The power of “no”

The power of “no” can change a person.  I have lived my life as a yes person.  Someone once asked me, “Do you say, ‘yes,’ then figure it out?” To which I answered, “yes!”  I often say yes, when I need to say no.  I say yes sometimes, because it’s easier than saying no.  I say yes, because I worry what people would think of me if I said no.  I say yes because I want to, even when I know it costs me too much.


I often say yes because I’ve been saying yes for so long, but I’m learning no.  I’ve always believed in the power of no… yet I haven’t lived my life using that power.


When I started singing and then first moved to Nashville, TN. I heard a lot of nos.  No, you can’t do that… you’re a woman… your husband should do that.  No, you can’t play here… no one knows you.  No, you can’t say that… or sing that … or wear that… or believe that.  I’ve come to believe that I look forward to hearing the no’s in my life… because I know my yes is right around the corner.  I’ve always believed that when a door closes… my open door will appear.  Yet, I have given away my personal power by not invoking that one little life changing word… no.


When we say no to things we make space for what else can be.  We sometimes have to turn something off so that something else can be on.  Ever been to camp in a restroom or cabin with a bunch of hairdryers running at the same time… and all of a sudden … nothing?  No power… because of too much power.


What do I need to say no to? What if I say no? What new thing might emerge because there was finally room for something new. I might have to let some people down… I might have to change… I might have to stop all the volunteering… the running to help without listening to where my help might make the biggest difference.  I might have to say no to old habits that are so rooted in me that I feel like are best for me… when all along I know it’s past time to let them go.


I wouldn’t say I’m a believer in New Year’s resolutions, but I do think it is a good and right thing to take a good look at where you are, where you’ve been, where you want to be and to see what adjustments need to be made.  I can’t get there if I’m still here. Sometimes it means walking toward the unknown and just breathing.  Isn’t that what faith is.


Putting our faith in something that seems almost silly… like a baby king… like a kid with a sling shot… like a boy with loaves and fish… like a pregnant teen… like a stutterer as a leader… like a denier as the cornerstone.  I think of those first followers of Christ… on the beach… knowing only a life of fishing… meeting Christ… believing he is the one… laying down their nets and following.  Saying no to everything that they knew was true in order to make space to follow what they believed was their yes.  And in the end, being willing to bet their lives for their yesses… becoming martyrs for their faith.  Whew… that no, was a big one… not like saying no to an extra cookie… I’m talking about big stuff here… life changing nos … nos that you don’t go back on … change your mind for… the power of no in those first disciples lives not only changed their lives but changed history.  I would love to think my life, the way I live, the way I love, the yesses that chart my course, the nos that lead me here would all be the sum of changing the world… Maybe I can’t hope to change the world, but this year I can hope to change a little corner of it.  I can choose to listen, give, risk, believe, offer, try, when in the past it has seemed too hard to do so… I have always loved the quote, “what would happen if I lived my life believing I couldn’t fail?”  I also know that the quote, “what if I lived my life believing I could succeed” But what would success look like? That is the greater question….


What would it look like?  Maybe my success starts with what’s important things in my life? The “when it’s said and done”… I cared more… I did hard things… I apologized when it was painful… I threw myself out there and risked everything… I spoke up… I tried new things at the cost of losing old things that had grown familiar and comfortable…. I didn’t kept a ledger of the wrong doings of others or of my own mistakes, but instead celebrated the mundane and the day to day… I believed in hope… and honesty… and truth… and simple. I cultivated relationships here at home and afar with those I’ve know for years and those I just met… and most of this happened because I was willing to say no.  No to the way I’ve done it… no to pretending things didn’t need to change… no to the side stepping uneasy things are challenging in life… no to ignoring obstacles that have taken root in my core and have to be pruned away for new life to spring up… no to I’m afraid… no to fear…no to we haven’t done it that way… no to what if it doesn’t work.


Last summer, I helped a mom rescue a situation involving her grown daughter. Now, just months after our encounter there was a change that made the mom think it was all wasted.  I shared with her my belief that nothing is wasted, even though we don’t know the outcome…  we can’t just sit back and do nothing… even if things go back the way they were or heaven forbid get worse… there was a moment… a moment in time when we said it matters… I remember the day the mom and I met. It was in a large cafeteria. That day, instead of sitting by the summer college staff whom I loved and adored I said no and sat by a stranger. That single no, changed both her and me.  I could tell you the incredible details our story, but what you need to know is this: I will forever, forever be grateful for that day. The day that no led to yes… that no led me to making room for a mom’s pain to be healed by my caring… and that daughter and she to be reconciled.  The funny thing about the whole encounter is it all happened with me connecting her daughter to two friends of mine out of state where her daughter was… I was never involved past our meeting… but a couple of  my friends stepped in and in a moment of need they were there because of this mom’s and my paths crossed that day.  Being connected by the strangest circumstances and craziest line up of events.  How many times have I longed for that healing in my relationship with my own mother, that with her death 10 years ago this month, much is frozen as we left it that week, broken and yet connected.  Sometimes a no means… not doing something and letting someone else step in … someone else be the one who reaches a loved one who seems unreachable.  It means letting go… that’s what this mom had done so graciously… she let go… and realized that she had done all she could do… and with God’s grace… she now too will feel that in her helplessness … she has to let go again… and realize again that it’s not in her hands. It is seldom in our hands. The letting go part is hard… and being willing to let something die so that something better might live… being willing to step away so that room is made for a new relationship…. for new growth.  Whew this is hard stuff…. and every parent who has had a moment in a relationship that has been trying knows what I am talking about.  No easy add water and stir answers here… time… healing… space… trust … letting go… all seem to help but sometimes in life there are no fixes… there is just the believing that tomorrow will be better than today.


So what about your and my no…. can I say no…. can I continue to let go of the filling in my name on every line out there in life.  Can I not step up at times and wait… thinking that not doing might lead to the what I should be doing all along…. the power of no.


I’ll be honest… I’m not comfortable with a lot of no’s … but I could be… if I let myself… and maybe you and I will see that when we say no… others respect it… they may get it better than we get it… maybe they too have some longings for the power of no in their own life… and our little no will help them with a big no.  I’m not sure how it works… but this I’m sure of… no can and must be apart of your and my life… no can change every thing… if we let it.  So here’s to the power of no… say it with me… on the count of three… no on three… ok how about right after three…

one… ( deep breath )

two… ( don’t even think of backing out )

three… ( you know you can )


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