Saying No

September 1, 2023 by Andrew Garland Breeden (Tennessee)

I am the kind of person who almost always says yes. No matter what the request is, I will probably agree to do it. This has resulted in my engaging in some rather unexpected tasks — agreeing to play one of the magi at the last minute in an Epiphany celebration, preparing and then serving the meal at a friend’s dinner party, retrieving a dead rabbit from the bottom of a swimming pool. And I could tell you longer, stranger stories of when saying yes has gotten me into trouble.

I want to be seen as helpful and dependable, a team player, always ready and willing to try something new. These are not bad qualities in and of themselves. But it can be a struggle for me to say no. I have a fear of disappointing others, acting in a way that could be perceived as selfish, of letting others down — even if my saying yes means that I grumble about having committed to something that I didn’t have the time or energy to do in the first place. And there have been times when my complaining has devolved into resentment.

The desire to please everyone is among the temptations that I struggle with the most, and one that I am determined to overcome. Not long ago, I pinned on the bulletin board above my desk a sticky note on which I had written the words, say no! I didn’t mean this to be a mandate to decline every invitation or request for help that I received; it was, however, a reminder that it’s okay to say no — that sometimes it’s essential to say no. Saying yes to everything isn’t healthy nor is it wise. Saying no helps us to set and maintain boundaries. Saying no creates the space necessary for us to take care of ourselves emotionally and physically and to avoid burnout and exhaustion.

After a recent flurry of commitments, I wondered if I could find a time in the Gospels when Jesus said no. I didn’t have to search long before I came across a story in Mark’s Gospel that I hadn’t fully appreciated before. Toward the end of the first chapter, it says: “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.’ So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons” (Mk. 1:35-39, NIV).

Everyone is looking for you! This statement captures perfectly what I feel when I’m already tired from overcommitment 
and the requests keep rolling in. It evokes in me weariness and irritability — emotions that surely weren’t unfamiliar to Jesus who, as the Gospels remind us, was very human. So, I can understand why he did what he did. In this scripture passage Jesus was faced with a choice: to remain where he was and interact with the crowd or to move on. He probably could have done both and made everyone happy, accomplishing good things. But Jesus moved on — to preach in the synagogues and drive out demons. This suggests to me that Jesus knew what he needed to prioritize. Saying no allowed him to focus on what was most important and to accomplish what he had set out to do.

Sometimes we have to say no, even if it means saying no to something that is good. And this is not only about self-care but also about knowing where our energy and focus need to be placed and where they don’t. It isn’t easy; but so far, no one has accused me of being selfish with my time or told me that I’ve disappointed them. On the contrary, I’ve often found that others are considerably understanding and gracious. I don’t know that it will ever be something that comes to me naturally, but I am getting better with practice.

Questions for Reflection:

1. Would you describe yourself as a people pleaser? What are some of the advantages of wanting to please others? What are some of the challenges and drawbacks?
2. When have you made a commitment that you ultimately regretted? Looking back on that experience, what do you wish you had done differently?
3. Can you think of another time in scripture when Jesus said no? What does that story from scripture tell you about saying no?

1 Comment
Log In to leave a comment

About The Upper Room Devotional

The mission of The Upper Room daily devotional guide is to provide a practical way to listen to scripture, connect with believers around the world, and spend time with God each day. Read more about The Upper Room here.

Learn more

Order your subscription today at

Image by: Guy MOLL