A Holy No

Saying No Can Help Us Accept Our Limitations—and Have a Sane Life.

My life might be less complicated if I wore a name tag that read, Hello! My name is Dorothy and I’m very needy.

Because I can’t eat gluten or dairy, whenever I go out to eat, not only do I have to grill the server (Are you sure there’s no danger of cross contamination in your fryer?), I also have to educate them regarding the basics of food allergies. (Eggs are not dairy. Yes, I know they’re in the dairy section.)

Because I have fibromyalgia and struggle to sleep, whenever I go someplace for an overnight, I have to pack the following: earplugs, eye-mask, sound machine, five pillows (because most people only have two extras), and an inflatable camp pad to soften the mattress.

Arguably, I’m a bit needier than the average human being.

Your limitations and needs are going to be different. Maybe you’re dyslexic, struggle with depression, or rely on a wheelchair to get around. Though our needs and limitations don’t look the same, we all have them. And yet strangely, it seems that most of us are at odds with this reality. We’d much rather be independent and self-sufficient.

Worth noting—that’s not how God made us.

Human development proves that God designed us to be needy. Unlike all other mammals, small humans depend upon large humans for approximately fiften to sixteen years. When a baby cries, he’s signaling that he’s hungry, tired, wet, or afraid. To borrow a phrase from Dr. D. W. Winnicott, as the “good-enough” parent consistently and lovingly meets those needs, the child internalizes that he or she is lovable even when needy and learns that expressing needs bring relational connection.

If God designed us to be needy, why are we at odds with this? Perhaps because we’re afraid that others will reject or judge us. Perhaps because we’re proud. Perhaps we doubt that others will come through.

These are all legitimate concerns but if we fail to acknowledge and honor our needs and limitations, we run the risk of

A) Never being fully known

B) Never learning how to depend on others

C) Wearing ourselves out

D) Becoming bitter and/or resentful

Part of the process of coming to peace with our needs and limitations is learning how and when to say no. This has been hard for me. I hate disappointing people, particularly those closest to me.

It seems to be uniquely challenging for women to say no. I think many of us fear that if we don’t take care of everyone and live up to their expectations of us, they may be angry or disapproving. Additionally, if we believe that our worth is tied to what we do, we may feel ashamed or guilty or even that we’re failures.

Our goal should not be protecting ourselves from people or challenges but stewarding ourselves so that we can faithfully respond to God’s call on our lives. If we always say yes to others, we stunt our growth. We can’t discern and focus on the areas in our own lives that need healing if we’re always taking care of everyone else. (I now know that if I’m not regularly disappointing people, I probably need to reset some boundaries.)

The temptation to over-extend and please people will always before some of us. By remembering that we cannot be everything to everyone and by judiciously practicing a holy no, we increase our chances of having a sane and fulfilling life. That’s totally worth the risk in my book.

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Photo by Daniel Herron, Unsplash

A version of this post first appeared on the Really blog.