What comes to mind when you hear the word “no?” Failure? Rejection? Disappointment? This one little word can strike fear into the hearts of even the most optimistic souls, but especially those who’ve suffered at its menacing hands in the workplace or relationships.

After lots and lots of years enthusiastically and sometimes begrudgingly saying, “yes” to way too many things because I thought it would make others – and myself – happy, I am realizing that too many “yeses” have gotten me into quite a few major messes, and that saying “no” can sometimes be my absolutely best response. In fact, I now wholeheartedly believe that a well-intentioned “no” can keep me sane, safe and closer to the heart of God.

But “yes,” just sounds so much more pleasant! “Yes” means acceptance, assistance, and harmony, doesn’t it? Don’t you prefer hearing “yes”? I figure most folks do. “No” is so negative. It usually has such horrible, agonizing connotations. Or does it?

Odds are, deep down, you already understand the oft-underappreciated positive power of a well-placed “no.”

As parents, we obviously want our children to listen to our “no” before burning themselves on the stove or running across a busy street or taking that little boy’s ball without asking.

As fallen people striving to live holier lives, we also hopefully understand that saying “no” to temptation and sin means conscientiously rejecting our selfish desires and turning ever more toward God. When we say “no” to temptation and sin, we strengthen our resolve, build up our character, and hope to become more Christ-like.

Additionally, we can likely agree that when we say “yes” to something, we are saying “no” to other things. For example, a yes to a job across country means no to familiarity and sameness and home.
A yes to marriage with one’s spouse consequently means a no to single or religious life, or marriage to another.

But I would submit that by saying no to one thing is, conversely, saying yes to another. For example, recently I’ve been challenged by some health issues. These struggles don’t magically erase my many responsibilities at home and work, yet they have really stopped me in my tracks, and made me question the things to which I say yes. There have been some really exciting projects to which I’ve had to say “no” so that I can say “yes” to my health. Saying “yes” to caring for myself means I am also saying “yes” to my vocation of nurturing my marriage and my children. It sounds simple, but is not easy for me.

Part of the problem is my personality. As a recovering Type-A people-pleaser with perfectionist tendencies, saying “yes” always means self-inflicted stress. Always. Molehills become mountains, and mountains become continents, and earthquakes, tsunamis, and other natural disasters quickly ensue. For example, minutes after I’ve thought about putting together a summer schedule for our children, I’m making a business plan for Camp Renshaw of the Immaculate Divine Mercy Beatitudes Fun Times. That’s probably not normal. An effort to reduce unnecessary chores, tasks, and shopping on Sundays becomes PROJECT: Take Back The Sabbath. Admittedly, it’s all rather exhausting. And the irony is that it’s more than likely not even what God is actually asking of me.

As a Catholic Christian, I look at Mary’s “yes” to God — her fiat — and I feel like I am not being like her when I say “no” to various requests and projects. However, a more recently developed understanding is that by saying “no” to some things, I can give my very best “yes’ to those that truly matter. After all, Mary didn’t say “yes” to everything – she said, “yes” to the One — to God Almighty — and her yes still resonates through the ages.

If God is my loving Heavenly Father, won’t he help me discern which “yeses” are most pleasing to him?

If God is calling me to this vocation of marriage and family life, won’t he equip me to know which things are important and which can wait?  

Of course there will always be things we don’t necessarily want to do. But I submit that God will make them bearable because we are taking up his yoke rather than some newfangled hotness we think he wants us to carry.

Life is too short to say “yes” to things that God does not want us to do.  “Yes” shouldn’t leave us feeling anxious, weary, or resentful.  “Yes” should bring us peace and a sense of fulfillment. And when it doesn’t, perhaps we should practice the power of saying “no.”

My 3 year-old sometimes asks me for a lollipop at 9 a.m. Do I really need to pray about how to answer that one? The answer, my dear child, is, “no,” because I care about you. And that’s my final answer.