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I stand in front of the calendar on our fridge and look at all the empty spaces.

“What do I actually do with my life?” I say to Leigh. “Look at all these blank spaces of nothingness.”

My February isn’t very busy. It’s this new thing I’m trying out called, “saying no.”

It’s really hard.

I’m not the kind of person who says no. To any person or any opportunity ever, really. It’s not because I have crap boundaries (okay, there’s a little bit of that) but it’s more because everything people ask me to do sounds fun and interesting, or challenging, or fulfilling, or a good opportunity to make new friends or learn something new. I love helping others and I like being where the action is.

So I say yes to a lot of things; yes, I can write that article, yes, I will speak at your craft group. Yes, I will help run that funeral. Yes, I can be on your committee. Yes, I can fill in for you. Yes, I can go on that retreat, and to that conference, and with you to your interview and yes, I can meet you for morning tea, and yes, I will babysit your kids and yes, I would love to come to the hospital and hold your hand while you give birth.

Okay, no one has asked me to do the last one yet but I would totally do it.

Being a yes-woman means that I make a lot of new friends, have a lot of experiences, and I learn a little bit about a lot of things. But last year, saying yes a lot meant that I was tired a lot. And because I was so busy saying yes to the things that were important to other people, I had to say no to some of the things that were important to me. Even worse than that, I think I missed out on some of the opportunities that God had planned especially for me because I was just too busy to take them up.

This year I am being more discerning about what I say yes to. It goes counter to my personality and my life experience so I’m not finding it easy. I’m so inexperienced at saying no that I’ve had to do a bit of research on it. Here’s what I’m learning.

5 Things I’m Learning About Saying No
Be clear about my calling, my responsibilities, and my vision.
By being clear about who and what is important to me in this season of life, I am able to make better decisions. I need to realise that I can’t be all things to all people and that I only have a limited amount of time and emotional and physical energy to give. Who and what are you called to love and serve in this season? What obligations must you meet? If you’re a person of faith, what is God calling you to pursue? What is the vision for your life? Knowing the answers to these questions makes it much easier to know what we should say yes to.

She said “No” because she only has so many “Yeses” to give… and they are reserved for the things that propel her heart. Dr Rebecca Ray

Be okay with the blank spaces.
I have a tendency to think that busy is better. I like to accomplish things and I do tend to work more efficiently when I have a lot to get through. I’ve been a little uncomfortable with the blank spaces in my calendar, and with saying no when I have no scheduling clashes, but I think that it’s the right thing to be doing right now.

Last week when I complained to Leigh, “what am I doing with my life!” he reminded me that I am making space for God to move. A few days later I received an email with a request to be a part of a really special writing project. It fit exactly with who I am and I was so happy to be able to say yes. Last year, I probably would have had to say no.

Perth blogger Steve McAlpine wrote this post that I love. He expands on my point about making space in a really entertaining way. It’s blogging gold, so go there when you’re finished here. (Or go there now if you’re bored of me. I’ll live…)

Don’t put off saying no.
There are some requests that I know I just need to say no to. Straight up my gut tells me that it will have to be no. There’ll be no changing my mind, but I know they’ll be disappointed- so what do I do? I put off responding.

But I’m not going to do that anymore. Delaying a no response isn’t fair on the person who asks. The longer we delay on saying no, the more it seems to those asking that we are going to say yes, and it makes the eventual no harder to give. If you know the answer must be no, say it sooner and give the person more time to make an alternative arrangement.

Say no well.
I’m learning that there are ways to say no that actually bless the person who is asking. I’m getting so much better at affirming the important work that others are doing even when I give a no response. For example, now when a certain wonderful aid organisation call and ask me to door knock for them, I’m dealing with that call much better. I remember to thank them for the opportunity. I encourage them and commend them for their own commitment to helping others and I say no, that I do not feel that it is something I personally am supposed to be investing my time in right now. I don’t give reasons or excuses. I just politely say no. The conversation always goes well. (I promise I don’t sound patronising- I genuinely mean the nice things I tell them.)

Take some time to discern.
You know I said that sometimes you just know in your gut that the answer must be no? Well, occasionally that’s just the butterflies who are afraid of the yes.

Last year I was asked to preach in quite a large church. My first thought was, “say no. You’ve got too much on.” I told Leigh that I was going to say no and he urged me to reconsider. Later I realised that I was just scared and it was something that I should say yes to. I was grateful for Leigh who knew that I was passing up an opportunity that fit well with who God made me to be.

The other reason I almost said no to the preaching gig was that I was just so busy with all the other yeses I’d handed out willy nilly. This year I’m making more space so that I can give my best yes to the things that I am uniquely created for.

P.S If I’ve said yes to you in the last few months, please don’t take all this to mean that I’m thinking I should have said no!

P.P.S If you also want to get better at saying yes to less, ‘The Best Yes’ by Lysa TerKeurst is a great read.