How many times have you agreed to do something when you really didn’t want to? Said yes, when you’d prefer to say no. Let guilt rule.
Often we agree out of a sense of obligation. Or the person is a good manipulator. Or we think of those who will be hurt or disappointed if someone doesn’t step forward.
I’ve been there.
- The graduation ceremony for a family member you rarely see
- The friend who just can’t find reliable childcare
- The children’s church classroom without a teacher
My tender heart wanted to celebrate with those who were celebrating. After all, doesn’t the Bible tell us to rejoice with those who are rejoicing?
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. — Romans 12:15
And I couldn’t neglect the kids who seemed forgotten. Doesn’t the Bible teach that children are precious?
Children are a heritage from the Lord. — Psalm 127:3
Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me. — Mark 9:37
How could I say no?
Guilt doesn’t come alone
But the guilt that motivated me to say yes never came by itself.
Sometimes irritation tagged along for the ride. I’d be mad at myself for not being able to say no, or at others because I seemed to be the only one to care about those kids. And all that easily leads down the path of bitterness.
The added pressure of another thing to do sometimes overwhelmed me. And then I was more quick to lose my temper, quicken my pace, or reduce my sleep — all usually detrimental in one way or another to my family.
Envy would hop in as I thought about those enjoying the church service I wanted to be sitting in rather than keeping my mind on loving and watching the children.
Especially in those moments I was already drained or exhausted, I would feel trapped. Or underappreciated. Or forgotten. And that’s when hopelessness would enter my world.
Oh! And let’s not forget hypocritical. I would berate myself because God calls us to love people — and I was struggling to do that one simple thing.
Yes. I was a mess.
The most basic word boundary is NO. Can you say it with me? No.
It’s pretty simple, isn’t it? At least when you don’t have some expectant friend or leader standing in front of you. In their book Boundaries, Drs. John Townsend and Henry Cloud teach that this little two letter word lets others know that you are your own person separate from them and that they are not in control of you. That’s a lot of impact for two letters.
But let’s think about it in a silly example. I’m what most would call a picky eater. I struggle with texture issues; you could consider it hyper-sensitive. For example, I can feel the hairs of a strawberry in my mouth, so much so that my brain focuses more on the hairs than on the fruit. So, I don’t eat strawberries. Yet I can’t tell you how many times people—from well-meaning relatives to friends—have tried to veto my no when it comes to food.
Now, I understand if you’re dealing with a five year old that it may be a battle of wills and not food. That’s not what we’re discussing here, so let’s move that aspect of this off the table for now.
In general, when people say no, they are indicating their likes and dislikes. What they want and what they prefer. What they feel ready to handle and what they need to walk away from.
In other words, no is a powerful boundary marker that we should respect. You need to stand firm in your no, and you need to honor others by allowing and supporting their no.
Even in our children, at least when it’s not an obedience issue. Ooh! That one might be as tough to accept as declaring your own boundary to a close friend or respected leader. But I encourage you to allow your children the freedom to say no so that they have a better chance of growing up to be adults with healthy boundaries.
Is this biblical?
I’m hoping by now you are wondering what the Bible says. After all, that’s our guidebook, right? Our ultimate decision maker for the journey ahead of us? Let’s take a look at 3 passages.
1. Some people like to point out Scriptures like Matthew 5:42.
Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
But let’s not pull this verse out of context. When Jesus said this, He was not talking about filling our calendar with all the good we could find to do. Instead, He was digging down in the hearts of His listeners. He was aiming for the realization that emotions and motives matter, even when you feel taken advantage of or treated unfairly.
2. In all conflicts with other people, we need to consider what Jesus said in Matthew 18:15-17.
And the first step of the process lays out a principle that’s important in our discussion today.
If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you.
Did you see it? It’s simply this: If there’s a problem between you and another, Jesus instructs you to go to them. In other words, He expects us to lovingly speak up for ourselves.
3. Finally, the Bible warns against giving under compulsion in 2 Corinthians 9.
Verse 6 encourages us to give generously, and verse 7 ends with a phrase familiar to many who’ve spent a lot of time in church: God loves a cheerful giver.
But don’t negate the words in the middle, the words at the beginning of verse 7.
Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion.
If you are giving under compulsion, you probably should say no, at least in the moment.
I know that none of this is easy. I struggle with it too, even though I’m much better at it now than I’ve ever been simply because I’ve been practicing it for the last few months.
But you want to know something? I’m happier. I’m more relaxed and at peace. I feel like my life isn’t controlling me. I feel like I have time for what I know is truly important. And there’s no guilt.
And that’s worth continuing the practice of saying, “No.”