Holy No

Most of us struggle with saying "no" now and then. Dorothy Greco helps us understand why that may be ... and what we might do about it.


Holy No

By Dorothy Littell Greco

My life might be easier if I wore a name tag that read, Hello! My name is Dorothy. I'm very needy and limited.

Because I can't eat gluten or dairy, whenever I go out to eat, not only do I have to grill the server, I also have to educate them regarding the basics of food allergies. (Eggs are not dairy. Yes, I know they're in the dairy section at the store.)

Your limitations and needs are going to be different. Maybe you're dyslexic, struggle with depression, or rely on a wheelchair to get around. Though our needs and limitations don't look the same, we all have them and they affect how we live. Based on my twenty-five years of pastoring, it seems that most of us are at odds with this reality. We'd much rather be independent and self-sufficient. Worth noting - that's not how God made us.

Human development proves that God designed us to be needy. Unlike all other mammals, small humans depend upon large humans for approximately eighteen years. When a baby or toddler cries, he's signaling that he's hungry, tired, or afraid. As parents meet those needs, they validate the needs and communicate that the child is lovable even when they are needy.

If God designed us to be needy, why are we so often at odds with our needs? Perhaps because we're afraid that others will reject or judge us. Perhaps because we're proud. Perhaps we doubt that others will come through.

These are all legitimate concerns but if we fail to acknowledge our needs and limitations, we run the risk of:

  • never being fully known

  • never learning how to depend on others

  • wearing ourselves out

Part of the process of coming to peace with our needs and limitations is learning how and when to say no. This has been hard for me. I hate disappointing people, particularly those closest to me.

It seems to be uniquely challenging for us as women to say no. For starters, there's FOMO (fear of missing out). There's also the idea that if we don't live up to others' expectations they may be angry or disapprove of us. And finally, if we believe that our worth is tied to what we do, we may feel ashamed or guilty if we say no.

After 58 years on this planet, I have learned that if we fail to pay attention to our needs and limitations and never learn how to say no, we will end up paying for it. We will get worn out, resentful, bitter, unpleasant to be around, angry, and maybe even sick.

The key to saying no is to figure out which limitations God wants us to be at peace with and which ones he would have us work on.

For example, I'm a highly sensitive person, or HSP for short. I still cut the tags off my shirts and sprint past the Yankee Candle shops. I've learned how to cope with these quirks but I'm probably not going to grow out of my sensitivities. In this case, I need to accept and live within these limitations.

I also struggle with fear. Scripture tells me that "God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline" (2 Tim 1:7), so I know that I'm not supposed to make peace with fear.

Learning how to say no has actually diminished my fears. When I accept my limitations, set wise boundaries, and ask for help, I refute the lie that others won't love me if I disappoint them - or if they knew how needy I am!

The temptation to please everyone is never more palpable than during the holidays. By remembering that we cannot be everything to everyone and by judiciously practicing a holy no, we increase our chances of having a sane and peaceful holiday. Which, if I'm not mistaken, is what we all really want.

Dorothy Littell Greco is the author of Making Marriage Beautiful. You can find more of her writing and photography on her website. She is a member of Redbud Writers Guild and The Pelican Project.

© Elisa Morgan 2020

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