We’re told to say “yes” like Mary, aren’t we? True, but sometimes saying “yes” to God means saying “no” to a request. In The Book of No, authors Susan Newman and Cristina Schreil help clarify when “yes” is not necessarily the right answer to “Can you help with a project?”
It’s usually not a sin to pause before answering a request like that. In fact, pausing or delaying our response until the next day is our chance to check in with God to see what He wants. Ask that the request be emailed, to be sure you understand what’s involved. Newman and Schreil suggest some questions to ask before jumping to “yes”:
What will I have to give up to do this?
Will I be upset with myself after saying yes?
Will I resent the person asking?
What am I agreeing to? What’s the gain?
Checking in with God
If we pray about it, we’ll get an idea what God is asking of us — and what He’s saving for someone else! It’s worth taking the time to consider whether a request fits in with our “core mission.” For example, if our mission is motherhood, we’ll consider first what our children need from us. Or if our mission is writing, we may think twice about heading up a fundraising gala that would take us away from our desk for six months.
Say “no” without using the word “no.” He suggests softening the response by using phrases like, “I’m sorry, but that won’t work for me right now,” or “My schedule won’t permit it now. But thanks for thinking of me.” That last one, “My schedule won’t permit it,” requires some ground work on our part. I learned from Michael Hyatt that if I put soul-food (prayer, exercise, reading) on my calendar first, it won’t get clogged by other demands. I’m learning slowly to “schedule what’s important first,” and let everything else fill in around the important stuff. After all, we can’t help anyone much if we are spiritually weak: prayer, exercise, and reading are “must-have’s” if we want to serve God well.
Simply and kindly say “no,” and if possible explain why. I’m not sure explaining is always the best idea, because some requestors will just argue (remember the Garden of Eden?). Stone says that no may feel awkward, but that uncomfortable emotion will quickly pass. However, he adds, if you say yes when you should have said no, the feelings of regret last much longer and take a much greater toll.
In his book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, Greg McKeown ties a thoughtful no to the virtue of courage. Courage is doing something scary because it’s the right thing to do. And saying no can be scary! Thinking of no as a display of courage can help us turn down offers if, after checking in with God, we know it’s not for us.
After all, Mary’s life was not all yes — she had to say no to the devil, and to anything that would lead her, out of fear or weakness, away from what God wants. If we, like Mary, make an effort to stay open to God’s will in prayerful discernment, we’ll have the wisdom and courage to choose wisely only the things that God is truly calling us to.