I was working with a mission group in a steamy warehouse near Pristina, sorting out a semi-truck load of donated goods to help those in the war-torn countryside of Kosovo: used men’s size 16 New Balance shoes, a five-foot high pallet of bulk feminine pads, boxes and boxes of clothing, non-perishable food, crib mattresses, and other essential (and non-essential) items.
In the middle of our morning’s work, a man from the nearby village walked up to us and offered up shots from an un-labeled green bottle. This man was a Serbian and knew we were working with the Albanians, so his offer of a gift was sketchy at best as we were aiding his enemy. Thinking I’d be friendly and nice – Jesus would have accepted this gift – I took the shot and threw it back. It burned as it went down, and while it turned out to be a local liquor, the possibility was there that it could have been poison.
It’s not that I didn’t think the potential was there to be drinking poison that day, it’s that I have a difficult time saying no. I didn’t want to offend this poor man who was offering up a large gift (though small in our eyes). I didn’t want to look weak in the eyes of my fellow workers. I didn’t want to portray a Christian that wouldn’t accept a gift. I didn’t want to say no.
From the Corpus of Contemporary American English, the word ‘no’ is the 93rd most frequently used word in their database of over 450 million words. In my personal database, it’s used much less frequently. It’s not that I can’t say no, it’s that I usually don’t.
No is difficult for me to say because I don’t want to disappoint people. I know how difficult it can be to ask others for help, to offer others something I have, to invite people somewhere, so when I’m given the opportunity, I’ll say yes. I want to please people, even if it doesn’t please myself.
No is difficult for me to say because I think others have my best interests in mind. I don’t take advantage of others, so why would someone take advantage of me? ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world’, right? If I wish we all had one another’s best interests in mind, shouldn’t I assume others have my best interests in mind?
No is difficult for me to say because I want to discover new things. I’ve lived my life fairly guarded, so now I seem to be going to the other extreme and saying ‘no’ would defeat the purpose. Carpe diem!
My saying ‘yes’ to so many things has usually turned out to be a good thing – I’ve learned I enjoy sour cream, halal food, and halibut; I’ve discovered that I’m smart enough to be in grad school, I can learn new things while still holding on to my beliefs, and I can have conversations with others I disagree with and remain friends. But my inability to say ‘no’ has led to bad relationships, many hangovers, stepping over my moral and ethical boundaries, and has caused me to ruin myself and others in the process.
I wrestle with when to say ‘yes’ and when to say ‘no’ because it’s a delicate balance for me – I want to protect myself and my boundaries, but at the same time I want to make others feel loved and accepted. I don’t want to disappoint, I don’t want to offend – I want to please. Truthfully, saying ‘no’ is one of the most difficult words to get out of my mouth.
As I move into ministry – and into life – I need to utilize this word more. I need to make ‘no’ a priority in my vocabulary and protect myself and my boundaries, knowing that it’s okay to say ‘no’. I might offend some people, I might hurt others, but I need to utilize this tool to keep myself safe, sane, and healthy. May God give me the courage to place this word on my tongue more often, and may my Creator give me the strength to use it when I need to.
much love. sheth.