I never like telling someone no.
I never like hearing no.
I don’t like that I just picked out a “no” clip art for this blog post. It’s feels so harsh to me. And I don’t like to be harsh.
Because isn’t it true?
Telling someone no brings on disappointment. It ruffles up community life. It creates disconnection. It’s stop word after all.
Hearing no messes with a sense of value. It can rob a person of their worthiness (if we let it). It usually feels like a door slam shut even if it’s messenger approaches with respect and kindness. It’s not a word radiating welcome.
And we love connection and welcome. So there’s no wonder we feel that no is such a bad word. Or is it?
Let’s start with this: time and time again I’ve learn that “No” is one of the most spiritual words I can hear. No is one of the most spiritual words I can offer someone else.
One of the spiritual teachers who prepared me for seminary (even when I had no idea I was heading there) was Henri Nouwen.
If you don’t know much about Henri, you should. Begin reading about him here.
Before tweeting, facebooking or blogging your thoughts was a thing, Henri Nouwen was that guy. He shared his authentic self with the world. Some might even say about him that he “overshared.” Instead of putting his thoughts on the internet as many of us do now, he wrote books. Dozens and dozens of books. So many of them became classics. Millions and millions became fans of Henri’s warmth and honest approach to teaching.
One of my favorites of his that I go back to time and time again is Inner Voice of Love.
It’s the book known as his “secret journal” that was published by his friends after his death. It’s not a book you plow through, but rather a series of mediations to sit with slowly. Inner Voice of Love is full of Henri’s exhortations to himself walking through a particularly difficult season in his journey with plummeting self-esteem.
One of my favorite exhortation of his from this volume wrestles with the word “no.”
You keep listening to those who seem to reject you. But they never speak about you. They speak about their own limitations. They confess their poverty in the face of your needs and desires. They simply ask for your compassion. They do not say that you are bad, ugly, or despicable. They say only that you are asking for something they cannot give.
These words of his remind me of two things.
- The normality of no. Rejection is part of the drill. None of us, regardless of how smart or kind or thoughtful we are can escape dead ends. We will need to tell people “no” in our life. People will need to tell us “no” too.
- The invitation of no. “No’s” teach. They redirect. They invite us to look deeper in our hearts and stories and intentions and help us walk on new paths– to the place that the “yeses” live. We need “no” for direction. Thank God for “no!”
I was listening to a podcast recently by one of my favorite authors, Elizabeth Gilbert.
When asked the question about what she gave up to serve her creative process, she talked about the hardship of the word “no.”
She bemoaned all the people who felt hurt by her “no’s” and how it cost her friends, both personal and professional that she thought she’d have in her life forever. And visa versa.
Elizabeth reminded listeners that: “You have to sit with the discomfort that comes from the sacred no.”
And here was the zinger question (paraphrasing here) she offered: what do you need to say no to so that you can fulfill why you are here on this planet?
This question is one that has stuck with me ever since I heard it.
Both to toughen me up when rejections come (believing that even the most devastating missed opportunities remind me that God is God and I am not) AND to have the courage to reject anything out of line with WHO I am made to be and HOW God wants me to use my time on earth.
There are a thousand amazing things to be and do, of course. Yet not all of these things were meant for me (or you either)!
So I’m wondering to WHO do YOU need to say “no” today?
How do you need to lick your wounds and move on from a “no” that has long kept you paralyzed?
What do the “no’s” in your life have to teach you?
Let’s keep learning and listening together. And saying no. It’s good soul work.