I recall a transforming moment in my life about fifteen years ago when I read in Elaine St. James’ best-selling book, Living the Simple Life, her timely advice: “In order to simplify, we have to start making choices, sometimes difficult choices.” (Simplify Your Life, Hyperion, 1996, page 96)

As I continued reading I realized that like Elaine and her husband Gibbs, my husband Charles and I needed to make some new choices—about the people we socialized with, the groups we attended, the activities we participated in. What really mattered and what didn’t? If we wanted to simplify our lives, it was time to let go of a whole bunch of stuff, from worn out relationships to worn out clothing, and to learn to say no (in a polite way) to invitations for events that simply didn’t interest us.

That took some doing—but we did it and we’re much more peaceful for having done so. I stopped going to Mexico to help in an orphanage. We declined learning how to ski even though our skiing friends thought it a great way to spend a weekend. And we gave up eating out at fancy restaurants. It was costing too much, the portions were too large, and more times than not, we liked our own cooking better than the chef’s.

As I read what I just wrote I wonder if I sound selfish and self-absorbed. I hope not, but if I do, I’m going to let it be. I did many of the ‘right’ things for all the wrong reasons, including trying to please God, look good to others, and feel better about myself.

What I now know is that when I respond with honesty I’m being true to myself and to God and I’m an example to others of the peace and joy that can occur when one realizes one’s limitations and expectations of self and others.

Do I still do good in the world? I think so. I write and speak and teach—all of which are true to my core values and talents. I’m involved in the lives of my children and grandchildren, and I knit and hike and cook and garden and share all of it with others.

Now when I’m asked to join this group or that, to attend this event or that one, or to get involved in a cause or a benefit, I stop, check my spirit, whisper a prayer for guidance, and then make an truthful decision.

For now I’m keeping it simple. I’m learning it’s okay to say, “No.”

How do you handle this topic in your life?

Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong (Matthew 5:37 The Message).



I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want (Philippians 4:12).



It’s Okay to Say, “No.” — 21 Comments

  1. Karen this is such a timely article for me. Thank you so very much for your very clear direction in how to cut through the chaff and to be true to ourselves. What a beautiful way to live. Thank you for your honesty.

    • Thanks, Sandy. I’m glad my ‘share’ was helpful to you. I appreciate your encouragement–always.

  2. Karen, this is so timely. We added two more grandbabies within the last ten days, and (like you noticed) something will have to give. Thanks for giving me permission! 🙂

    • Kristi, congratulations! What fun to have more babies to love and enjoy. Thanks for your encouragement.

  3. Nice reflection, Karen, I’m in a unique situation right now, being away from my family during the week and home on weekends. I am cut off from normal activity, yet being with myself, I find myself doing the same things I do at home and not doing the things I thought I would if I had time to myself. I am seeking to develop myself in new ways during this time and do some of the things I have “waited” to have time to myself to do.

    When I am home, I definitely evaluate what’s most important with my family and friends.

    • Bev, it’s great to hear from you. I pray the Lord will whisper in your ear all that he has for you while away and having time to yourself. May you be well. I miss you.

  4. This is so true, Karen. Even though I know better, sometimes I let myself get dragged into things I don’t want. Periodically I have to retreat and take a good look at my life, and shuffle things around. My daily prayer is, “Lord, put Your desires in my heart so that I want what You want, what You want me to want.” Thank you for reminding me that it’s ok to say “no.” By the way, have you read Julie’s book, “Conquering the Time Factor”?

    • Thanks, Michele. I like knowing I’m not alone in my struggle to say sometimes say ‘no.’ Have not read Julie’s book but it sounds like one we all would benefit from.

  5. Karen, you would think it would be real easy to say “no” since most children the first thing they learn is to say “no”, right? I am sure I was one that was good at saying “no” as a kid. I do struggle sometimes to say no, but I am really going to start working and praying that it will become easier.

    • Thanks for sharing, Mary. It seems we’re all in the same struggle–discerning when to say yes and when to say no. I’m trusting more and more that God will make clear what to say–and when.

  6. Great post, Karen! I’m in that spot right now. Rethinking what our lives should be according to God’s whispers rather than the louder voice that shouts “you should” at me. Even good things that I want to do have to be put aside for better or more-appropriate-for-the-time situations. Technology has made our world move faster than we can keep up and running in the carpool lane doesn’t even cut it these days. I find myself longing for a simple, peaceful life of love and close relationships more and more. Thanks for sharing. It’s encouraging to know others feel the same way.

    • Thank you for your comment, Laura. I’ve been thinking about you lately and wondering how you’re doing. It seems so many of us face similar challenges with our ‘yes’ and ‘no’ responses. May the Holy Spirit guide all of us to that simpler life that focuses on God and our loved ones and inspires us to serve others in a healthy way, which sometimes requires a polite but firm ‘no.’

  7. Thank you for your thoughts. It is had to say no to good things or worthwhile projects. This is a good reminder of what God wants us to
    do to manage our lives in His will.

  8. Karen, I appreciate your comments. Thank you. Those of us, like myself, who love to please others, sometimes forget that in doing so we can be untrue to ourselves and to God. I too am learning to say “no” and it is a process. I want to be able to say “yes” to all God has for me; that requires saying “no” to other things.

    • Hi Carol,
      You explained exactly the reconstructive surgery that the Lord is doing with me. Karen’s article really hit home and so did your reply.
      God bless you.

    • Sandy, I love your description of the reconstructive surgery God is doing in your life. I think that’s true at least of most of us and you said it well. Thanks for your encouragement.

    • Thank you Carol for your reply. God used your comment to give me the courage and determination to stand strong by staying in God’s will. Staying true to ourselves, while we are staying in God’s will brings relief to everyone that we are close to. Even if others may not be happy about what we’ve
      shared, we set a great example of speaking our truth in love. Bless you.

    • Carol, thanks. It’s reassuring to know you and others are in process with this topic, as I am.

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