t keep saying yes to activities during the day. It was my first step in saying no. It went fairly easy because having the excuse of homeschool was a noble reason (in my mind).

Ah, but when I had to start saying no to friends and my family for “selfish” reasons (in my mind), like I can’t be running around every night of the week because it takes its toll on me, it became much harder and more uncomfortable. The first step was limiting how many activities the kids were allowed to participate in. In January, we discussed each activity and picked two for each kid that we thought made the most sense, they had the most benefit from or that they enjoyed the most. Sadly, we had to back out of some activities that we loved. And I had to say no to volunteer activities where I knew they really needed my help. I had to take the hard steps and start saying no to people we care about.

Then something happened. We weren’t exhausted every week. We had some “breathing room” a few evenings a week where we could eat dinner and then rest for the evening (or I had time to squeeze in something for myself, like a workout). We came to realize that we needed those mid-week breaks. I’m coming to realize the week is not supposed to feel like a marathon where you collapse into the finish line on Sunday, just to start your next marathon on Monday. That’s not a healthy way to live.

A few other surprises happened. We made it to May without feeling desperately tired. I actually felt surprised when our activities wrapped up for the school year. I had the energy to finish strong. Also, saying no to certain activities gave us space to say yes to a new activity: swimming. Swimming has become our family’s passion and I don’t know if we would have found it if we hadn’t said no to a different activity. I don’t think we would have had the time or energy to try it. It would have been a huge loss for our family.

I’d like to think that my no might encourage others to feel the freedom to say no too. It makes me think of something my friend shared several years ago on Facebook: she posted a note about how she’s done stressing out over being perfect and how she doesn’t mind showing others that she doesn’t have it all together (her example was serving food on paper plates), hoping that it extends grace to them; that, in turn, they don’t have to have it all together to be her friend.

I’ve noticed that when God wants to change my heart, He slowly starts introducing the subject to me through many different writings. (He’s such a loving God. He knows how important written words are to me and I love that he uses that medium to reach me.) Whatever the topic, I’ll see it pop up in articles, blogs or books. In one particular instance, it was blatant. I don’t do it often, but one Sunday I had a strong urge to go look at the bookstore in our church’s café. Lysa TurKeurst’s “The Best Yes” was the first book I saw. It almost seemed like there was a spotlight from heaven on this book and I knew immediately I needed to read it. It has been exactly the affirmation and encouragement I’ve needed on this “no” journey.

I also deeply appreciated Elizabeth Gilbert’s recent post on Facebook about her struggle with saying no and what happens when you do. You can find it here.

Time isn’t the only area we’ve been learning to say no. We’ve also been learning to say no to things we don’t need or even things we want, in an effort to live “within our means.” This has been a season of no to material items, so that we can build up and secure our financial situation.

Here’s the thing I’m learning about no. When you say no, you actually are saying yes to something else. It might be no to (insert item), but it’s yes to something else…like yes to having dinner together one night a week…or yes to having a few extra dollars….or yes to saving your sanity. In our case, saying no to one activity gave us the ability to say yes to something that we ended up being very passionate about.

I’m not saying you always need to say no. Sometimes you need to say YES. Sometimes you need to have a yes season – a new job, a new role, a new volunteer position. I’m writing about saying yes to everything without a thought as to whether it makes sense or if it’s something you’re supposed to be doing. I’m talking about saying yes out of fear or anxiety that someone won’t like you, will be upset with you or that you’ll be “missing out.” I’m talking about healthy and wise no’s.

There were some nice surprises about learning to say no. Living a no life makes you more intentional. It has taught the kids (and us) to think through why they’re doing an activity, what they’re getting from it and what they want in the future. It’s made us more rested and peaceful. It gave us space for something new.

2 thoughts on “My Journey to No

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