Why I am Afraid to Say No

A friend told me the other day that I need to learn to say no. On the face of it, great advice for any of us but I resisted. My gentle reply that I am in a season of “yes” after a long one of “no” was understood. I have fully swung from a time of deep depression and inactivity to such busyness that I search for that free moment on the calendar to just rest,  seeing that it might be days or even weeks out. Yet as a woman who has struggled to be heard most of her life, his admonishment still echoes. When I agree to any request, do I give it full consideration or just jump in, eager to please? What are my motivations, what am I hoping for? Such simple words, yes and no, but carrying power and repercussions and implications.

Matthew 5:37 tells me: Let your yes be yes and your no be no. While the passage is speaking to integrity, not relying on an added oath to reinforce your word, I understand also that it is encouraging me to look at the decisions I make. If I say yes to anything and everything, I have abandoned discernment, no longer hearing the calls to do what GOD is asking but rather what EVERYONE is asking, exactly how we find ourselves on every committee, making cookies for every bake sale, driving all the carpools and then over  extended, snapping at the kids and our spouses, eating too much fast-food and searching for joy. What are we missing when we forget to say no, forget to pause and listen to the inner voice that says maybe not this request? I know the adage of asking the busiest person when you need something done, they are the one who will make it happen. Yet who are is being robbed of the chance to serve as well? I certainly know of the years I hung back in the shadows at our church, waiting for my chance. Longing to be asked, looking for a role in the ministries. The earth shifted, things changed, new ideas and avenues emerged, now I find my gifts are valued and sought. Suddenly, my season of “yes” is upon me.

Yet, the advice echoes and I wonder. Who is quietly waiting in the back row, feeling not quite good enough to volunteer, praying to be found worthy of an invitation to serve?  As a new leader my role is not merely to lead but to replace myself and move along, not hoard all the positions like new treasures that reflect my value. My first thought whenever a request comes in, “I am honored to be asked.” Excluded, walking in the desert for too many years as I wondered how God could use me and what purpose I really had, I now feel a glow, the redemption, the joy of worth that comes from external acknowledgment of my very existence. Who is suffering that same lonely wandering while I am too busy to notice, to caught up in meetings and meals and ministries? Who else listens as the pastor preaches week after week that we all have a purpose yet aches as no one sees them? My friend’s words opened my eyes, convicted my heart. It is time to begin recruiting others to join the work I am doing and see what else God has for me, a matter of trust between God and I.

Having wandered and wondered all those years, if I say no do I jeopardize my own visibility, my sense of worth?  What are the risks involved in truly allowing discernment to guide my decisions, to allow time for the whisper of God to lead me rather than  my need to have gifts and talents be recognized by others? More scripture comes to mind, one that often is so convicting I try to ignore it unless things are going beautifully in my world. Paul told us he learned to “be content in all circumstances.” (Phil 4:11) I am excellent at being content when all my chicks are around, when my Plum is playing happily in the back yard, when Chef is cooking on the grill on the back porch, when my identity as mother and nurturer of all is being validated. During this season of estrangement, and I am willfully trusting it is merely a season, am I seeking that validation elsewhere? My contentment coming from activities, a chase that may provide some balm but will never heal the hurt, rather than leaning into my relationship with God, the words of my friend carry truth. The truth is my soul is filled with discontent and  my calendar is full, no time for reflection penciled in.

Saying no might mean I have time to say yes to God, making space for some uncomfortable conversations and deeper prayer time that I have been avoiding. I love when God says YES to me, I don’t want to hear his NO. Skipping out on discernment time, filling my schedule with good works, all with an eye on the calendar as I await the big reveal of my hopes and dreams, I see now I have been bargaining with a God who doesn’t trade. None of my efforts will bring my daughter home, not letters or emails or Amazon packages, or yeses to good works. Listening, rather than merely talking might bring answers I don’t want, a fear that propels me into activity. I charge forward, a bustling, hurtling pursuit that steals blessings from others and separates me from God.

I may have been in a season of yes, but seasons change. As much as I try to block out my friend’s words, I suspect he may have been whispering a bit of holiness to me.  If only I had time to consider them, if only I were that brave. Still, I promise to notice those around who are waiting for an invitation. Whether I trust myself enough to listen to God, I can’t say yes to that yet.

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