Why we cannot say “No.”

May 17th, 2011 · by Tom Stuart · Overcoming

“Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe.”  Proverbs 29:25

Why is it so hard sometimes to say “No”?  I am referring to saying “No” to people’s requests, work’s demands, and the inner voice saying “you ought to.”  There is nothing inherently noble in always saying “Yes.”  As dwellers in the midst of 10,000 lakes we might want to write it off as Minnesota nice.  But this problem is not unique to Minnesotans and dates back even to the time of Christ. 

Jesus warned all human kind about making promises we can’t or don’t want to keep.  “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:37)  Everyone knows the regret that comes after saying “Yes” to something when you really wanted to say “No”.  You end up kicking yourself for making such a commitment and find that trying to get out of it is much more painful and anxiety ridden than if you had just said “No” in the first place.

There was a time in my life when forming the word and stuttering “N-o-o-o-o” was nigh unto impossible for me.  Fortunately the Lord provided people in my life who began to take me to task for the unwanted and often injurious commitments that I was making through my chiming “Yes” to every request that came my way. They challenged me to learn to say “No” both for my sake and also for the sake of my family.  Painfully, I realized saying “Yes” all the time was taking its toll not only on my own mental and emotional health but also on those closest to me. 

What helped me the most was acknowledging that my inability to say “No” was rooted in fear.  The verse in the Bible that opened my eyes to this was the “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe.” This is a great verse because it offers both the diagnosis and the cure.  It reveals that the fear of man is the source of our dis-ease in saying “Yes” when you really want to say “No.”  And it states that trust in the Lord is the prescription for saying “No” in the first place.  That trust establishes a place of peace in our hearts and a freedom from regret.

I discovered that my fear was two pronged.  First it was a fear of what others might think about me.  That is pretty obvious from the verse and everyone who has difficulty saying “No” shares in that struggle.  Worrying about what people might think, no matter what you do, is a trap. 

But I realized there was an even more subtle fear that I was battling.  It was not based upon what others thought of me, but upon what I thought of myself.  It was a fear of not living up to the self-imposed image I had constructed of myself.  I had fallen prey, as so many overly conscientious people do, to setting unrealistic expectations for who I thought I should be, and what I thought I should be able to accomplish. 

The fear of not living up to those expectations entrapped me in commitments that were killing both me and the relationships that were most important to me.  Unwittingly I had developed a martyr complex and deceived myself into believing that saying “Yes” was God’s will.  It dawned on me that in reality, it wasn’t God’s will I was concerned with, but my own will tied to a distorted self-image.

Thankfully, God awakened me to this self-imposed fear and ultimately set me free.  He used a loving family, wises counselors and a series of crash-and-burn commitments to finally empower me to say “No” when I really meant “No.” 

Do you have any insights or comments regarding this topic?

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4 Responses to “Why we cannot say “No.””

  1. I remember a time in my life when I was saying yes to all sorts of commitments and the Lord gave me a picture of myself going through a checkout lane at a store and my cart was overflowing with all good stuff. The cashier was ringing it all up on an old fashion cash register and when she pressed the Total button, a tab sprung up that said “TOO MUCH” rather than the $ amount. Even now when I have a lot of demands/requests coming at me, I still can picture the “TOO MUCH” and then it is much easier to say “NO”.

  2. I can so relate to this and could probably write a book on this topic alone. God wants us to have an appropriate balance in life. We lose our effectiveness in the things that matter most if we do not.Thanks for this painful reminder. I do think it stems from placing high expectations on oneself. Then….it turns into a vicious cycle because you fall short for spreading yourself too thin, can’t keep up, then you feel bad and the cycle continues. BALANCE!

  3. Great picture. Our appetites to have it all and do it all certainly do trip us up and in the end those two words say it all – “TOO MUCH”! Thanks for your insight.

  4. Thanks for drawing attention to the vicious cycle that goes with not being able to say “NO”! That can be a hard trap to break out of and sometimes, at least in my case, requires outside help and accountability. Good emphasis on Balance too. Thank you for you helpful comment.

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