How to Know when to “No” – Part 2

In my last post, I shared my thoughts and personal experience with how hard it can be to say “no”.  I also shared a couple of Biblical principles from Henry Cloud that have helped me in making those hard decisions when I have either external or internal pressure to say “yes”.

One of the many areas where we can be challenged with saying “no” is when people ask us for help.  People my age are in the “sandwich generation” – between caring for children and also for elderly parents.  How do you handle it when an adult child has needs and/or your parents have needs?  It is hard to say “no” to people you love so dearly.  Is it ever OK to do so?  If so, how do you know when it is?

And it doesn’t have to be close family who are asking for help.  Our co-workers ask us for help.  Our friends ask us for help.  Our neighbors ask us for help.  It seems awful to say “no” when people need help, but there are times when that is the right thing to do.

Here are a couple more Biblical principles from Galatians to give some direction in deciding when to help people and when to say “no”.

1. Law of Sowing and Reaping
reap_what_you_sowGalatians 6:7-8 says, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.  For the one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit shall from the Spirit reap eternal life.”

Paul simply states here a fact of life – you reap what you sow.  Henry Cloud says in Boundaries, “When God tells us that we will reap what we sow, he is not punishing us; he’s telling us how things really are.” (Page 84, emphasis his) So if I overspend and rack up debt on my credit cards, I won’t have money for other things – important things like food and housing and a working car – and may reap lots of nasty letters and phone calls from creditors.  If I eat as much chocolate as I want, I will gain weight and my clothes won’t fit anymore.  But if I budget my money and live within my means, I will have money for not only my needs but also for the emergencies of life and maybe even things beyond that.  And if I exercise self-control in my eating, my clothes will still fit and the new ones I buy will be because I want to buy them, not because I have to because I now wear a bigger size.

Here is where the Law of Sowing and Reaping applies to helping people – if helping someone interrupts this law, don’t do it.  For example, say someone has overspent and gotten into financial trouble.  So they come to you for help.  It may be OK to help them, but at the same time you need to be sure they still experience some of the consequences of their behavior.  If you bail them out to the point that the harmful consequences are gone, you have interrupted the law of sowing and reaping.  If they never experience the negative effects of their behavior, they won’t ever change.  Why should they?  And so in “helping” them, you haven’t really helped them at all.

This kind of behavior is often called “co-dependency”.  The classic case is the wife of a man who has a drinking problem.  He gets drunk after work and comes home late from the bar.  So the next morning he is exhausted and has a horrible hangover and therefore can’t go to work.  So what does the wife do?  She calls his boss and explains that her husband is sick and can’t come in that day.  She has “helped” her husband, but in doing so, she interrupted the law of sowing and reaping.  If he had to make those phone calls himself every time he came home drunk and couldn’t go to work the next day, maybe his behavior would change.  But with her there to help him out of the painful consequences, why wouldn’t he keep doing what he is doing?

So if helping someone would interrupt the law of sowing and reaping, you should say “no”.

2.  Loads versus Burdens
Galatians 5:2 says, “Bear one another’s burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ.”
Galatians 5:5 says, “For each one shall bear his own load.”

It almost sounds a little contradictory doesn’t it?  And yet when you think about the difference between a “load” and a “burden”, it’s not at all.  And, in fact, it really helps a lot in knowing when to say “yes” to helping others and when to say “no”.

knapsackThe way the difference has been explained to me is that a “load” is like a knapsack.  It is “the burden of daily toil” – your everyday responsibilities for life and work.  A “burden” is something that is excessive.  It is like carrying a boulder on your back instead of a knapsack.

So the principle is that if someone is asking for help with something that is their “load”, you should say “no”.  That is something that is their responsibility.  But if they ask for help when they are “burdened”, you should consider saying “yes” if you can possibly help (of course this “yes” would be in light of what their needs are and your ability to meet them).

carrying boulderFor example, I would never ask or expect my neighbor to mow my yard for free just because I didn’t feel like doing it.  But if I am going through cancer treatments, it would be a kind and helpful thing for my neighbor to mow my yard.  Mowing my yard is part of my “knapsack”.  But dealing with cancer is a burden.

So if a co-worker asks for help, evaluate whether they are asking you to help with something that is their load or if they are going through a time where they are burdened.  Maybe they are burdened because of a sick child, spouse, or parent or their own health issues.  Maybe it’s because they are understaffed in their department or something has happened to make their work pile up more than the rest of the employees.  Then it would be kind to say “yes” if they ask for help and you know you have the time and ability to do it.   But you never want to get to a point where you are doing their job for them all the time.  That is their load.

This may seem like an extreme example, but I know someone who had graciously helped a new employee who was learning the ropes.  But the problem came when the employee kept asking for help all the time – she never fully owned her job responsibilities and just did them.  Part of the issue was laziness on her part and then my friend is (admittedly) a perfectionist workaholic who likes to be in control.  You can guess what happened.  The new employee worked less while my friend did parts of her job.  And guess who got the credit and the raise?  The new employee!  It seems so unfair, but my friend couldn’t say “no”.  She took on the load of the other employee and her boss assumed the new person was doing it – it was her job after all!  And that was what ultimately created the situation.

This stuff isn’t easy.  In fact, at times it can be really hard.  Thankfully the Lord has given us His Holy Spirit to guide and lead us as we make these decisions (Psalm 32:8; James 1:5).  And saying “no” does get easier over time with practice.

So may we look to be led by Him throughout each day by His Holy Spirit and glorify Him both in our “yeses” and in our “nos”.

How to Know When to “No”

It was March, and I had my regular sinus infection after returning from a Spring Break conference.  Or so I thought.  But the antibiotic didn’t make any difference at all.   And then my symptoms seemed different from my usual sinus infections.   I felt lightheaded a lot and, as a result, didn’t feel comfortable driving very far.  And my energy level was at about 50% so I was cutting my working time in half.

You may have already guessed that it wasn’t a sinus infection.  And it wasn’t allergies.  No – my physical problems were God’s way of getting my attention to look at other things that were going on inside of me.  Specifically my legalism, drivenness, and people-pleasing which all contributed to an inability to say, “No”.

The summer of 2008 was a summer of God healing me physically and also mentally, helping me grow in setting boundaries and becoming a healthier person.  It was truly life-changing.

I think most women struggle with being able to say, “No.”  There are so many reasons – we don’t want to disappoint people, we want people to like us, we want God to like us, we feel guilty if we say “no”, we want to make everyone happy.

But aren’t you glad Jesus said “no”?  For example to Peter when he rebuked Jesus for saying He was going to be killed and be raised on the third day (Matthew 16:21-23).  Or to all of the people at the foot of the cross saying to Jesus, “Save yourself!”  He told them, “No.”

Henry Cloud says it best – “If Jesus had tried to make everyone happy, we would all be lost.”  (Changes that Heal, page 123)

That’s a good reminder when I’m wearing myself out trying to make everyone happy.

So how do you know when to say, “No”?  Of course there are ways to discern God’s will, but some things are smaller decisions or quick ones in the moment.  Are there quick ways to discern what to do?Woman No

I am indebted to Henry Cloud for much of what is to follow.  If this is a big struggle for you, I highly recommend that you read his book Boundaries and consider doing the workbook with it as well.  Here are a couple of Biblical principles for saying “no”.

1. Can I be a cheerful giver?

2 Corinthians 9:7 says, “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

I once attended a training session with Henry Cloud where he explained the words in this verse in a way that really made sense to me.  “Grudgingly” means that we do something because of external pressure from others.  “Compulsion” means that we do something because of internal pressure like our own little guilty voice in our head.  But to do something because we have “purposed” to do it means that we made a free choice to do it – not because of pressure from without or within (Galatians 5:1).

When we do things because of pressure from others or from our own guilt inside, we rarely do them cheerfully.  I know I usually end up doing them with a bad attitude, resentment, or even anger.  It’s kind of funny when you think about it – to be mad at someone else because of a decision I chose to make!  I need to take ownership for my “yes” and my “no”.

2. Am I giving from compassion or sacrifice?

In Matthew 9:13, Jesus says, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

In Boundaries, Henry Cloud defines “compassion” as “being compliant from the inside out” and “sacrifice” as “being compliant on the outside and resentful on the inside”.  Similar again to the idea of giving as you purposed or under compulsion or grudgingly.

To me “compassion” is saying “yes” because I want to do something or because I care and so have chosen to freely give of myself and my time.  But “sacrifice” is doing something because something makes me feel like I “have to do it”.  Martyrs often give from sacrifice and not from real compassion.  And I know I have had a martyr complex more times than I care to admit!

Henry Cloud goes on in the book to talk about how giving grudgingly, under compulsion, or by sacrifice is all rooted in fear of something.  Maybe it’s a fear of disappointing someone or losing a relationship or just of having to live with a guilty conscience.  Saying “yes” out of some kind of fear is miserable.  But the opposite is giving out of love and freedom.

These Biblical principles have helped me stop to evaluate my motivations before I give a “yes”.  Am I doing it from fear?  From guilt?  From outside pressure?  Can I say “yes” and follow through cheerfully or will I be angry and resentful about doing it (and I have done A LOT of things resentful and angry!)?  If I know my answer is “yes” to any of the first three questions or if I know I will end up doing it angry or grumbling about it, then I say, “No”.  I want to give a “compassionate yes” – not a “sacrificial” one.

Of course, this stuff isn’t easy.  I still remember how scary it was when I had to practice putting up boundaries and saying “no” that summer.  Henry Cloud says that you will learn which people in your life have healthy boundaries when you start telling them “no”, and that was certainly my experience.  That summer, when I told my parents I couldn’t do something, they said, “OK.”  My sister and closest friend were the same way.  I feared telling them “no”, but then they just said “OK”.  Telling a person with healthy boundaries “no” is NO BIG DEAL!  Because they will respect your “no”.  The hard thing is telling it to people with unhealthy boundaries.  I still vividly remember that August telling a co-worker “no”.  She just pushed and pushed against that boundary, trying to get me to say “yes”.  It was hard, but I was determined to get better and to grow.

This fall is turning out to be a really busy one for me.  But I realized the other day that I don’t feel angry or resentful about it, and I’m not complaining.  Because all of my “yeses” were things I really wanted to do.  Of course, it helps to be self-employed and not having someone else adding to my schedule.  But I’m not doing things out of guilt or just to make someone happy.  I’m doing them because I want to do them, and there is great joy and fun and freedom in that.  Not that I have all of this down.  By no means!  In fact, when I told my husband I wanted to write on this topic, he questioned my qualifications!  But I still thought I had good principles to share, ones rooted in Scripture, ones that had helped me live a little healthier life.  Ones that I hope are helpful to those who read this.

Stay tuned for part 2 which will deal with knowing when to help others – a category where it can be hard to know when to “no”.