“No. Nope. Can’t. Not the best choice for me. No.”
As we start off another new year, I’ve been spending time rereading a fabulously practical book that a dear friend gave me a few years ago. Maybe you’ve read Present Over Perfect too. If not, I highly recommend this gutsy, winsome New York Times Bestseller by Shauna Niequist. Shauna is what some of my friends would call a “home planet chick.” She’s brave, honest and insightful. Much of Present Over Perfect is ideal for this season of fresh starts and resolutions.
I am borrowing an excerpt from Shauna’s chapter, “The Word That Changes Everything.” I am much in process in how to use no wisely. Perhaps 2022 is my year to add this two-letter word smoothly to my sometimes over-packed schedule. So let’s join Shauna now in a poignant pause that may just change everything for us.
A Little Freak-Out
The word that changed everything, of course, is no. I’d been saying yes and yes, indiscriminately, haphazardly, resentfully for years. And I realized all at once that I’d spent all my yeses, and in order to find peace and health in my life, I needed to learn to say no.
People love it when you say yes, and they get used to it—they start to figure out who the people are who will always say yes, always come through, always make it happen.
If you are one of these people, it does cause a little freak-out when you begin saying no. People are not generally down with this right away. That’s okay.
. . . you can’t have yes without saying no. Another way to say it: if you’re not careful with your yeses, you start to say no to some very important things without even realizing it. In my rampant yes-yes-yes-ing, I said no, without intending to, to rest, to peace, to groundedness, to listening, to deep and slow connection, built over years instead of moments.
All my yeses brought me to a shallow way of living—an exhausting, frantic lifestyle that actually ended up having little resemblance to that deep, brave yes I was searching for. And so if you, like me, have said too many yeses, and found that all that hopeful, exciting, wide-open intention has actually left you scraped raw and empty, the word that can change everything is no.
I know. I don’t like it either. Yes is fun and sparkly and printed on tote bags. No? What if you saw someone wearing a sweatshirt that just said no? I do not want to sit next to that bundle of fun.
But no became the scalpel I wielded as I remade my life, slicing through the tender tissue of what needed to go and what I wanted to remain.
My mentor’s words range in my ears: Stop. Right now. Remake your life from the inside out. I don’t know a way to remake anything without first taking down the existing structures, and that’s what no does—it puts the brakes on your screaming-fast life and gives you a chance to stop and inspect just exactly what you’ve created for yourself, as difficult as that may be. . . .
Being Honest and Free
But like anything you learn, it gets easier over time. You begin to build up muscle memory for what it feels like to say exactly what you feel, what you need, what your limitations are. And a very interesting thing begins to have happen: some people peer into your face with fascination—I want some of that, essentially, is what they’re saying. Your honesty and freedom is giving them the permission to be honest and free as well. . . .
And don’t worry: no won’t always be the world you use most often. I hate that for a season, no had to be the answer to almost everything. But over time, when you rebuild a life that’s the right size and dimension and weight, full of the things you’re called to, emptied of the rest, then you do get to live some yes again. But for a while, no is what gets you there.
Shauna Niequist, Present Over Perfect, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 48-51.