Why We’ve Got to Learn to Say No

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“There is only one way to defeat the enemy, and that is to write as well as one can. The best argument is an undeniably good book.” Saul Below, The Living Novel: A Symposium, 1957

I think no matter who you are, no matter how you grew up, every Christian writer struggles to say no to others.

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Some may learn to say “no” readily. But many writers start out avoiding saying no to people at any cost. We’re avoiders and pleasers. We may say “yes” initially only to avoid the inevitable confrontation, then say “no” later by avoiding the situation.

I’ve done it regularly. Habitually. And I’ve seen it done for years.

But everyone who writes has a unique call and so must rise above this.

And in my experience with Christians, we rarely, if ever, acknowledge the essential importance of saying no.

Oh, we say no to sin. And to anything deemed “questionable” or unsafe. But to other Christians? To the church or (God forbid) the leadership? That might not reflect well on our presumed holiness.

Churches don’t give out gold stars for saying no.

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People who don’t go to church can get away with it. Some may have first found permission by leaving. Yet how many are saying no to the wrong things or in unloving ways?

The point is, we need to learn how to say “no” well, and our model human opposed both the typical Christian and the disengaged and hardened folks alike.

He said a lot of loving no’s to people. And often.

He said no—in love—to strangers, friends, crowds, the disciples and Pharisees—in other words, to everyone.

Why is this so important? Because unless you can say no in love, even well-meaning Christians can create barriers between you and God’s will.

Saying yes means nothing unless you can also say no. Only “no” can correct and refocus people when they’ve gotten off track. Only “no” can move the attention away from its wrong focus. And only a loving heart can use no to affirm the goodness and love inside the opposition.

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Unfortunately, “no” seems so ignored among Christians today that most can’t handle the slightest hint or whisper of it. Now we have to treat adults as children and instead of “no,” offer a firm “thank you for understanding why I can’t serve at that event,” or “God bless your commitment. I’m already giving elsewhere. I appreciate your graciousness.”

If only that was acceptable.

Years ago, I set out to help Christian writers say “no” to the forces that opposed their higher purpose. I thought I’d be fighting the godless consumer culture. Instead, I’ve found the greatest opposition can come not from culture but from the church.

If you’ve had trouble saying no, you’re not alone. And you need to get alone to yourself for at least 30 minutes. Take a notebook and pen and go imagine your future 10 years from now if you can commit to the vision God put in your heart for you to write. Write down what you see.

Imagine it and then believe that one day soon, that will be you, successful.

That is who you are going to be.

Circumstances do not dictate this. People do not dictate you.

God is vision-caster, the Great Imaginer, and when He gives his called artists a vision, He’s saying that one day, it will be your day. But if you never commit to it, and especially to saying “no” to the ungodly demands, expectations, unspoken rules and implicit requirements placed on you by a restrictive church or family or culture, it will never be your day.

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We can’t sacrifice our God-given vision for a person or an image or a church. We must use our gifts for the Person and His image and the Church at large.

If you’ve failed to say no in the past, repent and move forward. Claim your gifted strength and know that every failure along the way is one less you have to make now.

Mistakes are necessary; they’re how we learn to value what we eventually gain.

But we’ll never get to where He’s called us to go without imagination and belief.

If you will go and write the vision, you will see where you will be. And you will know you can not quit.

You have to go get it.

So decide to believe. And He goes with you. And there is no fear because fear is not real. Fear is choosing to respect doubts as greater than the future reality. It’s believing things that are not or may never be true are true. That’s insanity. Fear is a choice; we can chose not to fear.

You can simply choose instead to believe the real vision. Choose it and own it.

As Tozer said, there is blessedness in possessing nothing. Yet a vision is a pure gift, and possibly for artists, our primary possession. You can have this vision if you have focus. And you will have it if you don’t quit.

But the first step before anyone else will believe this vision is you believing it.

So all that matters is, can you say “no” to say “yes” to your vision?

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If you’re ready to jump, the 30-Day Story Course starts Friday. Four lessons, four evaluations by me. $500 $99

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6 thoughts on “Why We’ve Got to Learn to Say No”

  1. Any group I’m in, I volunteer. I’m a hard worker and love to serve. I joked to my mom yesterday that once I’ve proven I can run the world, people expect me to. :) I’m learning how to say NO and how to recognize and nurture gift to place people where there’s a need.

    You are so right, Christians don’t understand all the time. I thought when I learned to set boundaries around my time and talents, people would support that, especially those that know I tend to overextend. It doesn’t always work that way. I liked the gracious answers you supplied.

    1. Mindy, I know you get it. The psychology of the habitual “yes” is such a trap. We get affirmed for it. We feel good being “responsible.” And who will do it *right* if not us?

      Maybe we need to look in the mirror and realize we’re opposing God’s work by enabling a bunch of people to avoid finding their place, their contribution, by avoiding our own. I’ve found I’m willing to overextend because it’s easier than facing the blank page–it’s another way for me to procrastinate and feel like God is happy with me anyway…

      It’s a problem. But it’s not unsolvable. Balance. Balance.

      Thanks so much for the comment, Mindy. God go with you this week!

  2. Heck yes, I can say “no!” I’m working on my attitude with the ‘out of love’ part.

    A recent example…back in September, a newbie writer fiend asked me to work through her first story with her. And pay me a small amount. We needed the money, I love helping willing people grow in their development so naturally I agreed. Then in February book two was ready. I agreed again, but with some hesitancy. Mick, I’m a broken record, but how in the world you can work on so many flipping stories at one time is beyond me! I was creatively drained and my story was pushed to the side for 6 months.

    She called last week asking about book three, a shorter, novella type thing. I said ‘no’. With all that’s going on in life, there is now way I can commit. What’s super God neato is that in late March the conviction to finish my current WIP before I’m due in August was something fierce. I surrendered to the call and fully committed to finish the story this summer. Guess what? God has blown my mind with how well and progressive the editing is going! Having that 6 month break clearly showed me more that my character’s motivation was weak in the beginning (a big no no) among other plot and pacing elements.

    So I’m thrilled to say ‘no’ I cannot help chair the school’s Spaghetti Dinner Fundraiser, but I will buy 4 meals, and ‘no’ I cannot help an extra day in class, but I will bake an extra 2 dozen cookies for the bake sale.

    Freedom people, FREEDOM!

    1. Zounds. You’ve got this mastered, Jenelle! Way to go! I’ll be taking lessons from you on this…

  3. “zounds” me oh my, that is a WONDERFUL word. i plan to say yes to stealing that word and using it in the very near future.
    i read something in a book the other day that suggested focusing on god in the same way a ballerina finds a spot to look at during every spin or turn so as not to lose balance, fall down and go boom.
    this seems like a good idea to use for looking at your vision during the days filled with circumstances vying to replace your REAL vision and causing you to topple off balance.
    gotta be crazy to be a believer. that’s why HE said we need each other so badly.
    love
    suzee B crazee

  4. Recently, in our church, I was asked to work on three different fronts. I easily said “no” to each one. Perhaps it’s my age (69) and the memories of other projects I joined in and completed. Nevertheless, God has placed what he wants me to do on my heart, and I need to do that first and foremost. Something else may come along at church that may co-exist with God’s plans for me, and to that I’ll say “yes.” Until then, zounds I’ve got it!

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