A married father with two kids is living at maximum capacity. Between work and family, trying to be a good husband and father, his plate is full. Now, add to this his hatred of disappointing people and his love of having fun. He prefers saying yes and resists saying no. So when a buddy asks if he can play basketball one evening a week, he can’t help it. He blurts, “Yes!”
What he fails to do is ask questions like, “What night of the week do you play?” or “How long do these games last?” He reminds himself that he works hard and deserves a bit more “me time.” He says yes without reflecting on the implications.
Since his plate is full, things are already falling off. Commitments are being missed. Promises are being broken. Most of what he wants to do is good, but there are only so many hours in a day.
When he gets home and mentions the weekly basketball game to his wife, she asks, “What night of the week?” After a quick text message to his buddy, he informs her, “On Wednesdays.” She gently reminds him that he picks up their daughter from dance class on Wednesday evenings and they spend some daddy-daughter time together. Also, their son occasionally has soccer games on Wednesdays.
A yes is not simply a yes. Saying yes to time with the guys means saying no to that one-on-one time he and his little girl have been enjoying after dance class. It means saying no to some of his son’s games. In many cases, when important things fall off our plate, we don’t even notice. Sadly, those are often the people we love most!
Saying yes to heading into the office an hour earlier every morning to get more work done can become a no to that exercise routine you have been trying to develop. Yes to purchasing a new toy might mean no to putting this month’s college savings in the bank. Yes to taking a night class to further your education could be a no to a full night of sleep.
None of these yeses are bad, but all have consequences.
The question is, Are you being conscious of how your yes to one thing is a no to another?
Putting This into Practice: A Story
The phone rang, and one of my publishers was on the line. “We were wondering if you could do some promotion for a new product you helped us develop. The curriculum has really taken off. It is booming in our national and international markets.”
The publisher spoke some heartfelt words of appreciation for how both my wife and I had contributed to this project. Then he made the ask: “Would you be open to speaking to some leaders in San Francisco, LA, Chicago, and Michigan? We believe you would be an effective person to help influencers see how this product can impact their constituents in positive ways.” I was intrigued because I believed in the message of the curriculum. I also knew I had no extra time. My plate was already full.
“This sounds interesting,” I told him, “but I will need a couple of days to look at my schedule to see if I am able to cancel or move some things. I will also need to talk with my wife.”
He chuckled. “Really?”
I was kind but clear in my response. “If I say yes to this, I will have to cancel a number of other things that are important to me. I have no margin. Can you give me a few days to see if I can negotiate this?”
He said yes, but I could tell he was still puzzled by my response. To his mind, this was an incredible opportunity, one I would be crazy to pass up. It was clear to me that he was not used to this level of personal analysis when it came to saying yes or no.
A few days later, we talked again. I let him know I would be willing to speak at a series of leaders’ lunches in three different states. After we settled on the details, he asked about our earlier conversation and the way I had responded to his request. “No one has ever articulated that kind of thinking with such clarity,” he said to me.
That led to a fifteen-minute conversation about the power of saying no and the reality that every yes is a no to something else. I shared the parable of the buffet from the introduction of this book and asked him how full his plate was. He admitted it was very full. “Then for you,” I said, “at this point in your life, every yes is a no!” I encouraged him to evaluate what he would be saying no to whenever he said yes to anything new.
He thanked me for agreeing to present at these events. But then he was quiet for a moment and thanked me for helping him to understand that every yes is a no.
What about you? What is one thing you said yes to recently? Now think carefully. When you said yes what were the things you had to say no to?
—Kevin G. Harney, adapted from his new book No Is a Beautiful Word: Hope and Help for the Overcommitted and (Occasionally) Exhausted
How to Use This Book
Is your plate full and your margin thin? Pick up a copy of No Is a Beautiful Word, designed for people whose lives feel overloaded. Pastor and author Kevin G. Harney’s new book will help you:
- Eliminate distractions by teaching you to say no to unwanted and unnecessary responsibilities and commitments
- Make wise decisions, prioritize your responsibilities, and find guidance for considering new commitments
- Deepen your relationships with the people you love and become more free to focus on doing what you are passionate about
As author Gary Thomas writes in the foreword, “you will reap hours of time for every minute you invest in reading this book. The chapters fly by, but none of them will waste your time. They are laden with wisdom, biblical truth, and hard-won experience.”