My grandson is two years old and, as an energetic two-year-old, he’s learning to speak. Every day, he picks up new words and uses them in creative, and sometimes, hilarious ways. Funny, but the first word he learned was “no.” OK, it might be because the first word he heard was “no.” He hears “no” a lot.
Listening to him the other day made me wonder if “no” was the first word I learned. Was I, like my grandson Walker, hearing “no” so much that it was the first word I learned? And, if it was the first word I learned, why did I stop saying it so much?
Like a lot of us, the new year brought me a chance to do some reflection and evaluation on my life. I discovered — again — that I’m overcommitted and spread way too thin to accomplish anything meaningful. In other words, I have said “yes” too much. It’s easy to do, especially if you’re in the ministry. I’m asked to be part of a lot of good things. Sometimes it’s about our church’s connection to a local school, medical work we’re partnering with South Africa, or talking about discipleship with leaders in the adult ministry. All of it is good stuff, but how much of it is “best?” That’s the question for most of us.
We do pretty well when the question is between good and bad. The questions we struggle with are between good and best and bad and worse. Let’s face it. Sometimes, we can only make a bad decision, and thank God it’s not any worse. Other times, we make our most regretted decisions when we choose good when best was an option.
Every decision brings us a yes/no option. When we say “yes” to one option, we’re saying “no” to everything else. If I say “yes” to a night meeting, I’m saying “no” to being home with my family. If I agree to an early morning breakfast meeting, most likely I’m saying “no” to my workout. We can’t be in two places at the same time. We can’t do two things at the same time. When we say “yes” to one thing, we’re saying “no” to everything else.
As Christians, we get sucked into the social expectations of superficial niceness. We think saying “yes” to every request is what good Christians are supposed to do. This wasn’t what Jesus did. Jesus said “no.” In fact, Jesus said “no” a lot.
When Peter found him at the beginning of Mark and told Him everyone was waiting for Him, Jesus told Peter that they were going to preach in the other towns around them. Jesus said, “no” to the waiting crowd. He said “no” to Satan in the wilderness. He said “no” to Peter when Peter told Jesus the cross wasn’t going to happen.
Jesus said “no” to a lot of things so He could say “yes” to one thing: His mission. This brings us to an interesting question. What are we actually saying “no” to because we’re saying “yes” to everything else? Husbands, how many times have we said “no” to our wives because we said “yes” to a called but late, unnecessary meeting at work? How many times have we said “no” to our children because we said “yes” to something else that ultimately wasn’t important at all?
The be a human is to deal with limits. We only have so much time and so much energy. We can’t do everything we want to do. We can’t be all we want to be. There simply isn’t time. We don’t have that much energy. We have to make choices.
Did you get that? We have to make choices. There’s no other option. Choices mean that we have to have priorities and some things are more important than other things. Let me be even more blunt: some things aren’t important at all. There are some things in our lives that we should say “no” to once and for all.
Now, the new year has started. Remember, this is the year when everything was going to be different –and we’ve started making decisions the same way we always have. We’re responding in the moment out of our emotions and fatigue. We’re so overwhelmed by the number of decisions we have to make every day that we begin to suffer decision fatigue. We make a decision simply to make a decision so we can get to the decision waiting next in line. We assume we can deal with the consequences of these hastily made decisions when the time comes.
This is how we end up exhausted, angry, burned out, and depressed because, while we’re frazzled to the bone, we’ve accomplished nothing we wanted to accomplish. Why? Because we said “yes” to everything and everyone else and we ended up saying “no” to ourselves.
Do yourself a favor. Find a quiet place and, on a 3×5 card, write down the 5 things that really matter to you. Some experts will give you as many as 7 priorities, but I figure God gave us 5 fingers for a reason. Anyway, the point is that there aren’t that many things that are “yes.” Everything else is “no.”
Jesus didn’t write a book. He didn’t hold political office. He didn’t take the crown when the crowd tried to force it on Him. He refused to play word games with His enemies. As I said earlier, Jesus said “no” a lot.
Jesus said “yes” only to what mattered and His life was the most perfect life ever lived. I’m not saying you’ll have a perfect life if you learn to say “no” in 2023. I am saying that if we do, we’ll be a lot closer to the lives we all want.