Getting the courage to say no

I am horrible at saying no.

If someone asks me to volunteer, to serve, to do a quick favor, to give some of my time, my gut reaction is to say, “Sure. Absolutely.” Only after that do I start wondering how in the world I’ll make that work in my family’s current schedule. And then I (on the inside) start to resent the commitments I’ve made.

Maybe you can relate. For the most part, because of social media, we see what everyone else is doing and we start comparing ourselves. We either feel arrogant because it appears we have it more together than everyone else. (So we better keep doing all these great things so we can feel good about ourselves.) Or we start to think we aren’t enough because everyone else seems to pull off a crazy schedule with much more calm and capability than we are. (So we better start trying to keep up with them.)

Activity isn’t bad, but we’ve turned it into something that’s about us and the image we project. That’s where it goes horribly wrong. The things we do aren’t about us. They are about using the gifts and time and money and energy and bodies we’ve been given to serve God and give him glory.

So in a world full of possibilities, how can we determine how to best spend the time we’ve been given—and enjoy it? Here are four steps to figure out where you want to spend your time.

1. Set your priorities. You have a ton of opportunities in front of you. Do you volunteer at school, at the local food bank, your church, a shelter? Do you coach youth sports teams or organize fundraising events? Pick one or two that really hit your heart, where your interest and passion lies. Eliminate the ones that distract you.

Since my family sat down and discussed our values, my husband and I have said, “Does <activity x, y, z> fit in our values?” Obviously not everything has to fit neatly, but it does show us if something directly conflicts with our values.

Also, make sure that rest is a priority. Protect that weekend with nothing on the calendar. Look for time to eat dinner as a family at the table. Realize that when you say yes to every activity, you are saying no to calm, peace, and recuperation.

2. Get over yourself. Stop looking to other people for approval. (I wrote that to myself, but feel free to pretend I wrote it for you.) As a people pleaser, I don’t want people to think less of me. That’s why I say yes to them; I don’t want to disappoint them. Then I have to ask myself why I’m looking to others for approval. Does my God approve of me? That is all I need. Other people’s opinions of me simply don’t matter when I keep an eternal perspective. 

3. Don’t commit immediately. If you’ve been asked to serve, don’t answer right away. I’ve been practicing saying, “Please let me talk to my family.” Or, “I need to check my calendar.” The time and space to think, to look over my calendar, to see what activities are on the day before or the day after help me decide if it is a wise use of my time.

4. Try something new. I imagine that your plate is pretty full right now, and maybe you feel like you’re in a rut. Between paying jobs, family, volunteering, and kids’ activities, we don’t have a ton of margin in our lives. That said, as you are looking at all the options before you, get out of your comfort zone. Maybe you can serve meals at a homeless shelter or sign up at a pregnancy counseling center. Maybe you can collect items for a women’s shelter or work in a community garden. Give it a shot and maybe you’ll find a new, fresh way that God is calling you to meet people’s needs.

By the way, if you aren’t serving at all, in any sort of volunteer capacity, it’s time to start. While it isn’t okay to spread yourself so thin that you serve no one well, Christians are called by God to serve each other in love. If you need help deciding, I’m sure the people in your church and your community would love to have you join their team! 


Linda Buxa is a writer, Bible study leader, and retreat speaker. She’s really been working on step #2 lately. This past week, though, she applied step #4 to her personal life and served meals to needy families at a church in her community. As always happens with serving, she received more than she gave.

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