The Power of No

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Imagine driving down a country road to your destination. The radio is on, and you are enjoying some fresh air until you notice the temperature gauge on the engine is rising slowly. Then the temperature warning light comes on, but you keep driving knowing you will take care of it once you get to your destination. But then maybe light goes off for a few days, and you forget about it. Then several days later, you notice the check engine light comes on, and all of a sudden you see smoke coming out the engine, and you are forced to stop and let the engine cool down or even worse call for a tow truck because your car can no longer run.

When I was a young, single man, I was completely engulfed in my busy schedule. I split my time between work, travel, exercise, tutoring, nonprofit work, and coaching youth soccer late into the evenings. I would leave my house early in the morning and return late in the evenings and do it all over and over again. Weekends were filled with fun activities, coaching games, and evenings out with friends or volunteering. 

This level of involvement in my daily tasks worked great during that phase of my life. The problem is that I didn’t properly reassess my commitments after I got married. I ran on overdrive and felt it was my Christian duty to say yes whenever someone at work or in the church requested something of me. From social obligations to volunteer efforts, I was on the way to burn­out, which is the inevitable result of over­commitment, lack of a true focus, and lack of real wisdom. Getting married brought this lack of balance to my attention. Now it wasn’t just my time I was committing. It was also the time my spouse might lose out on with commitments she had made to me. 

One thing I had a hard time grasping was that God had created each of us to be uniquely gifted and talented. Nobody else can do what I do in the exact way that I do it, and the same applies to you. On the other side of the coin, none of us can utilize all of our skills effectively at the same time. During different seasons of our lives, God may call us to focus on specific areas of our work. Sometimes that means more focus at work. Other times that means foregoing outside social commitments and spending more time with our wife and kids. If we are obedient to our calling, this may require that we say no to other areas of interest.

The problem is, I didn’t like saying the word no as a young man. Because no rarely makes the person who hears it very happy. The problem that I learned the hard way is that if you never say no, you eventually run out of time. Although it took some time to learn, I now trust in the power of a simple no. And now, once I’ve made the decision not to say yes to something, I decline the offer graciously, and I don’t try to justify my answer. One thing I’ve noticed is that if I try to explain my no, it simply empowers the person that asks to negotiate with me. Then they can often twist my arm into saying yes.

I realize now that when I say no to one thing, I’m saying yes to something else. When I take on tasks out of compulsion or because I think it’s what I ought to be doing, I may be missing God’s opportunity to make a unique contribution to his Kingdom, and I may be robbing someone else of the chance to serve him. Saying no to a social commitment with a client might mean saying yes to taking my kids for a walk. Saying no to serving on another committee at church might mean saying yes to a date night with my wife. Be UNCOMMEN by letting your yes be yes and your no be no.

About the author: Sam Casey is the Managing Partner at Banyan Creative. He has been known to say yes too much, but learning the power of saying no.


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