Dr. Zoe Shaw, A Year of Self-Care

You’ll Find More Freedom When You Learn to Say No

When I was first widowed, I adopted the attitude of saying “yes” to as many opportunities as possible. “I’d love to travel with you to Israel.” “Of course, I’ll join you and the kids in Disney World.” And not only yes to new adventures, but also yes to interruptions, volunteer respite care, and visiting the dying.

Saying yes can be challenging after a major setback that drives us to our couches with stacks of books and pots of tea. When we’ve lost something of significant value—our health, rewarding work, a loved one—we want the comfort of the familiar. But getting off the couch and speaking yes means we trust God with the unexpected events we wouldn’t have written into our stories. It means we lean into the detours, the waiting. We accept not knowing what’s going on.

God hears all our resounding “yeses,” and I think it gladdens His heart because of what we can achieve through our availability partnered with His power and resources.

communicate like a cat: be direct and don't be timidThe Importance of Learning to Say No

But there’s also the important word “no,” which we find difficult to articulate to our friends, our family, our church. Because we don’t want to disappoint them. Or we earn our sense of self-worth by how busy and involved we are. Or we kind of like the reputation of being Super Woman.

One of my closest friends sat on the board of Shepherd’s House, a homeless shelter in our town. She asked if I would be interested in serving as a board member. My husband, Gary, and I had a connection to the house. Back before chemo knocked him down, Gary volunteered three mornings a week with them. He came to know the men and care deeply for their successes. “Would it be alright if we invited some of them to hike with us this weekend?” Gary asked. Of course.

And thus began the season of hiking and snowshoeing with several of the residents. (One of my favorite photos is of a hike we led to the top of Tumalo Mountain on a cold day in mid-spring. The Shepherd’s House group had removed their shirts, folded their flexed arms across their chests, and posed like rugged, manly men who would hardly notice a chill wind at the top of a snow-covered mountain, no sirree.)

I deeply respected the leadership of this ministry and believed in the good work they were doing in our community. But the thought of one more obligation seemed burdensome. And so I (wisely) declined my friend’s invitation to serve on the board, which wasn’t easy because I didn’t want to disappoint her. And if I’m being completely honest, I didn’t want her to think less of me.

Don’t Add Too Much to Your Plate

I was trying to prioritize my days well as a widow. I had a strong sense of what God was calling me to do during that season. I could have squeezed in one more obligation, but it would have triggered a weight of heaviness.

If you’re like me and don’t want to let people down, practice this in front of a mirror: “I’m not able to add that to my load at the moment. But thank you for thinking of me.”

It takes grit and grace to say no to those things that don’t light us up, but it allows us margin to reply yes to something that’s a better fit for our passions and skills and life experiences. It gives us space to walk out the unique purpose God has destined for each of us. And when we live in that light-filled, guilt-free space, we discover that what God writes upon our hearts to do with our one, available, surrendered life … isn’t burdensome or heavy.

If you revert to saying yes because you’re worried of what others will think if you say no, then we encourage you to give this podcast episode a listen: Stop People Pleasing Now With Cherlyn Decker – 159

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