"No" is one of the first words we all learn as children. When we made ridiculous demands or stuck our hands in the cookie jar, our moms would tell us, "no." Soon we realized what it meant and tried to use it to our advantage. When told to brush our teeth or clean up our toys, we stomped our little feet and shouted, "no!" As we go through life, we adapt our own interpretation of "no." Some of us throw it around like confetti at a surprise party, and some of us only touch it with a ten-foot pole. We get stuck when we go to either extreme. So how do we use "no" in a productive way for ourselves and others?
Whether you're single or have a house full of children, you have responsibilities. Many of our continuous responsibilities are in our work. Now, one thing to keep in mind is that our work doesn't always mean our jobs. When we serve others or strive for personal goals, we are working. We grow when we challenge ourselves to rise above our expectations. The problem is, we often mistake our chosen obligations for necessities. We tell ourselves that we are selfish or not motivated if we decline to do something without a "valid" reason. Or we are so afraid of running out of time that we reject anything non-essential. From personal experience, I can say that neither side of the fence provides what we all want; fulfillment and contentment.
When we prioritize, we create space for new ideas and constructive rest. When we have a page full of to-dos, we tend to push through and ignore the "why." It's not always that we need to do less, but we could fill the time in more meaningful ways. The only way to determine when to say "no" is to evaluate what the purpose behind our goals is. For example, at our jobs, we have a set of responsibilities to guide us and that framework is what creates a safe and functional working environment. When we become competitive or compare ourselves to others, we overextend ourselves to commitments that distract us from that foundation. When we trust in God, we gain security to ground ourselves in the actions that matter.
There are random moments when I sit back and realize that every second, in the back of my mind, I am making decisions based on what people will think of me. In each little thing, I wonder if I'm doing enough or if I'm working on the "best" track to show my worth. My whole mindset changes when I slow down and ask myself, "why are you doing this right now?" When I trace my actions to the desired outcome, I can see whether it aligns with what matters or is just something that I think I "should" do.
"Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load." - Galatians 6:4-5
In every part of life, our actions make an impact. We need to consider the effects of our choices, but we shouldn't let our need for approval define what needs to be done. Even if something seems free from a downside, that doesn't mean it adds value in your life. I don't mean that we should only do things that will get us ahead, but we need to have space for what we can’t predict. Jesus did. We need to not only focus on what Jesus said but also on how He lived. God is the only one who knows us better than we know ourselves. When in doubt, we can seek clarity in Him. We may not always get an immediate answer, but we can make decisions that follow Jesus and pull us closer to His way of life.
There are times when we are called to say "yes" when it is hard. And there are times when “no” feels like a push against the grain. Next time you face a decision, don't think about it as an acceptance or a rejection. Instead, pretend you have a blank slate and ask yourself what will bring you closer to God in your next steps. Then say "yes" to whichever direction takes you toward Him. There is always something we could be doing, so it is up to us to choose with intention.
"In their hearts, humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps." - Proverbs 16:9
Written Content Coordinator at Sun Valley Community Church. An avid writer since the age of 5, who loves to explore new ideas and places. Inspired by Jesus, books, and travel.