Saturday, September 17, 2011

Just Say No

Why is something that comes so easily to toddlers all around the world causes adults so much stress? Yes, spend any little time with the under-age crowd and you will hear them shout from the rooftops, "No!" (And, friends, it is always said with the exclamation point.) I've even heard my own children say no to things that I knew they wanted.

"Do you want some ice cream?"


"Get your shoes on. It's time to go to the zoo."


"Don't you want to be a big boy?"


But ask any normal, sleep deprived, running-around-like-the-proverbial-headless-chicken man or woman to take on one more task and those two letters are just so hard to string together.

"Can you watch my kids on Tuesday afternoon? I know you're just working at home."

"Uh...well, I guess so."

"I signed you up to write the skit for the annual Father's Day program, since I know how much you love writing."


"Don't you get so bored just staring at a computer screen all the time? I've got a ministry opportunity for you that will put you right in the thick of people's lives and it only meets three nights a week."

"Well, I kind of already have a ministry, but if you really need me...."

 Living in community with others guarantees you will be called upon to serve at work, church, your children's school, and in the neighborhood. And if you work from home, you may find even more demands on your time or talents. To retain a healthy balance,everyone needs to learn the art of saying no. If not, you'll find yourself burned out, resentful, and scattered in so many directions that you aren't any good to anyone.

While we should all give of our talents, time, and treasure, what do we do when a request requires too much sacrifice or just doesn't appeal to us? Here are a few tips to help you learn to process the tasks competing for your time. I'll look at what to do when the request is for our writing or asks us to sacrifice time away from writing, but really these tips are of use in any situation.

Know your passions. When we understand our passions, we can devote the most time and energy in those areas. Knowing this ahead of time will help you decide if a request is something you can stand behind and see through or if it is something you need to pass on to someone else.

Decide the amount of time you are willing to give away. How often in a week, month, year can you give away your writing for free or take time away from writing to help someone? This is different for each person, but here are some ideas.

 Maybe your passion is orphan care, so you agree to do the writing for your church's adoption support outreach for free. Or maybe you feel comfortable tithing 10-percent of your writing time to your church in the form of publishing the weekly bulletin. Or possibly you will take on any request for writing from your child's school when you are not on deadline for a paying piece. Knowing your passions helps narrow down who gets your time.

Offer alternatives. If the request is something you're not opposed to, but the timing isn't right, tell the person up front. Say, "I'd like to do this, but now is not a good time. Will you let me know in the future if something like this comes up again?"

If the request is something that doesn't interest you or that you just can't do, you could offer some suggestions of other people who might enjoy the task. Say, "I work from 1-3 in the afternoon so I'm not available to watch your children. But Mrs. Sawyer really misses her grandchildren since they've moved and she might welcome the chance to sit for yours once in awhile." If you are uncomfortable with offering someone else's name, say, "I'll keep your need in mind. If I think of someone else who might like to help, I'll pass on your number." This allows you to mention it to your neighbor without any pressure for her to say yes or for you to follow up.

Ask for time. As a young wife and mother, this is the way I learned to turn down requests instead of taking things on that I'd later regret. When someone asked me to teach a class, work in the nursery, or make costumes for the Christmas play, I'd say, "I'd like to think about that and get back to you. Let me check with my husband, look at my calendar, and call you by Wednesday." This gave me time to think and pray about the decision rather than just dismiss it altogether or commit to something out of guilt or a feeling of obligation.

How to say no and mean it. After you've decided that you must turn down a request for your time or your resources, you will need to let the one requesting know of your decision. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
  • Thank them for asking. It is an honor for someone else to believe in your talent or your ability to see something through. Thank the person who asked and point out the merits of the request, the ministry, or the project.
  • Be honest. Admit up front that you don't have the desire, the time, or the ability to complete the request. 
  • Be clear. Make sure you don't leave the person guessing. If you're saying no, make sure they understand that before you end your conversation.
  • Get over yourself. Oftentimes if I really think about it, I'm not the only person capable of fulfilling a particular request--I'm just the first person or the next person on the list. The person asking isn't relying on me, but rather relying on someone to carry through. If I accept when my heart isn't in it, I may be robbing someone else of doing something that God has ordained for him or her.

Take a lesson from a toddler today. Learn to just say no.

What ideas or solutions do you have for saying no? How do you turn down requests for your writing or your time? Do you need to take on more requests? Do you need to learn to say no more often?

Nikki Studebaker Barcus



  1. When someone asks me to do something and I think right away, "Yeah, I could do that, no problemo," it's ususally something that fits right in with my gifts and is a joy to do. (About 20 animal masks for the pre-schooler's Christmas pageant years ago comes to mind.)

    But if the task doesn't strike me that way, I know I am not the person for the job. There's probably someone else out there who would love to do the task and it would allow them to operate in their gifting.

    You make a good point about not taking away someone else's blessing.

  2. Oh the ask for time thing has saved me from so many knee-jerk 'uhm...okay' answers I would have regretted. As a mother of two three year olds...I should take a lesson. :)
    Edge of Your Seat Romance

  3. Nikki! Great post! I have always tried to measure the task by whether or not it's something only I could do. If it's not, then it's not something I should do because it would rob someone else of the blessing. For example, only I could be my childrens' mother. No one else could do that. But someone else could clean the church. As a pastor's wife I'm constantly being pulled by "obligations" so this is how I test them to see if they really are something I should do. If I am truly the only one to fill that spot, then I know to pray about doing it, and I probably will.

    Saying no is hard for me because I was always a people pleaser, but as I get older and my time is more precious, I am learning to be stronger and not worry so much about pleasing others. The important thing is to please HIM and HIM alone! (We'll never please everyone, will we?)

    Big hugs to you and kudos for this post! Write on, girl!

  4. I've come up with an answer for the well-intentioned people who insist God told them I was to write their (or their relatives') book(s)--free, of course: "What an interesting idea. Write out a rough draft of the first three or four chapters, and I'll see if this will work."
    Never happens.