Toward the end of last year, my car’s fender got dented by another driver.
It didn’t seem like a particularly big or problematic dent at first – but after my husband and I properly examined the dent and then saw the paint peeling off the car, we cringed. Two days later, after shopping the car around to various auto-body places, we were looking at a bill of over $1500.
After some discussion, we opted to leave the dent alone for the time being. Financially speaking, the time would be better in the spring during bonus season, and my car is ten years old anyway. At her age, a cosmetic issue here or there isn’t a big deal.
Two days after our decision, I got a phone call from one of the auto-body shops who had given us an estimate, wondering when we could schedule an appointment to fix the car. I told them we’d decided to wait until the spring; they thanked me and hung up.
About two weeks later they called again. When, they wanted to know, could we set up an appointment in the spring? I hedged. We’d set up the appointment when we were good and ready; I didn’t want to be forced into it. Let me talk about it with my husband, I said, and I’ll let you know.
Two weeks later, another call. “We’re shopping around, thanks,” I said, “but we’ll be sure to let you know when we’re ready.”
And then, yesterday – when I was standing in the bathroom at work of all places – another call. Had I finished my shopping around and was I ready to make an appointment? Standing there staring at myself in the bathroom mirror under dull fluorescent lighting, flustered and red-faced, I blurted out, “We’re probably–we’re going to sell it, so–don’t worry, but thank you though!” And then I hung up.
We are not selling my car.
I have no idea where that random statement even came from. I’m just really, really bad at saying no. I’m a people-pleaser. I hate conflict. Since saying no occasionally stirs the pot or displeases people, I prefer to avoid it when at all possible. Instead, I find excuses when they are available; when they are not available, I hedge around the topic or, as in the case above, blurt out something nonsensical – anything to avoid asserting the clear boundary.
I’m not the only one who struggles with this, I know. Christians struggle with it in particular – we often equate saying no with sin, and true servanthood with saying yes to everything. And Christian women have this problem especially: worried about the concept of submission or feeling as though they have to manage the feelings of everyone around them, they often hesitate to draw boundaries where necessary.
What I want to do be able to do personally is to be able to say “no” clearly, directly, and kindly – without having to explain or justify myself or make up excuses – while still keeping a servant’s heart and holding true to God’s command to love others like myself. To that end, I’ve made up a set of rules to help me say “no” a little more often, and I wanted to share them with you:
- Freely say no to anything that dishonors God, asks you to sin, or tempts you to sin. (This one is pretty easy and clear-cut.)
- Freely say no to anything that threatens to disrupt or displace godly priorities: i.e. God first, family second, etc.
- Freely (and kindly!) say no when you do not want something that is being offered. (I’m thinking here of events like the one I mentioned above, or with salespeople, etc.)
- Say no (or maybe “wait”) when your participation in something will be iffy, halfhearted, or if you might end up going back on your “yes.”
- If the matter is one regarding spiritual service, loving/serving others, or a particular spiritual activity, feel free to say no IF: a) your “no” does not contradict God’s dictates in the Word, b) you have prayed about it, and c) you have received close council from other believers.
- Examine your motives when saying no. Are you being selfish? Lazy? Do you have a good reason? Are you listening to God about this matter?
- Do not qualify your “no.” No “I’m sorry, but…”s, no unnecessary explanations, no justifying. (In some cases this is fine, actually – but I find that learning to say a clear and simple “no” keeps me from equivocating.)
- Be kind, polite, and warm in your “no.”
- If you’re uncertain, avoid “yes” as a default answer.
As always, there are exceptions in almost every case, and moments where I’m sure I’ll struggle with what I should do. I don’t necessarily want to be a person who says no to everything – far from it! Rather, I want to learn the spiritual ability to say “no” when it is necessary, both so that I can speak more truthfully from my heart in the day-to-day and so that I can commit my time, energy, and effort unequivocally to the things to which I’ve said “yes.”