Let Your No, Be No

There are times when you get a call and you do not even think about saying no. I got that call Friday night when Sarah asked me to join her at Kaiser emergency while they treated a bad reaction to a pneumonia vaccine.  For the past 5 days I have made time for Sarah as she recovered from a serious fever and other symptoms. Thankfully she is on the mend, even going to work for awhile today.

Aspiring to be more like Chaplin: living in the present and true to myself.

Aspiring to be more like Chaplin: living in the present and true to myself.

Other times I have mixed feelings or even find myself saying yes when I am feeling or thinking no.  I want to please someone, or I figure that I can do the task or fulfill the request without much effort. Before I know it, I am overcommitted and feeling resentful. Sound familiar?

In my near final act as Clerk of Monthly Meeting I led the effort to fulfill all of the committees and leadership roles for 2014 as the chair of the Nominating Committee at our Friends meeting.  We carefully follow a procedure that is designed to honor that we are calling people forth to serve and the invited are to exercise discernment and say yes or no after praying about it.  However, I know from experience that our humanness may intervene and other types of persuasion are used. This year we heard “no” more often and this tested our commitment to Matthew 5:33-37.

Jesus speaking (Sermon on the Mount): Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all; either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes” and your ‘No’ be ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

A similar admonition is in James 5:12 and typically people interpret this to mean do not curse or swear, or perhaps to not take oaths. Traditionally Quakers have not taken oaths but “affirm” their commitment to tell the truth in court.

These verses have encouraged me to be careful in speaking my truth and only my truth. My integrity needs to be based on my saying what I mean and backing it up with action. This is nearly impossible if I am driven my desire to be liked or to please others or any other motivation–and in case there is confusion my tendency is to say yes too often. Duty, love, kindness are all good motivations for saying yes; how quickly they become obligation, resentment or self-serving. I am learning through Brene Brown’s terrific writing on shame, that I need to respect myself and use the word no more often.

I am so much happier when I live this way. I am getting immune to people’s reactions as some people take it personally or try to apply other pressure.  It is a learning process and I am less than perfect.

Thinking about it lately, I noticed that these verses are neglected from the pulpit. No pastor wants to give congregants encouragement to say no! Or more likely pastors as a group struggle with saying no themselves.  And what liberation awaits those who let their ‘yes, be yes’ and ‘no, be no’.

5 thoughts on “Let Your No, Be No

  1. great writing, as usual. i have a friend who needs to say no at her church, because of health concerns, and has asked me to “coach” her through this process (!). I’m going to send her this blog! Also, I need to really be careful with my mom’s situation that I don’t let my sense of duty, love and kindness cross over into obligation and resentment. Easy to do. Thanks so much, Julie.

  2. Not only does personal integrity need to be based on saying what we mean, but on owning our privacy/inner sanctum. Saying “No” when we can too impulsively/ greedily say “Yes” is honoring the same “waiting worship” model of Quakerism. Why wait? Because it’s God’s promise to us(to be with us and lead/instruct us in our decisions/actions) that is sure and trustworthy, not our oaths(especially those foolishly made to God when there’s a serpent afoot). Thanks for the stimulation to delve into the true meaning of “the freedom of the sons and daughters of God”.

  3. My Dad always used to say, “Say what you mean, mean what you say, and do what you way you’re going to do.” Sometimes, the most loving thing a person can do is say “no” (sure beats saying “yes” and then being resentful about it!). Thanks for this, Julie. It’s good stuff!

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