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5 Truths for When Hearing No is Hard

For some of us, saying no is worse than 1,000 mosquito bites and a week of sleepless nights. I mean, saying no hurts!  We relational types hate to let others down. We hate to disappoint.

For others, it’s not saying no that’s so terrible-  it’s  hearing and taking no that hurts worse. Being rejected rates right up there with jumping in Lake Michigan in January and getting stung by angry bees in August. That bad.

This post is for those of us who are more undone when we hear no. No, your son can’t take that class- your dog is not allowed in here -you can’t take off Friday – I can’t watch your kids. No, we can’t make it.

No. Sorry. No. 

So Sorry

The first text read, Late meeting. So sorry I’ll have to miss tonight.

Then, I forgot it’s my son’s half-birthday. Sorry I’ll miss. 

And, Abigail, so sorry I can’t make it. It’s our anniversary.

That- more or less- is how the texts came in.

Grace had stretched me far but now it felt personal. Resentment was starting to grow. 

Because it’s hard to take no.

When We Are Rejected

So here we were. We three, then four, out of the dozen who’d been part of our little summer Psalms study.  Then two more texts.

Ab! Locked myself out of the car. Sorry to miss.  

And, Feeling drained. Think I’d better stay home. 

That was when that toxic cocktail of emotions started stirring again. The one that comes after the first twinge of rejection, the  resentment/self-pity mix. The Enemy tempts me with it when I feel like my efforts don’t matter or my labor is wasted.

Or, honestly, when my requests are denied and my invitations are rejected.  Simply put, when I’m told no. It’s ugly, I know.

But Christ Jesus died for this.

And he died for us, that we might die to sin. So we’ve got to preach to ourselves and stop emotions from driving the train. We’ve got to take ourselves in hand and get perspective.

Here are 5 ways I’ve been learning- learning- to take rejection and hear no with grace.

1. Remember Who else was rejected.

This gives me perspective: God Almighty was rejected- God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit.

Remember that parable of the guy who threw the big party and invited many guests? At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’  

Remember the excuses? They’re in Luke 14.

18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’

19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’

20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’

Talk about rejection! Those texts messages are miniscule, not worth comparing- even after I reserved the room and sent the invites and spent a couple hours prepping the study guide. Small potatoes. Teeny-tiny, speck of dust potatoes are my little rejections compared with that rejection.

Those texts were just polite little no’s to a Wednesday night Bible study. The host of the real party is God the Father. (Also Matthew 22)

In Isaiah 53:3 the Son of God, the Suffering Servant, is described as despised and rejected. When He came to his own, his own received him not. He said, The Son of Man must suffer and be rejected.

The rejection theme extends to the third person of the Holy Trinity, too. When we reject what the Holy Spirit shows us, Scripture tells us that He is grieved.

2. Look past the NO to God’s ruling hand.

This one is big. It’s the perspective I want to have whenever I hear no.  And not just in retrospect, but line by line as the texts roll in. When people upset my plans, I want to be like a woman I read about named Janet.

Someone who knew her said,

She delighted in seeing her plan upset by unexpected events, saying that it gave her great comfort, and that she looked on such things as an assurance that God was watching over her stewardship, was securing the accomplishment of His will, and working out His own designs. Whether she traced the secondary causes to the prayer of a child, to the imperfection of an individual, to obstacles arising from misunderstandings, or to interference of outside agencies, she was joyfully and graciously ready to recognize the indication of God’s ruling hand, and to allow herself to be guided by it. (From The Life and Letters of Janet Erskine Stuart, quoted In Keep a Quiet Heart, by Elisabeth Elliot)

When people say no and reject our requests, this too reveals God’s ruling hand. The half-birthday and the locked car and all of those texts were God’s ruling hand.

They upset my plan, but worked his all-things-work together-for-good better plan.

3. Do unto others, when they say no unto you.

When we are told no, the Golden Rule still applies: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

When we have to say no, like I had to say no to my sister this afternoon, about watching my nieces and nephew tomorrow, I felt bad. I don’t like to disappoint. But Danielle understood. In fact, she sounded a lot like Janet.

Oh well, she said, I was on the fence about going to the party, anyway. 

She took my no with grace and made it easy to say no.

I need to do the same. I need to do unto others when they say no to me. Odds are they like saying no about as much as I like hearing no.

4. Be disillusioned, in a good way.

I know that sounds strange. Because disillusionment isn’t usually good. It’s the feeling of disappointment we get when we find out that something isn’t as good as we believed it to be. But we can be disillusioned with people in a healthy way.

Jesus shows us what that looks like in John 2, where it says that he did not commit himself to them…for He knew what was in man. 

In “The Discipline of Disillusionment,” Oswald Chambers explains,

The disillusionment which comes from God brings us to the place where we see men and women as they really are…The refusal to be disillusioned is the cause of much of the suffering in human life. It works in this way — if we love a human being and do not love God, we demand of him every perfection and every rectitude, and when we do not get it we become cruel and vindictive; we are demanding of a human being that which he or she cannot give. There is only one Being Who can satisfy the last aching abyss of the human heart, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ.

When we allow ourselves to get disillusioned, we won’t demand every perfection or resent every rejection. We’ll be quick to remember others are frail and finite, with limited time and energy, too.

Being disillusioned is another of saying we don’t resent those who refuse or reject us. We take it with grace because we know that we all stumble in many ways. We don’t demand of others what they cannot give and we sit loose to our plans.

Good disillusionment means we aren’t devastated when our peeps say no. 

5. Keep sowing.

This last “tip” for taking no has been immensely helpful to me, especially when it comes to the rejection and no’s that come with Kingdom work.

In Ecclesiastes 11:5-6 the Teacher says,

Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let your hands not be idle; for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well.

This passage, I’m coming to see, is about holy boldness when we, to use Jesus’ own words, sow the seed of the Word.  Not everyone- maybe hardly anyone- will accept my invitations to a Bible study or Vacation Bible School or dinner or a walk. 

But we need to keep sowing and asking and inviting. Because we do not know what seeds will grow. But we will not reap if we do not sow.

Put something out there that God can bless.

We can be too cautious. We don’t want to be the farmer who watches and waits for perfect conditions and never plants or reaps. There’s always a chance that the seed will stay dry or blow away when you plant. Or that a storm will knock it all down the day before harvest. You never know.

But Ecclesiastes 11 is a warning to us, when we hear no and only a few people show and the ministry seems a bust.  It’s a warning to not stop sowing.

Phil Ryken explains:

Whenever we engage in kingdom enterprises we offer to the Holy Spirit something he can use to save peoples’ livesSome of us are so risk averse that we keep waiting to invest. That’s the picture we get in verses 3 and 4. The Preacher is asking us to invest in the Kingdom. If we want the blessing of it, we’ve got to exercise our faith and put something out that God can bless in return.

Don’t wait for the perfect circumstances. Don’t hold back in fear. Step out in faith. Not faith in your own efforts but faith that God can do it. But faith that God will take whatever you do and use it somehow for his glory. When it comes to kingdom work we should be venture capitalists willing to risk for the kingdom.

God is God and we are not. We don’t know God’s ways. We don’t know if our efforts will take and seeds of the Word will grow.  But, we do know that we will not reap if we do not sow.

Get out of the closet of the manageable.

Some of us fear rejection and hearing no so much says Sean Michael Lucas, that,

We cover ourselves up and lock ourselves into the closet of the manageable…The things we can manage are in that closet. We believe that’s the only way we can protect ourselves.

And it just so happens that the Psalm our little remnant studied Wednesday night was Psalm 121, the one that starts with, I lift up my eyes unto the hills. Where does my help come from?  

The Psalm ends with an immense, security-building promise for God’s children. Not only is He present and powerful, God promises to guard and watch over you. The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore (Psalm 121:8).

Keep on risking to the glory of God.

And, says Sean Michael Lucas, this means something powerful. It means that,

You can risk yourself to the glory of God. You can live dangerously for God, because God will watch over your life.  He will watch over your very soul. He will protect you and guide you and bless you and guard you all your days.

God promises to care for us and to guard our very souls from this time forth and forevermore. This means we’re free to request and invite and love others in risky ways, because the LORD will keep us.

So we give him something to work with and trust Him to get it done.

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

Galatians 6:9

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Conviction Comes To Interrupting Chicken


Yup, Little Miss Active Listener went rogue again. Tigger-like, she bounced right over reflective, soft-spoken Joe with her over-eager interjections.

I could say the interrupting words were well intentioned, borne of desire to build relationship and connect. I could say that.

But I know better.

Contrition

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Psalm 51:3

Jim and I were in the kitchen with our friends Sadie and Joe, enjoying some Sunday morning omelettes. Joe was summarizing a new book. I was Interrupting Chicken.

Hon! Stop interrupting, my husband broke after one of my break-ins. Let him talk!

I shut my mouth. Those words about how it’s the fool who answers before he listens (Proverbs 18:3) came to mind.  Guilt- the good kind- moved in.

After an awkward moment of silence, Joe continued, still calm.  I listened to him- and to my wounded ego- without interrupting either. In a few minutes. Joe left to help at early church.

But I didn’t say a thing. Any thing. And I didn’t do the right thing.

Conviction

So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. James 4:17

But I knew the right thing to do.  James 1:19 has been a quote-out-loud verse in this house for years. Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger. And I know Proverbs 18:23 pretty well, too: Whoever covers his sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and forsakes them finds mercy. 

Obedience required confession. And not in a vague Sorry-if-I-offended-you way.  Because confession- like thanksgiving- demands particulars. Precision like, Forgive me, Joe because for repeatedly interrupting . Or, sorry I wasn’t a patient listener.  Specific. 

I knew what I had to do. Interrupting was a sin of commission. I was doing the wrong thing. But to go on without confessing, that would add to it a sin of commissionWhoever knows the right thing to do- confess to Joe- and fails to do it, for him it is sin. 

There was conviction. I knew the right thing to do. 

Confession

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. James 5:16

But my pride had kept me from confessing as a first response, before Joe left for church.

And silence when there’s sin to confess wastes away the bones (Psalm 32:3). So the ‘ole bones groaned for the next three hours at church. But when we all got home, I did the right thing.

Hey Joe, I’m sorry I kept interrupting you this morning.

I don’t know if I added Please forgive me, or not. But I know meant it. And what’s more. I know Joe gave it.

That wasn’t the first time I’ve been selfish and rash and had to confess to a friend and I’m pretty sure, it won’t be the last. Because our gracious God reveals convicts us, bit by bit. There are sins we don’t even know we commit. A year or a month ago, I might not have seen Interrupting Chicken as a sinner.

But I do now.  And once we  know the right thing to do, it’s on us to do it.

Ongoing and over and over again.

Continue

And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming. 1 John 1:28

In a message on James 4:17, Russell Moore says that confessing our sins is critical for every Christian.

Then he explains why it’s so important to make things right,

Because the Christian life is about the Gospel. Because you and I understand that we are sinners. Not that we were sinners. That we are sinners. And that we are constantly in need of grace and mercy.

So what does the Holy Spirit drive us to do? He drives us to an ongoing confession of sin….

Because this is how God is drawing you near to him by the confession of your sins…The point is, you ask for forgiveness…so that you can be freed and liberated from that…

The most miserable Christian in the world is not the who is aware of his sin and is confessing it. It is the one who does not have his sins being exposed and repented of so [he can] experience the blessings of fellowship and walking in Christ.

It sounds so awful and terrifying. So does a surgeon. A surgeon rips you up to take the tumor out. So does the Word. It’s healing. 

Confess and repent is part and parcel of the Christian life until we see our Lord face to face, and are like him. And it’s not so morbid really, it’s actually, very lightening and relieving, and as Moore said, healing.

Confession, Interrupting Chicken can assure you, is good for the soul. 

Conclusion

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. Ecclesiastes 12:13

So what do you do with conviction? Do you stuff it inside and protect your pride? Or do you confess it and find fellowship?

During a swim at our friends pool this week’,  my 11-year-old, called me over and asked in confidence and with conviction,

Hey Mom, do you think I should say sorry to Mrs. Mills? I accidentally dropped a cheese cracker in the water and she told us kids not to have food in the pool.

You can guess this mama’s answer.

 You know the right thing to do, Son. Go do it.

Grant me never to lose sight of  
the exceeding sinfulness of sin,
the exceeding righteousness of salvation,
the exceeding glory of Christ,
the exceeding beauty of holiness,
the exceeding wonder of grace. 
The Valley Of Vision, “Continual Repentance”
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