Perhaps one of the most difficult things we will ever have to do is to learn to say “no”.
Our lives are filled to the brim with choices. One thing’s for sure, Americans love options. Six channels on the television just won’t do anymore. We now need at least six hundred. For many of us, the biggest difficulty in saying “no” is that we don’t know what to say “no” to; we think everything is a priority or need.
If we’re going to successfully navigate through the raging seas of options, choices, and personal demands we must discover what Lance Witt calls, the “higher yes.”
Many of us are total slaves to the needs of pleasing people. This only begins to change when we find our higher yes. By saying yes to something greater we gain the strength and discernment to know when we should say “no”.
Some of you may be wondering where to find this higher yes. It is found in the place of solitude. When is the last time you got away? Jesus often said “no” to the demands of the crowds, religious rulers, and even his own disciples because he often slipped away to spend time with his Father in solitude. He was constantly solidifying his higher yes in order to strengthen his resolve for his lower no.
Part of the reason we struggle so much with saying “no” these days is because few of us are willing to be still long enough to discover the yes.
If you’re consistently spending time in solitude with God then you should begin to develop a moral compass. Some of us already have one, but we’re choosing not to listen to it. Remember, not all of our emotions are bad. We need to listen to our gut every now and then. As William Ury says,
Treat your emotions as signposts, pointing at your core needs. Rather than being your enemy, your emotions can become your ally, for they can help you uncover your yes.
Something that I’m continually learning in this process of saying “no” is to say it in a way that doesn’t hurt people. I have found that people will almost always be offended (at least to some degree) when we tell them “no”, but this doesn’t mean we should make it any harder on them than it already is. As one of my mentors once told me, “Joel, there is no point in learning all the doctrines of grace if it doesn’t make you a more gracious person.”
We human beings have a terrifying ability of increasing in our experience and knowledge, but decreasing in our compassion and kindness. The popular theologian Henri Nouwen may understand this phenomenon more than anyone. In one of his books he once wrote,
I began to experience a deep inner threat. As I entered into my fifties and was able to realize the unlikelihood of doubling my years, I came face to face with the simple question, ‘Did becoming older bring me closer to Jesus?’ After twenty-five years of priesthood, I found myself praying poorly, living somewhat isolated from other people, and very much preoccupied with burning issues. Everyone was saying that I was doing really well, but something inside was telling me that my success was putting my own soul in danger.
As I’ve gotten older, several of my ambitions have gradually fallen away, but the desire of becoming a man who is known for being gracious has increased all the more. I want to challenge you to join me in learning to say “no” by discovering our higher yes.