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How to Say No

by | Sun, Jul 30 2023

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By: Christine Wood

“Not now darling, Mummy’s busy,” I heard myself say for what seemed like the hundredth time that day.


I had accepted a volunteer position at church I was passionate and excited about. In my fourth year as a stay-at-home mum, this girl was ready to use her brain and contribute to something bigger than wiping runny noses and endless laundry.

“Not now darling; Mummy’s busy.”

My heart sank. Something was wrong. A hard decision needed to be made. I needed to choose my no. Because every time we say ‘yes’ to something we are saying ‘no’ to something else. We just need to make sure we are saying ‘yes’ to the best things.

I had a difficult conversation with my pastor and stepped back from ministry for a time. What I was doing was important, and saying no meant leaving a gap that would be difficult to fill. But it was the right decision for my young family and me.

This was a big no, but there are a thousand little no’s we need to courageously choose every day. We hear the plea to take a turn as the parent helper at kindy, to bake cupcakes to raise money for missionaries, to join the new ladies’ Bible study group, or do an extra shift at work.

It’s hard to say ‘no’ to genuine needs. Businesses are struggling to find staff. Churches are crying out for volunteer helpers. Charities are meeting the needs of those who need help. And we can help. And we should help. But, we can’t say yes to everything. How do we choose our no?

Here are some guiding principles:

1.     Hold confidently to your core values

Simply ask, “What is most valuable to me?” When I had to choose between my young children and my ministry, my children came first. Later, when our situation changed, I made a different choice. But while they were young and I was their primary carer, they came first.

When we choose to say ‘yes’ to opportunities, consider how they will impact our highest values. How will your ‘yes’ affect your relationship with your husband and children, your parents and your closest friends? How will your ‘yes’ affect your work, hobbies you’re passionate about, and the running of your household?

2.     Measure your capacity

Do you have the capacity to add something extra to your life right now? How much time will it take? How much energy will it need? How much will it cost?

Time is important—we have such a limited amount—but capacity is so much more than time. Will you come home exhausted and be tempted to buy takeaway for dinner? Will you come home with enough energy to engage meaningfully with your family at the end of the day?

Will you have any spare capacity? When we fill our lives up we set ourselves up for failure. As soon as someone gets sick, a busy season hits or the washing machine breaks down, the house of cards tumbles to the floor.

3.     Take care of yourself

Does saying ‘yes’ take away your time for rest and fun? These may seem trivial or selfish when there are genuine needs to meet, but unless you are healthy you can’t take care of anyone. Putting ourselves last and working ourselves to exhaustion will eventually cost us our health. Sadly, I know this from personal experience, and I know many others who have experienced it as well.

We are not designed to work 7 days a week. God was clear from the beginning of creation that we are to work for 6 days and then take a day off to rest and worship. This is how we have a healthy, sustainable balance.

4.     Be interruptible

If you are too busy to be interrupted, you’re too busy. Because some of the best things in life happen in the interruptions.

Sometimes the interruptions are good: Mummy, will you play with me? Can you meet me for coffee? Would you like to come for a walk? Can we go camping this weekend?

Sometimes they are hard: Mum’s had a fall. You need surgery. He wants a divorce. A diagnosis, a heartache, a child’s struggle, an elderly parent’s need. When we have some spare capacity in our lives, it is much easier to be present during times of need.

5.     Be a role model

I can almost guarantee, you are not the only person in your family or circle of friends who is over-committed and needs to learn how to say ‘no’ more often. This is a valuable lesson for our children, especially when they get into the teenage and young adult years. They need to be discerning about how they spend their time and energy.

Be a courageous role model. Maintain a healthy balance of work, rest, ministry and fun. Let your life reflect your values, and encourage others to do the same.

When we are clear about our values, our capacity, self-care and have the margin for life’s interruptions we have the knowledge we need to make wise decisions about what opportunities and needs we should pursue and what we need to politely decline. So, how can we say ‘no’ graciously and lovingly?

‘No’ is a complete sentence.

It’s okay to just say ‘no.’ You don’t need to explain yourself or give a reason. But some of us find it hard to disappoint people. Here are some strategies that I have found helpful over the years.

Use your calendar

One of the most useful strategies I have found is to use my calendar as the excuse I need. Simply plan out your week, time blocking the way you wish to spend your time. Include things like time to read, play with your kids, date nights with hubby and coffee with friends as well as time for housework, church, volunteering and work. Put everything in your calendar.

Then, when someone asks you to do something extra you can honestly and politely say, “I’m sorry, I can’t help you. I already have a commitment then.”

This post goes through the whole process step by step:

Practice your response

Another helpful strategy is to be prepared with a response. This is especially helpful when you anticipate a request. Think about the person and the situation and prepare a response. When the request comes, you don’t need to feel anxious. You can confidently respond. “I’m sorry, I am not available for extra shifts this week,” and walk away.

Pray about it

Sometimes you need some time and space from the hard sell of an expressed need to make a wise decision. A good response is “I’ll pray about it,” or, if you are not a person of faith, “I’ll think about it and get back to you.” Give yourself a few days to consider if you have the capacity and the inclination to be involved before you give your response. Take it to God in prayer and listen to His wisdom for your situation.

If you decide not to volunteer, simply say something like, “Thanks for the offer, but I’m not going to be involved this time.”

Have clear boundaries and limits

Sometimes a hard ‘no’ is not wise, and it’s better to give a qualified ‘yes’. Letting someone know, “I can only stay for an hour,” or, “I can either help next Tuesday or the one after.” Decide what your limit will be, and then give within your capacity.

Passionately embrace your ‘yes’

It’s easier to say no to things outside of your scope when you are passionately pursuing your best yes. When you are thriving and loving living your best life, saying ‘no’ to anything outside that is much easier.

Say ‘No’

I hope that with these tools you will be able to confidently step out into the busy world and say ‘No’ to the things that are not yours to do. Embrace your ‘Yes’ and focus on the things you are passionate about and called to. Because without saying ‘no’ we can’t say ‘yes’ to the things that matter most.

The post How to Say No appeared first on Living With Margins and has been reproduced with permission.