The Power of “NO”

 “NO” was a word I didn’t know. I guess it stemmed from my childhood. If I said “NO” to my parents, I faced consequences which were often severe. I think Mom’s favorite Bible verse was “Children obey your parents!”(Colossians 3:1). 

My mom learned the consequences of saying “NO” when she was a teenager. . She related to me after I was grown that her dad asked her to do something for him when she was in her teens. Asserting herself, she replied, “I’d rather not.”  The only whipping she ever received was as a result of saying “NO.”  And from that, she expected unquestioning obedience to her when I was a child. 

I learned the lessons of obedience well. I couldn’t say “NO” to anyone. I was the consummate “YES” man. “Whatever you want, I’ll do it. I’ll obey.”  It’s an unhealthy way to live. 

I said “YES” to everything and everybody. I said “YES” to overwhelming requests, got myself into bad relationships, and got myself into time-consuming obligations. I didn’t have the power to summon “NO!” and turn any request  down. 

I was also so desperate to be liked and affirmed and so relationship-oriented that I automatically said what someone else wanted to hear. For example, I agreed with someone’s political position even though I held a different position. I joined in bashing others when they bashed and gossiped about someone. I bowed to their agenda even though it was not my agenda. I followed their agenda of things they wanted done instead of my agenda of what I wanted, and what I felt needed to be done. 

It’s no way to live. I felt frustrated, held anger inside only to erupt in rage at someone I loved dearly taking it out on them, and I was miserable. 

I wanted to avoid conflict at all costs. I had learned in childhood that saying “NO” creates conflict. So, it was better to say “YES” and do what I was told rather than to have conflict with someone. 

Yet inside, I was greatly conflicted. I was mad at mysel for doing what I really did t want to do.  

 I felt guilty for saying “NO” fearing I would hurt the one I said “NO” to. 

And, I didn’t want conflict. I avoided it at all costs. 

My selfhood disappeared and merged into pleasing others instead of pleasing myself. Psychologists call this a merged ego. 

But after others had used me up, they had no more use for me. As a result, I felt horribly taken advantage of, underappreciated, and uncertain in my decision making because of the overwhelming guilt I felt when I even thought about saying “NO.” 

But thank God, I’ve learned to say “NO.”  And I’ve learned the power of “NO!”  

I’ve thought about and studied Jesus’ reponses  to requests and learned from Him and His parables. One of the most helpful is the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25. Five virgins brought extra oil for their lamps to meet the bridegroom and join the wedding feast. Five did not. When the bridegroom finally arrived at midnight, the girl’s trimmed their lamps to go into the celebration. The five wise virgins had enough to light their lamps. The five foolish ones did not. So, they said, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’  But the five who had extra oil refused. They said “NO!”

The five wise virgins told the unwise virgins, “Go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.”  Whew!  That seems so harsh, and uncaring. It also seems selfish. But “NO” is not a selfish response. The five wise virgins refused to be victims of the others irresponsibility. They refused to allow the irresponsibility of the other five to ruin their party. They refused to allow the unwise virgins to be the masters of their lives and ruin their happiness   “NO” was a healthy response and not a selfish response. 

There are many times Jesus said “NO!”  A few examples include the time when the Pharisees wanted a sign from Him to prove who he claimed to be. Jesus answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah” (Matthew 4:39). Jesus emphatically said “NO!”

On another occasion, Peter wanted to build three tabernacles after he saw Elijah and Moses. He wanted to build a tabernacle for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. While Peter was speaking, Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James, and John. In effect,  Jesus said “NO!” Peter’s request was cut off (Matthew 17:1-8). 

Another time and the most dramatic was when Jesus, nailed to the cross, refused the request of the two thieves being crucified with him  and the requests of passers by to rescue himself.  “Two rebels were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him” Matthew 27:38-44). Jesus said “NO!” to their requests for Him to rescue Himself. 

By all means, Jesus was NOT a “YES” man. He said “NO” at appropriate times to preserve his mission and identity as the Son of God. He gives us the example of the power of “NO!”  

I was afraid to say “NO” for much of my life. I was fearful of conflict, of not fitting in, and was desperate to be liked and affirmed. I’ve learned that is no way to live.

 Jesus said “NO” often. I’ve finally learned to say “NO” too. “NO” gives me back my identity. It sets my boundaries keeping others outside my selfhood. It may be harsh and a bit selfish, but it is the only way to live at peace with myself. I no longer feel stressed out trying to do more than I’m capable of doing. I do what I want and am capable of doing rather then what others want me to do. I no longer feel used, manipulated, or discarded. I probably have lost some relationships as a result, but those type of relationships weren’t worth having to begin with. 

I am really liberated all because of the power of “NO.”  I have replaced my automatic ‘YES’ with “I’ll think about it.” And sometimes, I dare say “NO!” after thinking about it!  I have control over my life and that control is my emancipation. 

“Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you” (Galatians 5:1 MSG). 


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