Do You Say No to Yourself?
By Leslie Vernick
John has never learned to control his tongue. He says whatever he thinks at the moment, with no thought as to how his barbed words will wound people around him. He criticizes his wife Jane, and mocks his children’s mistakes. He justifies his behavior because in his mind they are foolish and wrong.
Yet he’s losing his relationship with people he says he loves. No one wants to be near him. Why would they?
Sara has lived her whole life feeling resentful and bitter over hurts she experienced in her childhood. She justifies these pity parties because of what was done to her. But she’s beginning to wake up to what her unrestrained emotions and thoughts have cost her. She has failed to mature. She’s chronically unhappy. She’s not living the life she could or wants to because her negative emotions always have the upper hand.
Tom and Karin are facing financial ruin. They have lived a lavish lifestyle for years without having a firm financial base. Now nearing retirement, they have huge debt and no savings.
Many of us can relate to John, Sara, Tom, and Karin. We’ve justified our temper tantrums, excused our excesses, pampered our pity parties and rationalized holding on to our resentments to our own peril. And it’s not just us. Credit card debt, obesity, sexual promiscuity, pornography, broken relationships, drug and alcohol abuse are rampant all over the world. Why?
There are many reasons but one huge reason is that as human beings we’ve been deceived.
We’ve believed a lie and if you don’t identify that lie, it could ruin your life. The lie goes like this: If it feels good, do it. If you want something, you should have it. And if you deprive yourself of some important felt need, you will be miserable.
But let’s ask John, Sara, Tom and Karin if they feel happy? Does it feel good giving in to their negative emotions? Doing whatever they feel like doing? Buying what they think they want or need even if they don’t have the money? Yes it does for a moment, but then what’s the feeling that comes next? Dread, anxiety, regret, self-hatred, unhappiness. And these feeling last a whole lot longer than the temporarily pleasure feeling we give ourselves through unrestricted yes’s.
Back in the 1950’s Rabbi Abraham Joshua Herchel recognized that our culture was sliding into self-centeredness and self-absorption. He wrote:
“Needs are looked upon today as if they were holy, as if they contained the quintessence of eternity. Needs are our gods, and we toil and spare no effort to gratify them … We feel jailed in the confinement of personal needs. The more we indulge in satisfactions, the deeper is our feeling of oppressiveness. We must be able to say no to ourselves in the name of a higher yes.”
This is the key. What is your higher yes that gives you strength to say no to yourself when those temporary desires and feelings start to overwhelm you?
The apostle Paul tells us:
“The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:11-14).
Our higher yes must be to Christ in us, our true self. When we refuse to say no to our lower or lesser selves (our flesh), we rob ourselves of that birthright, to be formed in Christ’s image and likeness. When our temporary desires, cravings, and emotions control us instead of Christ, we become deformed as human beings. We conform to the image of this world, which is opposite of who God made you and I to be.
Start to make a practice of saying no to yourself in order to build up your no-to-self muscle. No to a bad mood. No to a temptation. No to a desire to blurt out some ugly words to someone who has wronged you. No to buying something you think you need. Then see what happens and how you feel. After you say no to yourself, the next day do you feel regret or relief?
And you also might want to practice saying no to a perfectly legitimate desire that is good, but may keep you from experiencing God’s best. Oswald Chambers reminds us, “the great enemy of the life of faith is the good that is not good enough.”
Learning to say no to yourself is an important discipline if you want to grow into the woman or man God calls you to become. No is not deprivation. No to self leads to transformation.