Learning to Say No In a Yes World

We often take pride in our busyness.

Our lives are run by overwhelming schedules and to-do lists. In the desire to please everyone, we often say yes to more than we should and are left overburdened, over committed, and just plain tired. As we try to do it all, we forget that we are supposed to be sleeping 1/3 of every day.

What is the cost?

While I stay at home with my girls which sometimes comes along with an assumption that I have all the time to clean, meal prep, volunteer, and teach my kids Chinese :-/, that is just not the case. My husband travels regularly and managing the house, meals, school and bedtime routines, after-school activities, and the incessant iPhone alarm reminders leaves me little time to just be.

How much of the present are we missing as we perpetually plan for, prep for, or race to the next thing?

What Is Your Main Thing?

What are you or your family’s priorities – keeping the kids involved, good grades, monthly date nights, resting on Sunday, keeping the house clean? If someone looked at your schedule, would they be able to tell?

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things,  but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” -Luke 10:38-42

In this passage, Martha was busy preparing a meal for Jesus and his disciples, undoubtedly stressing to make everything perfectly, while her sister sat at His feet. While you can’t blame her and I’m sure Christ appreciated her hospitality, He invites her to keep the main thing the main thing; to grab something out of the pantry, bring over a bottle of wine, and be present.

I think what Christ is saying here is not that we should just drop all the balls and sit cross-legged singing kumbaya all day – the house needs taken care of, people need to be fed, and kids need to be chauffeured around. These things are needed.

What he’s trying to address here are all of the unneeded things filling our schedule leaving us, “worried and upset” that get in the way of keeping the main things the main things.

Keeping Priorities a Priority

“Whenever you say yes to something, there is less of you for something else. Make sure your yes is worth the less.” -Lisa TerKeurst

We have to fight for our priorities to keep them that way. Every yes or no we make matters. 

Keeping the girls involved is a priority for us. Since it’s hit-or-miss on whether Brad is here in the evenings and because of how chaotic waiting with sisters during practice feels, we only allow the older girls to do one activity each, violin and dance. I try to limit all my other activities to the morning to hold onto evening sanity for as long as we can.

I am in a mom’s group that meets one morning a week. For me, this is another priority. My strong desire for community is something I have to fight for as a stay-at-home parent and meeting with these women every week provides much-needed fellowship and adult conversation.

I also signed my preschooler up for a gymnastics class one morning a week because, after seeing her sisters practice, she really wanted to have her own thing.  Plus, she couldn’t stop jumping like a monkey off of furniture so here’s to hoping this harnesses that crazy.


Other priorities include family dinner a few nights a week which I protect as much as I can with crock pot meals and God’s gift of refrigerated Costco meals, a consistent kid’s bedtime in which we try to head up at 7:30 each night and finding self-time during which I work out and utilize the blessed YMCA childcare.

Chasing Down the Decision

Still, as much as we try to keep our priorities in order, we are tempted to be yes people and struggle to push through the awkwardness of saying no.

I am listening to The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands on my minivan audio to and from all the things when the backseat allows. In it, Lisa TerKeurst demonstrates how our yes can better be led by wisdom by “chasing the decision” to the end.

For example, we were asked to lead a group of God-Teens, which is a group of high school freshmen we’d host in our home every week until they graduate. We’d help them grow in their faith, take them on occasional social outings, and just let them see a little glimpse of family life.

When we were asked to host I so strongly wanted to say yes. I would absolutely love to be a home away from home for students walking through one of the hardest phases of their life.

But then I chased down the decision.

I had a newborn at the time. Brad was gone one week a month at a minimum. I pictured what leading a curriculum with a house of high schoolers amidst nursing and the bedtime routine with two other littles would look like when he was gone and knew what the answer needed to be.

For the sake of my sanity, it had to be no. For the sake of my family, it had to be no.

Saying no to a good thing is never easy, but it’s important to remind ourselves that no doesn’t mean never.

Maybe if Brad’s travel slows or once my kids start the program in high school we can host. But just not at this chapter, just not today.

Keeping A Yes Window

In the book, TerKeurst mentions how some of her readers controlled their schedules by limiting their yes to a window.

One person only allowed one yes per category (school volunteering, helping at church, social event, etc.). After a yes was chosen in each category, she politely declined all other asks to avoid burnout.

Another kept one day open for getting together with people or service activities. She kept Fridays free from appointments and commitments while her kids were at school and, if anyone asked to get together, she would see which Friday they were free between 9 and 3 to do so.

I love this premise of limiting my unessential yes’ to a window. I try to keep my blogging and ministry stuff to before the girl’s wake up and over my little one’s nap, but I know I could be a lot more adamant about sticking to that window rather than pulling the Mickey Mouse card more often than I should…ruh roh.


I know I need the undistracted quiet window to really focus, which is a rare breed at the current chapter. During this window, I’m still learning to say no to the many other options (social media, house projects, meal prep, etc.) and guarding the time like an old lady clutching her pearls so when the girls are awake or home, I can be more fully there.

Owning My No

“Saying no means that we value our time, energy, and needs.” -Lisa TerKeurst

Still, I’ve overcommitted. I’ve said yes to speaking engagements, volunteering, and other commitments that by themselves would be fine, but all together quickly turn me into hot mess mode. But I’m learning the art of resting in the confidence that my no is for the sake of saying yes to God, my family, and my calling.

This spring, both girls are adding soccer to the mix. Many of Ella’s friends are starting a rec league that practices one night a week and has a weekend game that she was asked to be on. There is also a micro league which meets only once a weekend for a practice/game combo.

While I’m sure my daughter would love to play with classmates and I’d love to visit with their parents, I chose to protect my evenings and say no. Instead, I played my younger daughter up a grade and offered to coach their team.

Without saying no to the rec league or different teams, I wouldn’t have been able to say yes to coaching both girls and I absolutely can’t wait to teach these little ladies what I learned on the field growing up.


By saying no when needed, we are freed to give our best yes to the things that matter most.

What are the things that distract you from what matters? What has helped you say “No” or rein them in?