how saying yes (and no) shape a life story

Always a few years behind everyone else, I’ve been reading Don Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. It’s about moving from being a consumer of your life to being a producer. When two movie guys contacted him to make a film out of his memoir, he discovered his real life was void of some things. He ended up editing his real life to tell a better story; not for the movie, just for the life. It reads like a conversation and it took me a few chapters to realize this was how the whole thing was gonna go. I like it, but this isn’t a book review.

It took courage and brave for him to take an honest look and realize he wanted his life to tell a better story. Courage is a funny thing. Sometimes it means taking the risk to do that big thing, knowing you could fail but facing it anyway. Other times, courage means saying no, bowing out, staying seated when it seems like you should stand. When you say yes to things, you automatically say no to other things whether you mean to or not.

I’m becoming more aware of my yes’s and my no’s. Saying yes to leading a girls small group was actually saying no to being in a women’s small group of my own. Saying yes to writing books came with a bucket full of no’s. When I said yes to writing, I actually also said no to being a sign language interpreter, being room mom in my girls’ classroom, spending hours at Target while the kids are in school, and pursuing photography for money or fun.

And since it’s Tuesday, it’s worth mentioning that saying no to Tuesdays Unwrapped is actually saying yes to something else. If you’re wondering what, so am I. I’ll keep you posted. But the bottom line is saying yes and saying no are the basis for everything we do. Every yes has a no automatically attached. We run into problems when we forget that, and we try to say yes to the yes’s and yes to the no’s, too. It’s when we feel the world spin too fast and when it feels like everything is up against us, like slow traffic and engine lights and sick babies and lines at the post office. Those things are overwhelming enough, but even more so when we’re trying to live a yes-life with too few no’s.

At the same time, it is possible to get stuck in the no’s, to be afraid of yes because of failure or embarrassment or worry or whatever. Or saying no to hard things just because they’re hard. Saying no to faith is actually saying yes to fear. I do it all the time, though I don’t like to think of it that way.

What we say yes and no to shape our stories, for better or worse. Are you aware of your yes’s and your no’s?


  1. says

    That book is on my list of 40 to read! after reading your post I feel a wee bit stronger and thankful that there are other people who think like me and act like me sometimes…just sayin:) I appreciate your depth.

  2. says

    Right there. Right now. Never I have I been so aware of this season of ‘few yeses’ and the long list of ‘I’d love to do that’, but simply can’t. I am trying to make peace with this word -season, but it just sounds so tired. Still, I’m realizing that ‘no’ unlocks His boundless grace like I never knew. My friend says, “You must be selective to be effective”, praying my selective is God driven and He takes my offering and infuses it with His power.

  3. says

    ((sigh)) This is SOOOOO good.

    So many times the guilt trip comes in, on which ever the answer … you know?… and I just appreciate the challenge, here, to slow down and really think about what our “response” will be – ulimately.

    I think I may need to print this post out – just to dwell on it some more – up close and personal. Is that okay?

  4. says

    Isn’t that the BEST book?!?!?! I am sooo learning how to say no AND how to say yes. Not saying no for so many years had left me physically ill, emotionally depleted and spiritually empty….I am learning to give out of my overflow and not out of emptiness. I am {trying to} learn what fills me and what empties me….Thanks for this confirmation and reminder!!!

  5. says

    I’ve never quite thought of saying yes and no in those terms. Interesting food for thought this morning, Emily. And by the way, I adore that Don Miller book. I really do.

  6. says

    I love this! It’s so true, you know? And we often forget that saying “yes” and saying “no” each come with a price. Thanks for the great reminder!

  7. says

    About 3 weeks ago I quit a part time job. (Luckily I still have my FT job.) In this economy, this was a difficult decision to make when I crunched the numbers. But, when I looked at my new family, the choice was easier. Saying no to work and the associated drive time meant saying yes to the possibilities of camping out overnight next year. To cooking more with my family – something they love. To kicking back with them, with a video, a blanket and a bucket of popcorn. We always seem to be on the run. Now, rather than my working the 6th day, we have a day to have downtime together. We are planning to sit down as a family and evaluation our next season of commitments. We have so many volunteer options available. And, we could all use a bible study group. So, saying no to one thing…even if all of us desperately miss seeing some of my co-workers…means saying yes to oh, so many things. It was a good choice.

  8. says

    This post definitely touched my heart. I chose to say yes to graduate school this semester, and as a result, I’ve discovered the things I had to say no to… And I don’t like it. When you commit to too many things, something suffers, and my relationships have suffered this fall. It’s time to say yes to the things that matter — the things that have eternal impact — and maybe no to things that, while important, aren’t as important as the people we love. Thanks for this all too necessary reminder. Beautifully written.

  9. says

    Emily-I look forward to your posts each day and you nailed it for me. I have been struggling with saying “no” to some things regarding my kids sports and you really verbalized how I have been feeling. I loved the part about staying seated when it seems like you should stand. I also realize being a volunteer that when you say “no” to something it gives way for a “yes” for someone else who may really need that opportunity. When I remind myself of that, it helps me release myself of that commitment. Thanks again, you are a beautiful writer and are inspiring many. I am not familiar with Don’s book, but am going to seek it out.

  10. says

    I’ve had this (slow down, quit over committing, spend time in the present) reminder a few times in the last week, in different ways, and then, summed up nicely here as well. I know when I’m hearing the same thing about life changes over and over again it means there’s something i should do about it. but saying the no’s that i want to is still really hard for me . . even when i think about the yes’s that it opens up.

    I look forward to seeing how this transforms your life, and i’ll try my hand at it too.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  11. says

    We are learning the art of being more deliberate about what we say yes to and what we say no to in our family. We have had a habit of saying yes to so many things to avoid conflict but it meant saying no to things that were important to us, our marriage, and our family. So we, my husband and I, have begun the journey of being more deliberate and prayerful in our choice to say yes or no. Our decisions are not always popular…and sometimes go completely against the grain of what the expectations are of us with our extended families this holiday season. We are choosing to our family, our marriage and special time and new traditions together instead of living up to old expectations. Thank you for being a voice of confirmation as we continue this journey to joyfilled focus on Jesus instead of the rat race of trying to please everyone.

    Thank you again for sharing your heart! You have once again touched mine!


    Mary Joy

    • says

      It’s hard, isn’t it? To know when the yes’s are right for our family and to know when they are just to please everyone else. Big thoughts…great heart. Thanks Mary.

  12. says

    I feel like due to our life circumstance I have to say yes when I’d prefer to say no. I say no a lot but many times I say no to things I’d rather say yes to and yes to things I don’t really want to do. I wonder though if God asks us to say yes sometimes because few will and that automatically means no to other things we would chose if we lived our life for self. I struggle with knowing when a no to self is a yes to God or when I am actually just in over my head and about to hit the wall instead. I would not want to say no to things God asks of me to protect my comfort, but discerning the right yes and no is hard sometimes. In church ministry we see a lot of people who say no, very few say yes. And by default, a leader must say yes ourselves to a lot of things that have to get done, and no to a lot of great things because so few say yes. Gah. :-)

    • says

      Well I understand that first-hand for sure! Just last night the man and I were talking about this very thing, and he said “Well I’m the pastor, so if there is no one else, does that mean it’s automatically me who should step in?” and I hesitated, because I’m not sure it means that…still thinking on that one. Good thoughts, girl. Can’t wait to see you in January!

  13. says

    I read that book in the spring and found it very influential. It spoke to me as a person and as a parent…is my faith a compelling enough story for my kids to “buy in” to?
    Saying no leaves space for saying yes…I’ll be thinking about that today – thank you.

  14. says

    In trying to find a balance and leave some margin in our lives we have been focusing on not just saying yes to everything and being deliberate in our no’s but to think of our no’s as an opportunity to say yes somewhere else is such a refreshing outlook. In saying no I often have to step out of the guilt, rational or not, real or not, that comes along with my no. But that is exactly why we want some margin, whether in time or finances, so we can say Yes!! when the opportunity comes. Thanks once again for saying so well something that’s been on my heart!


  15. says

    I have been working hard at taking a look at the big picture before I say yes or no. It is amazing that those 2 little words can have such a huge impact on our lives. When you are posed with a decision, it is ok to say, Can I get back with you on that?

  16. says

    Your post today reminded me of this post on

    I commented on that post, because I’ve realized that everything I’ve said “yes” to in life means that – by necessity – I’ve had to say no to other good choices. And that’s ok. I don’t regret my choices in the slightest, but it would be nice if we had room in our cultre to mourn the things we said no to without people thinking we were living lives full of regret. Sometimes I miss the life of self-acclaim I could have persued with a stage career, had I not said yes to marriage. Would I trade my marriage for that experience? Oh, heck no! But sometimes I think about the life I said no to and feel a little bit of loss.

    I always tell the graduating high school kids we mentor to make sure and enjoy their life in their college years, because it’s the freest they will ever be. Not because life is a downhill slope from there, but because every choice we make by necessity limits the future choices that will be available to us. Choose a major? That means you limit you career choices. Choose a career? Limit your choice of cities to live in. Choose a city? Limit your choices of people to meet. Choose a partner? You’ll (hopefully) never look for anybody else. Buy a house? Your financial freedom will be limited. Have kids? Oh, boy, will your available choices change! All these choices are good and necessary, but that fact is that once you say yes to one thing, you’re saying no to a whole slew of other possibilities.

    …and that’s ok.

    • says

      Such a good point you make, Christy. It’s true, I’m weary of grieving the loss of what some of my yes’s have meant, because it could come across as regret. We still feel the loss, but instead we hide it (or I have done that) for fear of what it may look like if I were honest about it.

      Great points.

  17. says

    I love how you articulate this. It is so, so true. Some of the yes’ I’ve said have involved great grief for the no’s I knew would follows. But it’s always a surprise what they open news doors to, as well.

  18. says

    God wanted me to write. That meant saying alot of no’s. I’m finally understanding just how many no’s I must say in order to make writing and family yes’. Great blog. Good insight.

  19. says

    Well, another post of yours that’s on my favorite posts list. I was making a mental inventory of my yes’s and no’s as I read it. It’s a concept I wish I’d been aware of and embraced earlier in my life. It would have saved a lot of stress and heartache. In recent years, my yes’s have come more in the form of “bowing out and staying seated”…no small thing for a girl who thrived on performance and perfection and even a bit of spotlight {something that terrifies me now.} This is the first year I said “no” to my women’s Bible study in 8 years. Painful. But my plate was full, beyond full actually. The yes’s and no’s take constant reevaluation I think. And your reminder of this came at just the right time. Thank you, as always, for casting your words out here for all of us.

    P.S. I read the book a few months ago. I liked it too.

  20. says

    Two treasures to take away from your words today:

    1. I always hunger for my life to tell a better story. Today, to not only write what I believe, and believe what I believe, but live what I believe – my life to tell a better story. I’ll be mindful on that front this day.

    2. I’ll be examining today, my yes’s and no’s – as flip sides of the coin – opposites that ripple in each other’s pond. It’s a new way of seeing. I always want better eyes.

    Emily, your words are a gift.

  21. says

    i hit this spot about 2-3 years ago, and i decided to start saying no at volunteering so much at my kids’ school. (the teachers actually thought i was employed there.) it allowed me to do so much more, even if for a while it was more laundry! that provided a sense of peace b/c my house was clean and my chores were done.. and peace for my family when they got home.

    i love the negative space in your photo… such a beautiful, rich blue!

  22. says

    Love this…yay!

    “Saying no to Tuesdays Unwrapped is actually saying yes to something else. If you’re wondering what, so am I”

    My visual for this is that we are swinging on the vine of life, and in faith God calls us to let go (even though we are scared and unsure), while we are free falling He throws us the next vine. The catch, it seems, is that we can’t hang on to both vines at once. Got to let go and trust first.

    Fantastic post, great word description and explanation of truth Emily!

  23. says

    Thank God we’ve got eternity! When I read your post it made me think of all the ways I hoped my life would go when I was a teenager. I think I must have had enough dreams for several life times. Now I am in my fifties I have realised some of those dreams cannot come true because I said yes to certain opportunities that determined my path. But thank God I have eternity to have experiences and far better ones than I had dreamed in my teens! One lifetime on earth is not enough sometimes. (On the other hand sometimes I feel it is too much! LOL)

  24. says

    One of the letters I wrote Atticus this month was on this, a little bit (I think it has come out more here in the comments, but what you said reminded me of what I was trying to tell him). The things that we say no to are, in a sense, lost to us. And the things that we lose in life, from opportunities to friends who move away, do shape us in a certain way. They also make room for other things to grow, and that is a beautiful thing, and I think that is where grace meets us and helps us to tell a better story. That’s part of what I hope and pray was happening when we decided to say yes to Atticus rather than sticking with the life we had. I can’t say I wanted a baby, but I do think I wanted a life that included more, so we decided to step out in faith towards that “more.”

    A good book about this is called Ordinary Losses: Naming the Graces that Shape Us by Elisa Stanford. It’s short, but a good read. I think you would like it. And this is the post I wrote while I was thinking about some of that:

  25. susan says

    I’m learning,Emily. I, like so many women (especially) have said yes to too much for too long. I am saying no better these days-nicely,firmly and knowing why it’s important, knowing my yes’s have to be my first priority. It’s sad that my physical health had to absolutely collapse&force some BIG no’s before I “got it”. And again,dear one, you’ve peeked at the mess in my head & poked what I needed to address right now. It’s the holy-days and issues with my parents’ estate&the family issues that no matter how one tries to avoid them,they blow up in your face. So my holy-days are going to have to be just that,*mine*, enjoying what time I have left with my folks,and following their wishes as best I can. Big “no’s” to created drama that needn’t be, no to anything that saps my health & mental strength, no to negativity that distracts my focus on business that requires attention to make the yes’s valuable&right. Thank you as always&good wishes to all. -s-

  26. says

    It’s complicated, isn’t it? Like the myriad of little processes that go on daily inside our own bodies – inside the secret societies in nature – in the vast heavens… everything all linked together with cause and effect. And then when we think we’ve got those yes and no decisions figured out a little better … God steps in with the over-ride button and answers for us: a sore throat, a tissue box, a sick baby, a family situation that must come first.

    What a great thing to contemplate as our family gets over the ‘Thanksgiving sickies’ and tries to find a way back in to our regular yes and no patterns. 😉

  27. says

    Love this post, Emily. Saying no is a gazillion times harder than saying yes. Somehow “yes” became a programmed default setting in me. Then, I tailspinned into a default “no”. God has now been coo’ing me out from underneath my comfy couch. Is it yes now, Lord? So, hard to know the difference. But, then I pray and I wait. And I recognize His whisper.

  28. says

    The saying no-when you know it is right to say it–always leads to windows open–not always what you thought your life would be–but what it should be–really–

    A sign language interpreter–I know why I like your words so much–I said no to a career of interpreting to stay with my children–but God opened the door to interpreting in Church–

    I would love to see you interpret this post:)

  29. M says

    I borrowed your words about courage and put them into “.. ” so that people know they are borrowed. I hope that is ok.

    today I had to face up and do a brave thing and your words articulated it for me.

  30. Erin says

    I just found your blog and read this post. I am amazed at how much I get one-sided on this topic! It has taken me a long time to realize yes means no to something else, but I am starting to apply it to my life. Saying no to a major committee means yes to my family in the evenings.

  31. says

    Thanks so much Dear Emily,

    This spoke to me in so many ways and was just what I needed to hear…saying yes to blogging is no’s to other things…is it ok? I continue to ask for balance and so needing to seek Him as we prepare to move overseas…so many things I need to say ‘no’ to transition and so many things that I don’t need to be doing…I need to be made strong in the deep places which is a lot of ‘no’s’ to the here and now…suffice it to say, this and you are a blessing…thank you, thank you, thank you, for such a good word on a Wednesday:) Be blessed! Abby:)

  32. says

    I’m so enjoying the changes so many women who blog seem to be going through. It’s wonderful! We also had some no’s that led to many a yes throughout the summer. We’re still finding our footing and being blessed every step of the way. So excited for you. We don’t have to know all the answers. He knows 😀

  33. says

    Very thought provoking post…thanks for writing it. I often feel bad when I have to say “no”, but I think if I reevaluate my thought process in that by saying “no” I am saying “yes”, just to other things. This past weekend was an example, I had the opportunity to spend some alone/me time but was offered and encouraged to spend the weekend with some of my family. I really felt I needed the alone time so I said no to the family invitation and yes to myself, which is unusual for me to do. I felt my spirit was rejuvenated by my time spent by myself and in the end it was the best decision. Thanks again for this post. :-) ~Iris~

    My last blog post at Treasuring the Journey: Week 26 Baby Belly Pics

  34. says

    What a wonderful idea…when I say “no” I say “yes” to so many other things that could be a wonderful blessing in my life. I know that I tend to say “yes” to easily and then put myself under tremendous pressure to honor the commitment. “No” is indeed an anointed word.

  35. says

    Emily, The post remind me of the movie Yes Man by Jim carrey, Most of the times i want to stick to the word yes and it brings me a lot of joyful moments in my life and would like to stay out of the word “no”


  36. says

    Saying yes or no gives you that discipline in helping other people. Personally, I find it that way. Before always saying yes is my thing, but as I am becoming more matured, I already realized that I’m just letting other people to be so much dependent on me.

  37. Amber says

    I’m not exactly sure how I stumbled upon your blog but I’m reading through it at just the right time in my life. It seems like I’m always saying ‘yes’ to things that seem to be good things. They usually are good things but sometimes they’re just not right – for me. Or not right for me at that time. I think I tend to say ‘yes’ to just about everything and we all know that doesn’t end well.

    Thanks for suggesting that I take a look at what I’m saying ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to. At least that’s what I took away from this post. Thank you.

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  39. says

    Everytime you say Yes, you say No to something since you’re practically trading your time. Learn to say No to what is not important. Remember, Pareto’s Law of 20/80 states that 20% of our effort produces 80% of our results. It definitely helps to eliminate activities that are not producing results.

  40. says

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  41. says

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