Should I say yes … or no?

Back when I was a new widow, I adopted the attitude of saying Yes to as many opportunities as possible. “Yes, I’ll join you and the kids in Disney World.” “Celebrating your husband’s birthday in Mexico? I’ll be there!”

And not only Yes to new adventures, but also Yes to interruptions, volunteer respite care, and visiting the dying.

Photo by Kevin Borrill on Unsplash

As we head into the second month of a new year—some of us with goals and intentions in mind—I’ve been thinking about how to know when to make a new commitment, and when to recognize that our schedules are plenty full.

A resounding Yes

Saying Yes can be challenging after a major setback that drives us to our couches with stacks of books and pots of tea. When we’ve lost something of significant value—our health, a loved one, rewarding work or ministry—we want the comfort of the familiar.

But getting off the couch and making the most of our hardest Yeses means we trust God with the unexpected and the unpleasant. It means we lean into the detours, into the waiting. We accept not knowing what’s going on.

God hears all our resounding Yeses, and I think it gladdens His heart because of what we can achieve through our availability partnered with His power and His resources.

The important word No

And then there’s the important word No, which we find difficult to articulate to our friends, our families, our communities. Because we don’t want to disappoint anyone. Because we earn our sense of self-worth by how busy and involved we are. Or because we kind of like the reputation of being Superman or Supergirl.

In her book Bread and Wine, Shauna Niequist wrote:

I pray that we’ll understand the transforming power that lies in saying No, because it’s an act of faith, a tangible demonstration of the belief that you are so much more than what you do.

Shauna Niequist

One of my closest friends sat on the board of Shepherd’s House, a local men’s shelter. She asked if I would be interested in serving as a board member. My first husband and I had a connection to the House. Back before chemo knocked him down, he volunteered at the front desk three mornings a week. We took groups of residents hiking and snow-shoeing, and one at a time out to dinner.

I respect the leadership of this ministry. I believe in the good work they’re doing. But the thought of one more obligation seemed heavy. And so I (wisely) declined my friend’s invitation. Which wasn’t easy because I didn’t want to disappoint her. I didn’t want her to think less of me. But as a widow, I was trying to prioritize my days well. I had a strong sense of what God was calling me to do during that season. I could have squeezed in one more obligation, but it would have triggered a sense of overwhelmedness.

Allowing for margin

It takes wisdom to know when to say Yes and when to say No. So what if we checked in with God first before overcommitting ourselves once again?

For the Lord gives wisdom. From His mouth come knowledge and understanding.

Proverbs 2:6

Learning to say No to those things that don’t light us up allows margin to respond with Yes to something that’s a better fit for our passions and skills and life experiences. It gives us space to walk out the unique purpose God has destined for each of us.

This thought from Nanea Hoffman:

Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing or where you think you should be in life. You are here. Figure out what you love and then pursue it relentlessly. It’s OK to be scared. Just don’t let that be your excuse for not trying.

Nanea Hoffman

When we live in that light-filled, guilt-free place of knowing when to say Yes and when to say No, we discover that what God writes upon our hearts to do with our one, available, surrendered life is quite a joyous thing.

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12 Comments

  1. Yvonne Kays

    Yes! Sometimes it takes courage to say “No” to good things when it would keep us from doing other good things that the Lord is calling us to do!

  2. Darrell D. Lake

    Thanks for sharing Marlys… Good thoughts… A long time ago, a Greek Philosopher by the name of Pythagoras once said that “the oldest shortest words, “No” & “Yes” are those requiring the most thought. That is so true. For sure we often respond with a no or yes without giving it enough thought and can later regret it. After carefully considering and even praying about important decisions one should be able to say no without guilt and yes without fear. So many decisions have long lasting effects not only for you but so many others. Saying yes too quickly or no too soon can result in unnecessary pain. My dad always told me that I should “sleep on it” before making those big decisions while my mom would tell me “to pray about it” Perhaps both are good advice. 🙂

    • “So many decisions have long lasting effects not only for you but so many others.” Wise words, Darrell … along with the words of wisdom from your parents.

  3. I was so glad to see you use the word “margins.” Back in the late 90s or early 2000s, Dr. Richard Swenson wrote a book called “Margins” which gave excellent advice on what to consider when deciding whether to take on added responsibilities. I recommend it highly.

    Also, as a widow now myself, I recognize how valuable my husband’s input was. He knew me better than anyone, knew when I was overloaded, and would sometimes counsel me to divest myself of less-important time-takers before adding to my load. I miss that. Of course, my heavenly Father has provided insights all along the way to guide me, and I am so thankful. But I encourage your readers to welcome their husbands’ input especially when it comes to things like this. <3

    • That’s excellent advice, Julie – to get input from our spouses who sometimes know us better than we know ourselves. I’ll look up Dr. Swenson’s book … it sounds like my kind of read. Thank you for the recommendation.

  4. A good reminder! Thank you, Marlys. 💙

  5. Sandy

    Marlys, thank you for this. It can be difficult to say no, but we need to follow God’s leading so we don’t get overwhelmed. I tend to say yes to everything, so this is a great reminder that it is okay to say no.

  6. Allison

    Marlys, thank you for this timely reminder. As I stand at the intersection of new beginnings, I was starting to think about all the opportunities that will come my way. Your reminder that “no” is a viable option and that margin is what I need is so helpful.

    • Thank you, Allison. Someone once said, “‘No’ is a complete sentence.” I struggle with feeling the need to explain and explain every time I know I need to say ‘No.’

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