When Yes Means No

Remember the song Ado Annie sings in Rogers and Hammerstein's musical Oklahoma? "I Can't Say No"? Some of the lines go like this: "I'm jist a girl who cain't say no; I'm in a turrible fix. I always say, ?Come on, let's go,' jist when I orta say nix!" The song's about relationships, or physical intimacy more specifically, but I think a lot of women who don't have a problem saying no to men can identify with Ado Annie's dilemma because we also like to say yes. We say yes to other things, though: yes to people, to church, to responsibility, to requests for favors, to real and imagined needs.

It feels good to say yes because it feels good to be needed, and it feels even better to be able to respond to those needs.

When I was growing up, my youngest sibling and only brother gave my mother a wooden plaque with alphabet-soup letters pasted on it to read, "I love you because you keep on juggling all those balls." My mother would regularly comment about how she had to juggle her roles to maintain order and sanity in her life. Perhaps rather than "balls" my brother could have said, "hats." Off goes the cook's hat; on goes the mother hat. The cook's hat joins the teacher hat, chauffer cap, pastor's wife's bonnet, maid white thing, and nun's habit on the shelf until the roles change again.

Many roles are par for the course for most of us. Currently, I am a writer, sewing teacher, seamstress, small-group leader, spouse, cultural critic, Christian, cook, and maid. (My husband shares the roles of cook and maid with me, in case you were wondering.) These roles do not include my hobbies, and I'm sure many of you have more roles than I.

Saying yes, taking on more responsibility often means accepting a new role. And because yes does not result in the receipt of more hours in the day as compensation, yes to one thing means no to something else. This something else could be trivial: it could be television watching, magazine reading, surfing the internet, or vacuuming your house every day. But it also could be critical: it could be time spent with family, much needed sleep, or time for silence and meditation.

Saying no and yes require discernment, and though there is nothing wrong with saying yes, there is a certain humility that can be learned by saying no. Sometimes, saying no is an admission that I can't do it all. I can't have it all. I can't save the world. Thankfully, it is not my job to save the world. "Savior" is a role I'll never have, and I thank God for that.

August 19, 2008 at 5:12 PM

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