The most important word in your vocabulary (but hardest to say)

no

One of the things I learned very early on as a believer is that people expect you to say “yes” to things. A lot of things.

Possibly all the things.

And the more you say yes, the more they expect you to keep it up. Now, I wasn’t entirely unfamiliar with this—I was, after all, the lord mayor of the friend zone in high school (let the overlooked brothers understand). But there’s a different kind of pressure to say yes to things at church:

  • To say yes to taking an extra Sunday in children’s ministry
  • To say yes to joining the set up team
  • To say yes to joining the local missions team
  • To say yes to filling in on the greeting team (and never leaving)

Am I the only one who has been there?

The thing about saying yes to good things is we actually want to. We want to say yes to doing more to help people know Jesus. We want to do more to serve in our churches and show our love for our fellow believers. If we love our jobs, we want to do more there because we enjoy it.

But then the turn happens, and those things we loved so much… well, we maybe start to hate them, at least a little. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten quite to that stage, though I do know there have been times when I’ve been more resentful than I needed to be. And what helped me was being reminded of a little word—one I forget all too frequently—that might well be one of the most important in my vocabulary:

No.

I’ve had to learn and relearn this lesson: sometimes I have to say no to things. I have to do it at work in order to actually get the work I need to do accomplished. I need to do it at home with my outside work (let me tell you, it’s a bad idea to be doing a ton of freelance while writing a documentary and also doing sermon prep and maintaining a regular blogging schedule). I need to do it sometimes even with church (though that’s pretty rare). I’ve had to do it when I’m asked to preach during a particularly difficult season (like when I was trying to write a term paper).

And I’ll probably have to do it again.

So why is it I hate saying no so much? Because I, like so many others, tend to value myself by what I do—both in quantity and quality. I want to do an ever increasing number of things at an ever increasing level of ability. But that’s just not possible. So I’ve had to learn to say no.

Or rather, I’m trying to learn it. Again.

The thing I need to remember is that ultimately, my value isn’t determined by the amount of stuff I do, the blog posts I write, the number of sandwiches I make, or any of that. It’s determined by God, and more specifically, who he has declared me to be in Christ. If I am redeemed, renewed, forgiven, restored, and adopted as his son, what more do I really need? Is burning the midnight oil  all the time really going to make me more redeemed-ed or be adopted harder?

So here’s a little exercise for all of my fellow overachievers reading this: Write a post-it note, record a voice memo, send a recurring reminder to yourself… whatever you have to do, do something to remind yourself that the most important word you can say, sometimes, is no.

 

Posted by Aaron Armstrong

Aaron is the author of several books including the Big Truths Bible Storybook, Epic Devotions, Awaiting a Savior: The Gospel, the New Creation, and the End of Poverty, and Contend: Defending the Faith in a Fallen World. His next book, published by Lexham Press, will release in Spring 2023.

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3 Replies to “The most important word in your vocabulary (but hardest to say)”

  1. […] Bringing back the backlist: The most important word in your vocabulary […]

  2. […] who usually ends up taking on probably a bit more than I should if I’m not being careful. Learning how to say no is a constant struggle for me, and I know I’m not alone. And sometimes I wonder if the reason […]

  3. Good words, Aaron. The challenging part for me is knowing that God has prepared good works in advance for us to do and it is up to us to faithfully act on what we have been called to do. It is difficult for me not to base my identity and worth on how well, or how poorly, I carry out those tasks, despite knowing Jesus has paid it all.

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