Saying No to Yes-icide

Saying No to Yes-icide July 24, 2013

Let’s just get it out in the open: We hate saying no.

OK, maybe not to everyone—parents say no to their kids all the time—but we definitely hate to say no when we stand to lose something by doing so. For example, it’s tough to say no to people whose opinions matter to us—it’s just too costly, too fearful, too risky. A recent article at by Nancy Vonk and Janet Kestin highlights this common malady:

“We all do it. Almost everyone with a pulse is conflict-averse. We don’t want to let people down, deal with unhappy faces, look weak, risk being branded a slacker. We fear the judgment, the loss of popularity, repercussions real and imagined. From the nervous grad new to the workforce to the experienced and highly successful, we tell ourselves we’ll get it done, we’ll be heroes; it’ll all work out in the end.”

Sadly, our inability to say no when we need to means that we are saying yes to all manner of consequences—stress, frustration, weariness, ill-health, poor performance, and more.

As Vonk and Kestin suggest, we must rescue ourselves from “yes-icide” before it kills us—if not literally due to its impact on our health, then at least figuratively due to its impact on our internal well being. Yes-icide is a major problem.

Too many yeses create a vicious cycle. We take on too much work, throwing off our work/non-work balance. The extra work steals time and attention from other commitments and interests, causing us to feel guilty for short-changing our relationships, our communities, our passions. The guilt pushes us to over-compensate for the neglect; so we come up with complicated and extravagant ways to even out the debts. None of this helps us to get back in balance, and the consequences continue to mount.

Yes-icide, at its core, is works-righteousness. We are trying to make up for the lack that we feel so greatly by saying yes to too many—even good—things. We try to calm the internal storm that charges us with the haunting truth: We are less than and not enough. Saying no to requests reminds us that we aren’t perfect, that we cannot do it all; we defy the truth of our imperfections with every yes that should be a no.

We can run from the truth, but we can’t hide. Eventually, the yeses that we accumulate will tear us apart one way or another. Our health will decline from stress; our closest relationships will suffer neglect; our work will be lackluster; our hearts will grow weary and bitter.

Vonk and Kestin are correct—we do need a rescue from yes-icide. They recommend knowing your goals and filtering all requests through them. Perhaps. But I propose that even our goals need rescuing, for too often, they contribute to the problem. Until our goals for life are rooted and grounded in the unchanging, limitless freedom and love of God found in Christ Jesus, we will struggle to earn the righteousness that our hearts are crying out for, either by striving for the good opinions of others or trying to feel good about our acts of service and heroism. Once rescued by Christ, however, we are free to truly say yes. Yes to the good works He has prepared for us, and no to everything else.

This beautiful and freeing exchange is how we are rescued from a lifetime of joyless yes-icide, once and for all.

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