Studies

Learning how to say no: 3 Ps to liberate your life

Delphne Tan // October 14, 2019, 3:10 pm

Learning to say no

Lord of my life, finances, family and job… But how about Lord of my schedule?

I love planning my life so much that I have it down to the hour. Even without the intense workload of teaching, I still love to plan what I do with my time. When people ask me out, the first thing I consult is my scheduler. I look at the time and the date, and if it’s open, I often agree.

Reflecting over this practice in my life, I find that I’m often so exhausted, or that I do not have the mental capacity to cope with the people I’m meeting. In those situations, I would fall back on one of two options.

  1. I flake. This is the option I dislike the most because it means not keeping to my word. This leads to guilt sometimes when I know I haven’t seen someone in a while, or I know that the person needs some encouragement.
  2. I go anyway and bear with it. Sometimes it turns out to be an incredible time, sometimes I leave utterly spent and now have to schedule in time to rest.

The danger of busyness

I’ve been thinking recently: What if it doesn’t have to be this way? Why isn’t God the Lord of my schedule? What if I involved Him in the decisions regarding my time?

Truth is, we like to think that we can have a five-year plan, with all our holidays decided upon months in advance. By God’s grace, our holidays go according to plan, but it only takes a simple hiccup to throw everything into disarray. We’ve all had that experience, when a flu or a bad stomach disrupts our holiday plans. Or a work thing going all wrong and we have to change our schedule for the week.

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34)

At the heart of this is the idea that there’s no way I can know what’s going to happen tomorrow. Involving the Holy Spirit in decisions about my schedule gives a certain confidence and faith that it’s all in God’s hands. It’s an act of humility and accepting that I can’t know what is going to happen tomorrow, but I can, in submitting to God, make certain plans and trust that whatever happens will happen, and He will be in it.

Death by productivity

And can we also talk about FOMO for a mo?

The fear of missing out sometimes drives my choices in time management. When people organise parties, movie outings or even church events, the fear that I would be left out sometimes leads me to agree to things without really praying about it.

What I’m learning is to love God wholeheartedly, and this means surrendering my time to Him as well. I’m starting to understand the beauty and freedom that comes from inviting the Holy Spirit into my day and letting Him be the centre of how I spend my time.

I want my word to count for something.

I’m also learning the power of words. When God speaks, He does not speak in vain. His words create and He is not flippant about them. When He makes a covenant with His people, He does not go back on it. God keeps His word.

I want to be like that. I want to be a person of character and integrity. I want my word to count for something. When I say “yes” to meeting people, I want that to be a pledge and commitment to spending time with them. I want my “no” to be honest as well, to be kind to both myself and the people in my life.

“But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.” (James 5:12)

By asking God to be Lord over my schedule, I’m learning to be driven by Him and not by fear or my schedule. And I’m developing steadfastness and integrity in my word.

In a fast-paced and ever-changing world, it makes the most sense to place my trust in the unchanging God, the Rock of Ages. Especially when it seems like everybody wants/needs a piece of you, remembering that God is your boss can be the most liberating thing.

As long as I flow with Him, I can remain unfazed by circumstances and difficulties. But how do we involve God in our scheduling? Here are some practical handles that I’ve found useful.

1. PRIORITISE 

We need to know what our priorities are. Seek the Lord especially in transitional seasons, or at the start of the week when all the planning gets done. What are some areas you feel the Holy Spirit wants you to prioritise? It might be spending some additional time with your family or focusing on ministry in church. It could also be a season of rest.

Remembering that God is your boss can be the most liberating thing.

Once you understand these priorities, scheduling becomes more straightforward. There are must-dos that will require your time and attention. Things like the worship course you committed to or that work appointment. Other things may crop up and seem urgent, but you’ll be able to know what to say “yes” or “no” to – if you know your priorities.

2. PAUSE

It helps to just pause before firing off an answer. Sometimes I get so caught up with the excitement of the moment that I instantly agree to things. And when that day rolls along, I find that I’m stretched so thinly that I can’t physically manage.

Pausing and saying “let me get back to you” is an honest way to treat people. The key is to actually reply them so they know that they can hold you to your word. Following up is the bit that I often struggle with, but I’m slowly learning to honour others by remembering to reply.

How to love without burning out

3. PRAY

Pray before agreeing to something. Pray before meeting anyone. Pray especially before a social event when you’re not feeling emotionally great.

I’ve learnt that I’m very comfortable with certain I people meet and I can receive something from them. Others, I often feel that I have to give and minister to them. In such moments it would be helpful to commit the meeting to the Lord and pray the armour of God (Ephesians 6) over yourself.

“I’m not able to do this week, but maybe we could schedule something for the week after?” This is a good way of responding after seeking the Lord. I’m also learning to protect certain times for myself to spend with Jesus – I believe this demonstrates to friends that they can also turn to God first before rushing for men’s advice or help.

How beautiful it is to know that I can be confident in God and His timing.

This process may seem tedious to people, but what it does for me is to slow down the decision process so I can steward my time well. In fact, I find that by doing this I’m less exhausted and have energy to meet with people and be present with them when I’m there.

Most importantly, I know that I’m daily partnering with the Holy Spirit and trusting Him to sustain me. It’s a delicate balance, knowing when to push through when I’m tired and to pull back even when I’m raring to go. But how beautiful it is to know that I can be confident in God and His timing.

I pray that God will truly be Lord over all of our lives. I pray that we will involve Him in all our decisions, however big or small. May we be driven only by His love and will, and not by the world or people in our lives. And may we learn what it means to anchor ourselves on the Rock.

This article was first published on Delphne’s blog and has been republished with permission.

THINK + TALK

  1. Do you need to learn how to say “no”? Or do you need to come out of your comfort zone and say “yes” more?
  2. Can people trust you to keep your word? 
  3. How can you invite God to be Lord over your schedule?