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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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Go Bold

And I pleaded with the LORD at that time, saying
“O LORD GOD, you have only begun to show your servant your greatness and your mighty hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do such works and mighty acts as yours?    Please let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon.” 

But the LORD was angry with me and would not listen to me.  
And the LORD said to me, “Enough from you; do not speak to me of this matter again. Go up to the top of Pisgah and…look at it with your eyes, for you shall not go over this Jordan.” 
Deuteronomy 3:23-27

How do you handle NO? Does self-protection keep you from asking? Do you resist requesting to avoid the dreaded monosyllable? 

Stop, Mom, please!  Can we stop and talk to Emma and Isaac?  Please, mom?

That request interrupted our drive home a few nights ago. The boys had spotted their friends’ whole family out in the yard. I wasn’t in a particularly friendly mood. Besides, it was dinnertime.

But Christ’s love compels, and I turned around. Maybe they’d like to come to Vacation Bible School with us, I said off-handedly as we pulled up the driveway.

After reintroducing myself, I got the scuttlebutt on the boys’ school. We discussed 20-inch bike tires needed by our lengthening sons. After a few more minutes we said good-bye. Then, as we reached the van, Gabe blurted (at about 75dB),

Mom, aren’t you gonna ask them to come to VBS?   

I hadn’t sensed an openness during our visit, and honestly, I didn’t want to risk the NO. But.

Ohhh…yes, okay.  (Followed by an awkward about face toward the house.)  

Hi again. Gabe reminded me that I wanted to ask if Isaac and Emma could come to Vacation Bible School with us next week. I mumbled times and places; they smiled and nodded. Would you be interested?  

Then: No thank you.

My friend Lisa is insightful. She intuits the counter-intuitive.

So being meek and making such bold requests can go together? Moses was the meekest man on earth. Yet he dared to ask God to change his mind. 

Prima facie, making bold requests is not meek. The Bible study group had been discussing the meek acts of Moses. Among them were some mighty big favors. Like asking his brother-in-law to stay and play wilderness scout for 40 years. Asking God to relent of the punishments he’d decreed for Miriam and the Israelites is very bold.  His requests were fearless and daring, pushing brash.

Atop the gutsy list was Moses’ plea to God to reconsider his own punishment. He had struck the Rock, profaning the LORD before the congregation (Numbers 20:10-11). God’s just decree was heart-wrenching: despite 40 years guiding this beloved, provoking people, Moses would not lead them into the Promised Land. Joshua would.

Canaan was so close Moses could-probably had-tasted it; it’s gargantuan grapes, pomegranates and figs. Then with arms outstretched, he’d seen the Amalakites fall. The kingdoms of Sihon and Og had already been conquered. Just across the Jordan.

The Child’s Story Bible is succinct:

This was a bitter disappointment to Moses.  He begged God to let him cross the river so that he, too, could see the longed-for promised land.  God did not give Moses what he asked for.  

“Be satisfied with what I have decided,” God said to him. “Do not speak about this any more.  Climb this mountain, and I will show you the land. Then you are to die here on this mountain. For you are not to cross the river.” 

What a blow! If meekness is strength under control, this must be its pinnacle. In the face of bitter disappointment, the meek man of God managed his emotions. Moses didn’t stomp off in self-pity. He went bold to God, trusting the Judge of the earth to do right. Then, he took NO.

About his rejection, Matthew Henry comments,

It bore hard upon Moses himself, when he had gone through all the fatigues of the wilderness, to be prevented from enjoying the pleasures of Canaan; when he had borne the burden and heat of the day, to resign the honor of finishing the work to another. We may suppose that this was not pleasant to flesh and blood, But the man MOSES was very meek; God will have it so, and he cheerfully submits

But why was he denied? What about Matthew 7?  You know: Ask and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. Why didn’t Moses win his appeal?  An “unanswered prayer,” post is forthcoming.  For now, let John Piper’s answer suffice:

I think the context here is sufficient to answer this question. No, we do not get everything we ask for and we should not and we would not want to. The reason I say we should not is because we would in effect become God if God did everything we asked him to do. We should not be God. God should be God. And the reason I say that we would not want to get everything we asked is because we would then have to bear the burden of infinite wisdom which we do not have. We simply don’t know enough to infallibly decide how every decision will turn out and what the next events in our lives, let alone in history, should be.

Back to Lisa’s question. Do meekness and bold requests go together? Were Moses’ appeals anomalies; deviations from his meek nature? Or were they part and parcel of it? 

I land on the latter. Here’s why:

The very act of submitting a request, knowing it may be denied is meek. Moses submitted requests. He accepted NO for an answer. This makes him submissive. Therefore, submitting requests, appealing, asking must be integral to meekness.

If I submit an article for publication, odds are it will be rejected. If I request a personal day, it could very well be denied. Big, bold requests get rejected, too: pregnancy, adoption, restored relationships. When they are, sometimes I’m weak without control. Pity parties and ice cream a aplenty. And sometimes, strength under control: spirit gifted power, love and self-control. 

Is it more meek to fear the no so much you don’t go? Or to go bold, willing to take NO? Which is more hopeful and faithful? Which exalts the goodness of God? Scripture is clear: Submit your requests to God. The righteous are as bold as a lion. Come boldly to the throne of grace. The righteous shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back my soul has no pleasure in him. Therefore since we have such a hope, we are very bold. 

Go bold.  In hope. Take NO if you must. You’ll be in good company. Moses, Hannah, and Daniel. Hezekiah plead for his life, and God gave him 15 more years. David appealed for his son’s life, and on the seventh day the child died. David took NO. God will have it so, was good enough for him

It is hard to hope against hope. The urge to protect self looms large. In Allure Of Hope, Jan Myers describes the yearning that wells up. We are just afraid, that’s all. We intrinsically know that hope is a painful process. Yet we want to have the courage to respond in hope anyway. (p. 24) 

Hope in God’s mercy gave Moses courage to appeal his case. But it also empowered him to take NO. And hope in God’s future grace allowed him to transcend his disappointment and stay faithful in all God’s house. 

His exact response to the divine NO is not explicit. But read to the end of Deuteronomy, and you’ll find it. Moses finished strong. He encouraged, warned, blessed the 12 tribes without a hint of rancor.

Hear his love for the Lord who denied, for the people who provoked, in his last words:

“The LORD came from Sinai…he came from the ten thousands of holy ones, with flaming fire at his right hand. Yes, he loved his people, all his holy ones were in his hand; so they followed in your steps receiving direction from you, when Moses commanded us a law…Happy are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD, the shield of your help, and the sword of your triumph!” (Deuteronomy 33:2-3, 29)

Then, the very day he delivered that stirring speech,

Moses went up from the plains of Moab…and the LORD showed him all the land. And the LORD said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob…I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there.” So Moses the servant of the LORD died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord. (Deuteronomy 34:1, 4-5)

Say, do you know who buried Moses?

  He [God] buried him in the valley in the land of Moab… 
Deuteronomy 34:9

Addendum: Not so fast, you say. Not all asking is meek and submissive. I agree.  I can think of at least two types of requests that are not inspired by faith, not full of hope, and certainly not meek.

1. Foolish people make bold requests. Like, when, on a whim, Son A asks,

Mom, could I just have $150 for a Millennium Falcon Lego set?  I really like it.

 Or off-handedly, Son B, asks,

Could I pleeeease have another [third] bowl of Caramel Sea Salt Truffle ice cream for dessert dessert dessert?

Silly, not meek. And not of faith. Sons A and B didn’t honestly think Mom would deliver. Or foolish because they don’t really know what they’re asking.  Like when James and John’s mom asked if her boys could sit beside Jesus in his kingdom.
2. Presumptuous people also ask favors. They assume. Their requests are demands, and may be disguised by tag questions.

You don’t mind watching the kids, do you?  or

You wouldn’t mind if we borrowed your tent [canoe, camper], would you? or

You can read this book before book club, can’t you? (Guilty as charged.)

And so submissive requests morph into brash entitlement. Like Rachel envying Leah’s fertility. Give me children or I’ll die, she told JacobNot so meek.
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