Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”
Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else — to the nearby villages — so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”
Mark 1:35-38 (NIV)
I wash the rice robotically as my mind zigzags between every worry and concern and my increasing to-do list. The braised beef ribs stew in the Dutch oven on the stove, and the aroma of soy sauce, garlic, onions, and ginger fills the kitchen with the smells of home.
I taste the sauce for the beef ribs, and though I’ve made this dish a dozen times before, I still get nervous when I’m making it for a new mama. I want it to be perfect — for her to experience a mother’s love when her own is far away. I was a new mom once with no family close by, so now I want to show up whenever I’m able and provide what I never had. And though my life was overflowing with obligations, I signed up for the meal train anyway.
I pour the rice into the rice cooker, use my index finger to measure the correct amount of water, and I’m amused that somehow it’s accurate every single time. I press the cook button to get it going, and as I turn my attention to the next dish I’ve promised to make, my phone buzzes. I miss the call just as I reach for it and see that a friend has called me twice already.
It must be an emergency. Why else would she be calling me so many times?
I dial her number, and every possible scenario flashes through my head while I wait for her to answer.
Her chipper greeting dispels all worries, but before I can tell her that I’m busy, she chatters on about her day, how it’s been at work lately, her complaints about this and that person, and how exhausted she’s been. I watch the minutes pass as I try to stir and juggle the phone and make sure I’m on schedule to get the meal delivered to the new mama on time. I don’t know how to get off the phone without seeming rude, so I say nothing but the occasional “yeah” to let her know I’m still listening.
By the time dinner is dropped off and I’m driving home in the quiet of my car, I realize how spent I am. I can feel the whining coming up through my heart to my mind, annoyed at no one specific but taking it out on the slow driver in front of me and . . . myself.
I’ve passed my limit of pouring out, and I knew it was coming. I probably even knew it when I first signed up to provide a meal, but I have such a hard time saying no. I don’t want to be thought of as unfriendly or as someone who doesn’t show up. I want people to know that I’m trustworthy and dependable, that I see them and can carry their burdens with them. The problem is that I want to do that for everyone. It seems like the thing Jesus would’ve done — isn’t He the one who sacrificed it all for us?
But when I look closely at His life, I see that He didn’t do everything for everyone. He wasn’t always available. He made choices, saying yes to some and no to many. In Mark 1:35-38, Jesus’s disciples find Him and exclaim, “Everyone is looking for you!” People are clamoring for Him to heal them and to cast demons out of their loved ones. Everyone needs and wants something from Jesus.
But Jesus responds by saying, “Let’s go somewhere else.” He knows not only His purpose but also His capacity.
He demonstrates this so many times in His life, establishing boundaries with unhealthy people, setting new standards for unsustainable patterns, and upending unjust practices. He retreats to solitary places to pray (Mark 1:35-38). He takes His time and rests when needed, even in the midst of a storm (Mark 4:35-41). He overturns tables in the temple — a hard no to those exploiting the poor (John 2:13-16).
Saying no actually is being like Jesus. He knew the wisdom of setting boundaries, and He empowers us to do the same. When we are being pulled in every direction, we can say yes to His purpose within our capacity.
Lord, You don’t require us to do all the things all the time. Help me not to get the needs of others confused with what You’re asking me to do. Give me the courage and ability to say no, to establish boundaries with those who often cross them, and to see my limitedness as a good thing and not a selfish thing. Amen.
- In what areas of your life do you need to build healthy boundaries?
- What’s one no you’re going to say today?
Empowered to Say No was written by Grace P. Cho, as published in Empowered: More of Him for All of You, coming in February from (in)courage.
Empowered: More of Him for All of You, by Mary Carver, Grace P. Cho, and Anna E. Rendell is designed to incorporate the five major components of our being — physical, mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual. The sixty Scripture passages and devotions invite you to see from different angles how God empowers us, and each day ends with prayer and reflection questions to deepen the learning.
Empowered: More of Him for All of You is unlike any other book we’ve ever written at (in)courage, and we are SO excited for it to be in your hands. It’s honest, hopeful, and beautiful in both design and content.
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Ruth Mills says
Thank you for this post! My to do list is longer than God’s for me. What a gift to be empowered to say no to what He didn’t add to my day! My saying no frees not only me from extra burdens but enables someone else to be blessed to serve in my spot. And in God’s economy will fill that task better than I would’ve so more glory to Him & isn’t that why we’re here? May He be magnified in my yeses & my noes! Thank you again for your message, Grace. You were so appropriately named!
Nancy Ruegg says
“May He be magnified in my yeses & my noes!” AMEN, Ruth–that’s my prayer too! Thank you for articulating it for me.
Dawn Ferguson-Little says
Thank you so much for this reading. I love it. I before I broke my Ankle. Used to go my Dad’s before I broke my Ankle in December last year. Do home help for him. Every day Monday to Friday. Then the odd weekend that he be away. Then go see my Dad two nights a week. I have two sisters. They have kids. Yes they do there part. But I would have way more for my Dad. He is great for his 81 in February. Can do so much for himself. You go do the Home help for him today and tomorrow it could be as if you never done it. I could see my Sister only doing very small bits to help my Dad. One would do more. As I hate mess. I they say what else are you doing all day. We have kids to see to. That would be their excuse. If I did say something. But there kids are not babies they are all at School on in Uni. So they make that excuse. I say nothing. To avoid a row. I feed I had to do it most of it because he my Dad too. I love my Dad to show him I love him. Plus do it on to the Lord. Because I wanted to do it for my Dad. As I don’t like mess. So I learnt this last while since breaking my Ankle. Which I had to have operation on it. Jesus saying your going to have to say no. Or just do less but leave the place tidy when you go back to helping your Dad when your Ankle gets better. I find it hard to say no. As my baby sister the youngest can be pushy. She cares. But she say are doing this. You have to do this to get your Ankle better. I am doing all the exercises the Doctor at our local Hospital told me to do every day. She means we’ll. I get frustrated. At her but hold back and say nothing. As a row would start. I not the mood for it. I just be nice and answer her questions are you doing this. You have to do it. She sometimes thinks she knows it all. Then I want to cry say stop. Say I am doing all the Doctor told me do. But for a quite life I say nothing just agree with her. Jesus has told me not to let her tell me what to do. Just nicely so as not to get into confrontation with her. I doing all the Doctor has told me to every day which I am. It just going to take time for me to get full better. Get back to helping our Dad. That is my biggest thing with me. I don’t like to tell people I doing my best. Or no don’t tell me what to do. I know you care. I going to all the Doctor has told me do get my Ankle healed probably. Not anyone else. I know I have to do it for my own good. Plus when I get better not do as much for my Dad as used to before I broke Ankle. But leave the house tidy. Let my sister’s do a bit more. Learn to think of me. See with being saved. This is my real problem. I feel people if I don’t do it. I don’t help out. They will judge me say. Your meant to saved. Jesus was caring your not as caring like him. So today’s reading has taught me so much thank you for it. That I can still be caring and kind. As my Husband says I am way to caring for my own good. That I don’t think of me and take time out for me. I say but I have to. Jesus helped people yes. But also took time out for himself. Did his bit. Never over did. I got to the same. I have to get the courage to say no. Set boundaries. See it a good thing. See I am not being selfish. As I think my sister’s especially the babie one. Of my sister. She would say. Are you coming to Dads today to help him if I said and changed Dads to 3 or 4 day week. I have to be brave if Jesus say to that. Say no my baby sister. I only doing 3 or 4 days. Now since I broke my Ankle. I have to think of me rest more. If she gives of if Jesus told me to do that. Just say nicely. No I not being selfish. I still do Dad’s home help. But less days. Than the last time before I broke my Ankle. Not let her say anything to me. As I need more rest. So between now and getting my Ankle better. I have to pray and ask the Holy Spirit to guide me what best for me. As I know my baby sister. That is what I call my youngest sister. I the eldest. Jesus will show me. As she expect me when Ankle better to do go to Dad’s do the same as before. I needed today reading thank you for it. Love Dawn Ferguson-Little in my prayers. Xx
Nancy Ruegg says
It’s so easy to get caught in the people-pleasing, performance trap! We’d do well to remember that “saying no actually is being like Jesus.” Thank you, Grace!
Dawn Ferguson-Liitle says
Yes what you say is so true. But I not good at saying no. I going to have to get good at. Do what Jesus want me to. Not be a people pleaser all the time. Thank you for you comment means alot to me. Love Dawn Ferguson-little xx
karyn j says
this was exactly what i needed today! thank you!
Beth Williams says
Lysa Terkeurst said it best in her book Your Best Yes-“Saying yes all the time won’t make you wonder woman. It will make you a worn out woman with nothing left to give others.” We need to teach ourselves it is alright to say no sometimes. Jesus didn’t do it all while on Earth & He doesn’t expect us to do it either. We must learn to do soul care & give ourselves a little respite. Take time each day to relax & refresh ourselves. Saying no isn’t being selfish, but empowers you to do more of His will for your life.