Learning to Say “No” Without an Explanation

No is a complete sentence

I had this section in my Bullet Journal that I absolutely love. It’s about three and a half pages of graph paper with Washi-tape sectioned off squares and rectangles—it’s my quote page. In the tiniest of squares is one of my favorite quotes that I keep having to go back to time and time again, especially during seasons when I get caught up in the people-pleasing hamster wheel.  The quote reads:

“No.’ is a complete sentence.”

I’m not sure who first said this, but many have taken this concept to heart, and I am one of them.

For a long time I struggled with feeling like I always had to explain myself.

Many times these explanations came off as lame excuses. “I’m so sorry I’m late to lecture; I my roommate locked me out of my dorm this morning when I got back from my run.” 

Many times these explanations actually included very helpful information. “I won’t be able to make it to your baby shower because my father-in-law’s funeral is that same day. I wish I could be in two places at once.”

But sometimes these explanations were unnecessary and were born out of a desire to tell people what they wanted to hear when I couldn’t give them what they really wanted. 

If they wanted time, money, or really anything else from me, but, for whatever reason, I could not give it to them, I felt like I needed to explain why. If my choices went against what someone else would have chosen for their life, I felt like I needed to justify my decision. If I even got a whiff of disapproval from pretty much anyone, I felt like I needed to go into all the details so that maybe–just maybe– they would understand and not be disappointed in me.

All in all, these tugs to explain myself were coming from a place of not believing in who I was or what I was doing with my life. I needed validation from others to feel like I was worthwhile or that my decisions were “good” ones.

But I have come to realize that “no” truly is a complete sentence. And while sometimes further words are needed for the sake of sensitivity and comprehension, the idea behind this quote, for me, is that I am allowed to do what’s best for myself and my family and my life without needing everyone else to approve or even understand.

We all desperately want a fulfilling life. Yet the more we fill it with things—items, busyness, worry, unnecessary commitments, debt, pressure, stress, people-pleasing–the more cluttered and unfocused and empty it becomes. We have to say “no” to these things.

Explaining myself was one of those things that was emptying me. It left me feeling like I could never please the people in my life. It left me feeling unsure about my choice to say “no”. It left me comparing myself to other people’s schedules and commitments and lives in general. I wasn’t confident in my choices. I wasn’t sure of myself. I didn’t stand my ground in what was best for me or what I knew I needed to do, despite what anyone else wanted.

There are times when we need to sacrifice and say “yes” when we don’t want to. There are times when saying “yes” is joyfully easy.

There are times when saying “no” is the hardest thing we have to do, and there are times when we say it as a knee-jerk reaction. Most of the time, it’s hard. Even if we really don’t want to do something, often the pressure to say “yes” makes saying “no” difficult. But after we do the hard work of saying “no”, we need to be okay with that choice.  We need to know that we don’t owe anyone an explanation if it comes from a place of pressure and people-pleasing.

We can say “no”.

We can let people think what they want about it.

We can know in our truest selves that we made the right choice.

And then we can have room to say “yes” to something even better.

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On Unkindness and Cowardice and How Truth is Essential to Defeat Both

white and pink flowerson a book beside eyeglasses

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I am not the kindest person I know.

I am sometimes socially shy to the point of rudeness; there are moments when I value my own comfort over making others feel comfortable; I can be extremely harsh and judgmental, to my own self as well as to everyone else; I often have mean thoughts about other people that pop into my head.

I share this with you all today lest you think this post is coming from a “holier than thou” place. It’s not. I’m a pretty mean person sometimes. I think we all can be.

I recently went to a wedding this past year that was beautiful. The ceremony was heartwarming, the music was fun, the food was tasty, and the decor was gorgeous.

But the people… the people were mean.

No, not the bride and groom… I’m talking about their guests, whom I was one of.

There were countless times at the wedding where the guests made a snide remark about the wedding itself, or even the bride herself, or the way they chose to order the events. Overall, I got a sense of extreme judgment going on, and it was very unkind.

Being a pretty mean person myself, this still baffled me.

Why on earth would you attend a wedding where you didn’t love and support the couple getting married? Why in the world would you expect someone’s wedding to entertain YOU rather than be the bride and groom’s special day? Why, oh why, turn the happiest day of these people’s lives into a haughty evaluation session of their clothes, taste in music, wedding budget, and food choice?

I was astounded at the unkindness I saw from the so-called “guests” at this wedding.

I know that in American middle-class society, there is are norms of what a wedding should be. Sure, there are subcategories of style and location and theme, but there are some expectations about what happens at a wedding these days. I don’t know if I was ever aware of this before I got married myself, and I know that many of these key expectations were not present, or were dramatically altered at my own wedding.

So, self-centeredly, the unkind guests at this wedding, an event which I thought to be pretty standard with societal norms, made me wonder what on earth was said about my own wedding, and my own choices for one of the biggest moments of my life.

Was my choice to walk down the aisle in sunglasses to Hall and Oates’ “You make my dreams come true” scoffed at? Did people roll their eyes when the guests were asked to move chairs from the wedding location a few yards to the reception tables? What about the buffet of Hy-Vee catering– did people turn their noses up at it all? Was the dollar dance seen as cheap? Was our music contemporary and trendy enough? Did people think a dry wedding reception was lame?

I’m so glad that I didn’t think about these things the day of my wedding. I was too focused on becoming Mrs. Florine, and how grateful I was for all the things I wanted my wedding to be. What others wanted my wedding to be didn’t really enter my head. Maybe that was another sign of my self-centeredness, but if you ask me, that’s the way it should be for the bride on her wedding day.

A wedding is about two people getting married. 

It’s not about how fancy or expensive things are or even how smoothly everything goes. And while I think it also should be a fun party for the guests, I really think a wedding should be whatever the heck the bride and groom want it to be, and the guests can deal. It’s not about them. 

But regardless of what you believe a wedding should be like, I have to wonder how being kind plays into the lives of these guests I keep referring to.

As I stated earlier, I am far from the kindest person I know. But this is something I am not content to sit in.

I hate my unkindness. I hate my selfishness. I hate when my reflex is to be mean or judgmental or harsh, even if it’s behind someone’s back. No–especially if it’s behind someone’s back, because that means I don’t even have the spine to tell someone to their face that I think a certain way about them (which usually would imply that the way I think is cruel).

Or there is another option. Perhaps I don’t tell them something to their face because I’m too much of a coward to do so. Even as I write these words, I think there might be fear behind much of this blog post. Fear that stops me from telling these guests to their face that their comments are unkind and rude and downright mean.

Sharing the truth isn’t easy, and often we don’t get rewarded for it. Perhaps this is why we even have the temptation to gossip or talk poorly about someone behind their back: because telling someone something negative to their face is hardly ever appreciated, even if the comment is true or warranted.

The comments that these guests made were not warranted, and most of them weren’t true at all. They were just cruel evaluations and harsh opinions.

But here on this blog, where I evaluate these wedding guests and share my own opinions, harsh or not…. is it really much better?

While I refused to participate or even listen long to the gossip I heard, and while I didn’t make a cruel remark myself, I certainly didn’t call out these people for their unkind behavior.

I’m doing it now… behind the shield of a semi-ambiguous blog post.

And it’s now that I realize that truth has a huge part to play in the remedy of both unkindness and cowardice, two things I think we all struggle with from time to time if not everyday of our lives.

When we are unkind, the truth is we are often just masking an insecurity we are feeling. We do this by putting another person down. It makes us feel elevated ourselves because “at least we’re not like so-and-so”. Or sometimes it’s because we are masking a deep wound that we feel from the other person’s actions, and instead of addressing the hurt, the sadness, or the betrayal, we simply lash out at them and are either unkind to their face, or behind their back. Covering up these truths only makes the wound deeper, and the insecurity’s power over us stronger. It does no one any favors.

When we are cowardly, we hide from the truth that needs to be exposed, either in our lives, or in the lives others. We refuse to look at our own mess in the light and shy away from facing our fears. And we won’t speak up when someone else is being oppressed or abused or even just gossiped about because it means confronting someone else’s unkindness and potentially alienating ourselves, or becoming the brunt of more unkindness. Refusing to act out of cowardice hides the truth and allows others to become victims. It makes us into guilty bystanders instead of advocates for the less powerful. It also does no one any favors.

I am guilty of both unkindness and cowardice.

And so are you.

We all are.

To be kind means to speak the truth in love. This is also what it means to be courageous. 

To the bride and groom: I truly hope your day was everything you dreamed it would be. You both looked beautiful and the whole day was so special. I’m extremely happy for you both.

To the guests at their wedding: I truly hope that your unkind behavior is exposed to you in some way so that you can examine the root of either your insecurity or your hurt. And I truly apologize about not being courageous enough to speak truth to you at the time. While you may have been offended in the moment, I know that it’s my responsibility to be honest and loving and kind, and part of that means saying things that are uncomfortable but true.

This blog post is an attempt at sharing truth, feeble and untimely though it may be. I should have said something simple, kind, and true in the moment, and not allowed my cowardice to stop my mouth in the face of someone else’s unkindness.

I will try to do better next time, as I hope we all will.

A Letter from a Self-Conscious, Sensitive, Formally Anorexic, First-Time Pregnant Mother

photo of person writing on notebook

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I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t at least a little self-conscious about my body. Whether it was my hair, my skin, how big my thighs were, how small my breasts are, or the puffiness of my face when I smile– I have always had a very self-critical eye when it comes to looking in that mirror.

During my high school and college years, I struggled deeply with depression and a dangerous combination of anorexia and bulimia. This lasted seven long years, and left a lasting impression.

While I am now free from the physical manifestation of my eating disorder (Praise Jesus!), old habits, as they say, die hard; it is difficult not to revert back into those former patterns of thinking. Especially now.

Especially now, because my body is changing quite a lot lately, and it seems as if everyone who sees me feels the need to make comments about it.

Especially now, because I’m pregnant. 

motherhood parenthood pregnancny mother

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My growing belly is a welcoming landmark for seemingly harmless comments to be tossed carelessly and amiably at me, a sensitive soul to begin with, but even more so due to those lovely pregnancy hormones.

So this is a letter to my acquaintances who naively believe your comments about my body to be of no consequence during this very fragile and challenging time in my life before motherhood:

Dear older, non-pregnant woman who must not know me well,

Not all of you may consider yourselves to be “older”, but you are all older than I am. Not all of you have even been pregnant, but if you have, it’s been a good while. I assume this, because you probably have forgotten what a very vulnerable and emotional time pregnancy is– otherwise I do not believe you would say the things you do.

Some of you I see almost daily, or at least every week or so, and I might even call you my friends. Yet, I know you must not know me well, for you would not speak as you do if you truly knew me.

And yes, you are always a woman.

So, dear older, non-pregnant woman who doesn’t know me well, please listen and learn from an emotional pregnant woman who is being deeply wounded by your careless comments.

Listen. For the sake of any other woman who has struggled with body-image, which statistically is about every woman you see around you.

When I’m 18 weeks along, please don’t inform me that most women don’t even look pregnant at 18 weeks. Please, resist that urge to be the first to tell me that I must be carrying twins, because when I find out that there is only one baby in there, I’ll remember your comments about how big I am, and even though I try not to, I will feel shame creeping over me.

When you haven’t seen me in a few weeks, please don’t tell me I’m carrying the baby in my hips and butt. I don’t know many women who want to hear that they have gained noticeable weight in these areas of their body, and I am not any different.

And besides, what do you expect me to say to that comment? “Why thank you. I’m so glad you noticed that my backside is expanding– I thought no one ever would!”?

Not likely.

When you ask me what type of birth I want, please don’t scoff and tell me what you did instead, implying that it was a better or easier decision. Please don’t discourage me from a natural birth that would benefit the health of my baby and empower me as a woman and mother. Please don’t assume my expectations are unrealistic. Let me figure that out for myself, or let my very experienced and qualified midwife tell me.

When I reach for another helping of pizza, don’t look at me sideways and then exclaim, “oh right, I guess you’re eating for two now”, implying that otherwise it would not be okay to eat as much as I am eating.

When you curiously ask me what pregnancy symptoms I’m experiencing, please do not tell me it’s odd I’m still getting morning sickness, or that you had energy all the way through your second trimester, or that you’ve never heard of round ligament pain “so early along”. It doesn’t feel good to have someone evaluate the worst of my pregnancy symptoms and articulate the strangeness or normalcy of each of them in comparison to another’s experience. Besides, you telling me that it’s strange to have acid reflux during pregnancy won’t make mine go away. 

When you see me drinking coffee, don’t assume I have not been informed about the dangers of caffeine during the first trimester. For all you know, I am trying to live off of a cup a week, and this is my designated time to enjoy a latte.

And when you ask me how I’m feeling and I respond “tired”, because most people forget that growing a human is rather exhausting work, please don’t tell me to “get my sleep now”, implying that I do not have the privilege of being worn out without a crying hungry baby waking me up in the middle of the night.

Please don’t tell me my face looks fat. Don’t tell me my boobs look bigger. Don’t tell me I am “skinny pregnant”. Don’t tell me I look larger than I should.

Don’t try to scare me with birth horror stories. Don’t only speak of the hardships of motherhood. Don’t force your own observations or “insight” about how it will be when my particular baby comes into the world.

Just don’t.

Instead, smile and listen and tell me I look like a healthy and glowing pregnant woman, or better yet, don’t make any comments about my appearance at all! 

I know I could suck it up and deal with it. I’ve come a long way since my eating disorder, and I’ve gotten good at shaking things off and not placing so much of my self-worth into how I look.

But I need to tell you that your comments do sting. I just need to.

Because, the thing is, I believe you say all of these things–these comments about weight and pregnancy symptoms, and crying babies, and epidurals, and lack of sleep–I believe you say all of those things because you are excited that I too am now going through this experience of pregnancy, and soon, motherhood, and because I think it probably makes you think back to your own experience.

And this probably makes you say some things you might not otherwise. 

I am trying to assume the best and be strong.

But I cannot lie. Sometimes those comments land at exactly the wrong time. When I’m exhausted, hormonal, feeling useless and scared and huge and disgusting. When I wonder if I’ll ever be able to do ab exercises on my back again or if I’ll get stretch marks during my third trimester, or if my swim suit will fit this week, if I’ll be good at being a mom, or if my husband is telling the truth when he says I still look attractive.

It’s so hard for me to fight off negative self-talk, self-doubt, and body-shaming thoughts during times like this.

 

So, dear older, non-pregnant woman who must not know me well, although you may think I am being overly sensitive and although you may be right, I urge you to remember, or at least try to understand how tender the heart is during this fragile time of pregnancy.

And if you were one of those super-woman confident feminist mammas who worked full time up until week 40, never got morning sickness or pregnancy acne, and who hardly took other people’s comments seriously, please consider that I may be a bit different than you.

Be kind. Be considerate. Be gentle. Don’t just say whatever you’re thinking.

Dear older, non-pregnant woman who must not know me well, I hope you will listen. And I hope this helps you know me better.

With love,

A Self-Conscious, Sensitive, Formally Anorexic, First-Time Pregnant Mother

On Pouring Into Others: a privileged girl and a dying man

refill

This sign hangs in my little make-shift office that is in reality just a corner of my dining room blocked off by bookcases and a paneled screen.

I often look at this sign as a reminder that I need to take care of myself SO that I can take care of others. “Put on your own oxygen mask first”. But today I am wondering to myself if I use this as a justifier.

How do we know if we are really pouring into others? 

I get up at around 5:45am and have my quiet time with God. I eat some zucchini bread with some coffee while reading and journaling out my prayers. I do my p90X workout at 7am, then clean the kitchen until about 8, then work on some marketing projects for our family business. Around 9:30 I step out of my little oasis, my safe-haven of a home, and rush off to the Kroc Center to teach my weekly PiYo class.

On the way I see people. I see a man sleeping on the sidewalk near a gas station, a tarp covering him. I see women walking with their children all bundled up, trying to catch the bus on this blustery cold day. I see men with cardboard signs making their way to the busy intersections near the highway, trying to gain the sympathy of passer-bys.

I teach the class to about 8 participants and we have a great workout and prayer time after; specific prayer is requested for our neighborhoods that are riddled with gang violence. After that, I drive home, get out of the car, and I see my neighbor. I yell his name and he immediately turns directions to come towards me.

(I’ll call him Leo, but it’s not his real name.) Leo lives in a little house across the street from me– lived there for a long time. Leo is about 45 years old, but he looks over 60. Leo is dying of lung cancer.

He’s completely drunk, as usual, but I stand with him by the curb and listen to him talk for a good half hour, making sure he’s not in the street when cars drive by. I don’t really know what to say or how to help him and it makes me feel helpless.

His mind wanders, and he keeps talking, but I’m not sure about what. The alcohol is making him slurr his words and the man has only a few teeth left, so it’s hard to understand him. I recognize the hurt in his voice. I have no idea what he’s going through right now– to know that he’s dying and to know that he could have prevented it–but I can imagine.

I can imagine and it brings tears to my eyes. He tells me they will take him to the hospital soon, but until then he keeps staying with friends and family because he doesn’t want to stop breathing in his sleep and lay alone in his house until someone finds him. He wants to be found by friends. This is where I start to cry.

He reflects on his children. His wife. He hopes he can kiss her again in heaven. He tells me in one breath that he is so angry at himself for doing this to himself, and then in the next that he has no regrets and that he’s happier than he could hope to be.

He smells like cigarettes and liquor, and I wonder if he will remember this conversation. I hope he will remember the hug, the warm smile in the bitter cold wind, the patience with which I try to listen to him. I hope… I wish he would surrender this habit of cigarettes and booze. I wish he would try to live out the rest of his short life in sober consciousness, with intentionality and dignity. I wish he knew something other than drunkenness and a chemical high.

I wish I could encourage him to change now, to let him know that it’s never too late… but… it is too late, isn’t it? He’s going to die. Soon. What would I do? Would I change? If there no hope for a future improved by my choices? Would I even try?

I suddenly want to leave, and I feel so guilty for it. But it’s cold and my ears are starting to go numb, and I really can’t understand a lot of what Leo is saying. Still, I listen intently. This conversation is making me so sad and I can’t do anything about it. But he seems comforted just talking to me, so I stay and I listen, and I pray…

Lord, please give me the words you would have me speak.

Nothing.

Lord, please show me what I should do.

Nothing.

Lord, work through me so that I can help this man.

Nothing.

What the heck? God, why can’t you use me here? I’m right with him! I can do something, can’t I?

But God didn’t have anything else for me to do. There was nothing of myself that I could pour into Leo. There was nothing I could change in him. There was nothing I could say to make it better. My cup, regardless of whether it was full or not, was seemingly not pouring into any of the people around me who seemed so desperately to need filling.

And even now I ask myself, why? Why couldn’t I have helped? Why couldn’t I have done something?

I think the answer is a little more simpler than I usually like: I am incapable.

I don’t really know if Leo simply needed someone to talk to, or if there was something that he needed to hear in that moment. All I know is that I didn’t do any “pouring into”. All I did was listen to him speak, simultaneously listening to the quiet sound of my heart breaking.

I go inside my warm home with quaint decor and a clean kitchen, with two cats sleeping on the chairs and reminders to “do all things with love” on the walls. I feel utterly guilty for having what I have, living how I live, and owning what I own.

I only hate my own privilege when I can’t seem to use it to help someone who doesn’t have it.

My cup– if we’re going with this whole metaphor thing still– feels completely drained dry after my interaction with Leo. I’m emotionally exhausted, guilt-stricken, and heartbroken for my neighbor, and for this community at large.

“It is not selfish to refill your own cup so that you can pour into others. It’s not just a luxury. It is essential.”

But to refill my cup would, in fact, seem selfish–like a luxury. In fact, most of what I did today– the quiet time, breakfast, workout, job, cleaning, and marketing work– it all seems like luxury compared to what I see when I look outside at this dark and hopeless part of the city that I’ve now been calling home for the past 3 years of my life.

“Put on your own oxygen mask first!”

–I’ve been told to do this, but it doesn’t seem right. Not when people are sleeping on sidewalks and sleeping at friend’s houses because they might die in their sleep.

No it doesn’t seem right when there are people in need everywhere and when it’s really hard to know if helping is helping or if helping is hurting… a lot of things seems pointless and stupid when looking at the heartbreak that surrounds me.

This world isn’t fair. I believe that this outrages God more than it could even outrage us.

And I believe that God loves Leo and the homeless man at the gas station and the bundled up mommas and their little sweet babies and the men standing at the intersections with signs. He also loves the drivers who pass them by and the ones who roll down their window to toss them some change. He even loves the helpless white girl who doesn’t know what to say to a dying man.

This world is dark, riddled with guilt, and it’s so sad. But the beautiful thing is that God’s cup never runs dry, and he continues to pour it out in the form of Christ’s blood. It doesn’t always look like I think it should look, at least not on this broken side of eternity.

But it’s like Leo said to me today, “Oh I believe it’s going to be much better after death Miss Claire. I do. I just don’t know what it will hold, and that’s what scares me, but I believe it’s going to be better than this…I do believe that…”

I do too Leo. I believe it will be a time and a place where all of our cups will runneth over.