say yes to saying no

Fact:  I’m busy.

Assumption:  You’re busy.

You’ve seen my calendar before, so you’ve seen firsthand the expectations that others have placed on me.  Honestly, even if I wanted to attend all the meetings and events on my calendar, which I don’t, the fact that people book multiple simulataneous meeting would make it physically impossible.  That used to really stress me out…

No longer.

One of the first steps involved in simple living is the addition of one small word to your vocabulary: ‘No.’  It sounds simple, sure, but we’ve been trained not to say it.  We’ve been conditioned to say ‘yes’ to every expectation that comes our way.  Bosses expect us to take on whatever they assign us without so much as the smallest pushback.  Friends and family always have something going on that we’re expected to participate in.  Throw in kids’ sports, church activities, and the rest of life and it’s easy to let others’ expectations nearly crush us.

So how do we learn to say no?  How do we say it and get away with it?  How does saying no align with simple living or with living the Christian life?

At one time or another, the most widely-read minimalist and productivity bloggers have written on the subject of saying no.  Instead of simply reinventing the wheel, let’s take a look at some of their pearls of wisdom and see how they relate to living simply, Christian…shall we?

Everett Bogue (@evbogue) on “Far Beyond the Stars” reminds us that we can only properly say no after we’ve first identified and prioritized what is most important to us:

It can be powerful to know what is most important to you, because then you can begin to focus on only the essential…Once you’ve identified the essential, you have to start saying no to things that come your way which don’t coincide with your interests.

In other words, saying no isn’t just some sort of random act we take to clear up our schedules.  While that might work in the short-term, it ultimately doesn’t help you achieve anything meaningful in the long-term.  In fact, it’s probably counter productive.  Saying no to the ‘fluff’ and the extraneous is complementary to saying yes to those things that help keep you focused on the essential.  Remember, you have to say yes to your own priorities first before you can know to say no to the non-essentials.
Celes Chua (@celestinechua) on “The Personal Excellence Blog” faces our fears head on when she writes:

Saying no is okay. We keep thinking that it’s not okay, that the other person will feel bad, that we’re being evil, that people will be angry, that we’re being rude, etc. While these stem from good intentions in us, the thing is most of these fears are self-created.

Simple enough, but read those words again, “Saying no is okay.”  The truth is, that’s a hard idea for many of us to swallow, especially in light of the ‘yes’-culture in which we live.  Honestly, the only folks who have ever gotten angry when I told them ‘no’ were those who created a crisis by their own incompetence.  Should we try to help those folks out?  Sometimes.  Sometimes they need to learn the hard way.  Think about it like this…how many folks are really chasing their dreams?  How many are truly bringing change to the world?  How many are honestly making a difference?  Very few, I’m afraid, because no one has time for such things.  Make time by saying no.

Joshua Becker (@joshua_becker) of “Becoming Minimalist” writes about the importance of integrity with respect to our commitments:

Sometimes, it’s the 2 and 3 letter words that can be the toughest. When the answer is yes, say ‘yes.’ When the answer is no, say ‘no.’ Be dependable. Follow through on your commitments. And don’t commit to anything that you don’t intend to complete.

When trying to simplify, one of the worst things you can do is keep saying ‘yes’ when you really mean ‘I have no intention of doing this.’  That isn’t polite (see below), that’s just lying.  If you really mean ‘no’ then say it.  Otherwise, you may be simplifying your life, but you’re making others’ more complicated and being deceitful in the process…hardly the right thing to do.
Finally, Tammy Strobel (@RowdyKittens) of “Rowdy Kittens” fame urges us to say no with style:

Be nice and don’t be a jerk when you say ‘no’ to an invitation or project opportunity. Let the individual know you’d be happy to help in the future, but you can’t participate at this time because of A, B or C. Also, consider referring that person to someone who might be able to help

It’s easy to come across like a jerk when saying no, but it isn’t necessary.  In my mind, it goes along with Joshua’s point about being honest.  An honest refusal will be appreciated by most, especially those who wish they had the courage to say no themselves.  Pointing out someone who may be able to help is just gravy.

There is a lot of great wisdom to be gleaned here, but here’s the most important in my mind:  Not only is it possible to say ‘no,’ it is essential. Only after we learn to say no can we get on living the simple Christian life we are striving to live.  At first, it may feel uncomfortable…but then again, so do most things worth doing.

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