The following is a transcript of a Raised Catholic Podcast episode. To listen to the episode, click here.
Today is episode 53: Say No
Well hello friends. On last week’s first anniversary episode, we talked about the ways in which we can say yes to the callings of God, even to things that feel uncomfortable at first, and how those yesses can bear fruit both for us and for the wider world. In the aftermath of that episode, it occurred to me that a bit of balance might be needed, because if you were born and raised Catholic, your ‘yes’ might kind of be your default setting. Catholic guilt is a cliché for a reason, am I right, friends? You may have been raised to say yes to everything that is asked of you – yes to every person and good cause and service opportunity – yes to everyone and everything except yourself. If you are part of a church community, your yes to priests and to churchy figures, to tasks, rules, and traditions, especially at this time of year, may be more habitual and less thoughtful, leading to burnout which we are seeing all around us these days and which does serious harm, both to us personally and to our Church. So, in today’s episode let’s talk about the option and the value of sometimes saying no.
As I get older, I realize that I undervalue myself, like, from way back. And I’m working on it, and friend, I wonder if you can relate. Well, this year, I’m working on my ‘no’ in a few areas, some for the very first time. And I wonder if working on the exercise of your ‘no’ might be a helpful spiritual practice for you as well.
For example, I’m working on saying ‘no’ to comparison. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” and oh my gosh isn’t that so true. Social media has made comparison a thousand times worse, because though we can never know someone else’s story, we somehow think we can, based on what we see in our feeds, and we compare their best days to our everyday complicated ones. We see their curated version online which is never the whole truth, and we find ourselves striving but never quite able to measure up. Ugh, how exhausting. Focusing on our own path as a much-loved child of God is a much healthier way for us to move forward through our lives, especially at this time of the year when we’re taking stock and making goals and resolutions for our next chapters. So, as they used to say in school, let’s try to keep our eyes on our own paper.
And speaking of this time of year, it must be said that we can say ‘no’ to busy-ness. We can take stock of practices and traditions that feel more like boxes to be checked than they feel like joy. I’ve said ‘no’ to sending Christmas cards for a couple of years now and it has been so freeing, truly. We can say ‘no’ to a gathering or party, even at the last minute, for any reason or for no reason at all. We can say ‘no’ to holiday clutter or to a long-held tradition that has come lately to feel just kind of like work. When it comes to our calendar, we can ask ourselves, “What do I really want to do?” and then listen to ourselves for the answer, because when we say ‘no’ to all that stuff, we’re actually saying ‘yes’ to taking care of ourselves and we’re saying ‘yes’ to our peace. Friend, that is no small thing, and it should be a priority for each of us.
This Christmas season, we can say ‘no’ to overwhelm and to burnout, ‘no’ to the media and noise that makes us feel scattered or ‘less-than’ or worried or mad. We can sit in silence with a book and a candle and twinkly lights and let our ‘no’ make space for us to hear God speaking to us in love. Because He will do that, friend. He’s Emmanuel, God with us, and our ‘no’ to too much busy-ness this season can allow us to feel and experience that ‘with-ness’ for ourselves, which is the very best gift we can receive.
This year, I’m taking stock of my ‘yesses’ and I’m finding myself saying ‘no’ to some very good things, just temporarily, because it really has been a depleting time and I’m finding I need to take care of myself. I’m saying ‘no’ even to some charity and “religious” opportunities in this season because I’m prioritizing the quiet of my own spirit and I just want to say that if you’re doing that too, friend, it’s okay. If you were born and raised Catholic, and especially if you’re a woman in the church, you and I may forget the essential importance of filling our own cups so that we can pour out to others. Let’s face it, in most parishes, it’s the same ten people who volunteer for everything, and as a church we just do not do enough for those people to fill them up, do we? Burnout is real and, in our culture, it’s accelerating fast. So, just because a priest or a churchy person asks you to take on a new task for the parish or other charitable outreach, it does not mean that it’s the right thing or the right time for you to do it. It’s okay to say no, even to a priest. Here it must be said that a ‘no’ to clericalism which is the belief that priests or clergy are better than or holier than other people – well, that’s one of the healthiest ‘no’s we can practice. Because saying no to a priest is not the same thing as saying no to God, so put the oxygen mask on yourself as the beloved child of God that you are, and then from that well, serve your brother and your sister. We have all known ‘church people’ who serve on every committee, do all the tasks, are seen as a leader and are admired by many, but who may have never developed a relationship with God for themselves. Their ‘God’ starts and ends with their public religious activity – that’s an easy mistake to make because of the time it takes and the positive feedback it gets, but there are plenty of examples in Scripture where Jesus explicitly warns against busyness-as-worship. Think here about the story of Martha and Mary, or the many times Jesus went away by Himself to pray, or look to the Book of Matthew, Chapter 6 in which Jesus tells His disciples to pray and fast in secret, or in Chapter 7 in which Jesus warns that religious acts are not the key to entering Heaven. He says:
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you.”
Oof. It seems that building the core of relationship with God, quietly in our interior self is of high priority to God and maybe it should be for us as well.
As we close in on Christmas, we can say no to lots of things. We can say no to perfectionism, no to doing things just because it’s the way we always did them, no to the fancy stress-filled dinner, no to commercialism, no to the last-minute rush of buying things that others do not need and will likely discard. In their place, we can make room for the yesses that really do matter – yes to self-acceptance, yes to peace, yes to emotional and physical health, yes to togetherness and connection, and yes to creating the quiet in which we can begin to hear the still small voice of God, making Himself present and known in our hearts and families. So, it’s okay to say no, friends, truly, because a good no will always lead us to the most important and most healthy and heartfelt yes. And a good yes, as we said last week, well, that can change everything for the good.
Thanks so much for listening today. If you need me, you can find me on Instagram @kerrycampbellwrites or on my blog at mylittleepiphanies.com. Thanks so much for sharing this podcast, for rating, reviewing, and subscribing, all of that really matters as we grow this community together, so thank you. As always, I’ll have lots of resources in the show notes so that you can explore the topic of saying no in a deeper way for yourself, but for now, let’s pray together.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.
Oh God, we thank you for the permission to say no, especially when our no will lead to an ability to say more yesses to you who knows and loves us so dearly just as we are. Please give us clarity and strength and resolve to discern and choose a Christmas and a life that is life-giving both to ourselves and to others, and we thank you in the name of Jesus who modeled all of this so well for us, amen.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.
Thanks so much for listening, friend, and I’ll see you next time.