Saying yes and no as spiritual practice


In my last post, I suggested that feeling guilty about saying no doesn’t mean you should say yes. When should you say yes, and when should you say no?

Most ministers and key church leaders grew up in a responsible position in their families. They were the oldest, or for some other reason found themselves responsible for a parent or other children. So taking responsibility and saying yes to more responsibilities comes naturally.

Being responsible is not a bad thing. Responsible, even overfunctioning, people make the world go round. Responsibility is not a problem until it becomes compulsive. Saying yes is all right, unless you can never say no.

I recommend a process of discernment before you say yes, especially to a big responsibility. But you can practice the process on little requests, too.

Here are five questions to ask:

  1. Have I stopped to pray and reflect on this?
  2. Do I want to do this?
  3. Do I have time?
  4. Will it be fun?
  5. How does it fit with my own sense of purpose?

There are reasons to say yes even if you don’t want to do it, don’t have time, and it won’t be fun. A pastoral emergency needs a response even if none of those things are true.  But if you find yourself saying no to these questions often, it’s time to say no to more requests.

Try a one week experiment: ask these questions at least once a day when someone asks you to do something. Notice what happens. Do you say yes or no more often? Do you feel guilty, sad, happy, relieved?


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