The Importance of Saying No

There’s an old story about a man who was asked by God to carry two pebbles up a mountain. As the man began his journey, he excitedly shared his mission with others. One friend asked him, “Since you’re taking those to the top of the mountain already, would you mind taking my two skipping stones as well?”

“Sure!” replied the man. He grabbed the skipping stones and continued on. Nearly everyone he shared his mission with was thrilled for him and asked him – since he was going up anyway – to take their rocks, stones, and even boulders, along with him. He happily obliged.

As he got closer to the top of the mountain, the load became too much to bear. Unable to finish his journey, he cried out, “Lord! Why did you ask this of me, if you knew I would tire and not finish?!” To which the Lord replied, “My son, I only asked you to bring the pebbles.”

The man, in his enthusiasm and good intentions, wore himself out and couldn’t complete his mission. If only he had learned the importance of saying, “No.”

Saying No

We sometimes hesitate to say “no”, not wanting to hurt someone else’s feelings. We become people pleasers for the sake of people who most likely won’t play into our future or our greater calling. We sacrifice time, resources, and even enjoyment of time spent with the ones we love, to protect the feelings of someone we barely know.

In cases, like the man with the pebbles, people encourage us along the way, while adding to the load we were called to bear.

Grant Baldwin said in one of his talks recently, “People will cheer you to your grave.” You can do it! Just take this one more thing! You’re doin’ great! See, you don’t need sleep! Woo hoo, you’re doing awesome! Skip lunch and keep doing fantastic!

And why is it so hard for us to say no? We have a genuine interest in helping others, building community, and encouraging success. There comes a point, though, when that becomes your struggle instead of your stepping stone.

Here are a few things to consider when thinking about the importance of saying no:

Just as you respect the boundaries of others, you have to set boundaries for yourself.

Whenever you say “yes” to something, you’re saying “no” to something else. Think about that the next time you’re asked to do something. Does it fit within the boundaries of your goals, priorities, and your capacity? If not, say “no.”

As the mirror to that, when you say “no” to something, you’re giving yourself a “yes” for something else. Especially if it’s a “yes” to freedom, or reduced stress!

Don’t give yourself an ulcer.

Your physical health and well-being will be affected when you take on too much. Looking out for your own physical and mental health is not selfish. It’s essential. You’re not going to do anybody any good if you aren’t here to do anything at all.

You’re working on two hours of sleep and you haven’t eaten anything besides the leftover popcorn you made two days ago? You’ve got too much going on.

Look out for yourself, for your health, and keep opportunities to foster your well-being. Learn to say “yes” to your well-being, and “no” to whatever compromises it.

Cement your priorities.

I’ll take an easy one here: family. If a date with your spouse on Tuesdays is how you recharge, don’t take on a project that keeps you holed up on Tuesday nights. If your kids mean more to you than mine mean to me (though I doubt that’s possible), say “no” to the things that take time away from your kids.

If your friends forgot what you look like because it’s been so long since you’ve seen them, you’ve shifted too many of your priorities. Don’t give your calendar the ol’ switcheroo trying to reduce your priorities to negotiables.

If you say something matters to you more than anything else, you put that priority in concrete, and work what you can around it. If it won’t work around your priorities, it flat out won’t work.


Saying “no” might tick a few people off. It might make you feel guilty or shamed for a while. (But seriously, stop that…) In the long-run, though, when you say “no” to the right things, it gives you more “yes”es for the best things.

It’s tough but important. Learn the value of saying “no”, and then do it. It will change your life!

Your Challenge: Say “no” to something this week, and share with us the “yes” it gave you!