Have you ever had a dream that felt so real it changed the way you acted the next day? I’ve had dreams about people where they did something awful to me, and I woke up feeling bitter toward them. Even though I knew the dream wasn’t real, it took a while to shake.
Our thoughts are much like that. They create a reality that impacts our days – and they can be really hard to shake. It’s hard to say no to something that feels so real. And yet, learning to take control of our thoughts – to filter through the good and the bad – profoundly influences our hearts and actions.
4 Great Reasons to Say No
- You Know What You Do and Don’t Want
- You Have Healthy Margins
- You Know Your Limitations
- You Respect the Person on the Other End
4 Reasons You Shouldn’t Say No
- You’re Afraid
- You’re Withholding from Others
- You’ve Lost Your Drive
- You’re Waiting for Perfection
This week I’m touching on another important “no” – the times you need to say no to yourself. More specifically, no to the things you’re telling yourself.
I think we all can acknowledge that there are things we know we should say no to: the guy we know is a bad influence, the toxic friendship, the sleeve (or two) of Thin Mints. Yet, as Paul acknowledges, the good we want to do we often don’t do, and the bad we don’t want to do, we regularly do. We’re complicated creatures. I hear Paul’s frustration when he says, “I don’t really understand myself.”
While there are some obvious sins that can ensnare us and bad habits we desperately want to be rid of, I’d argue there’s something even more insidious that we should be wary of: the bad things we tell ourselves.
The thoughts that fill our minds have so much power over us. They seep down into our hearts, either lifting us up with joy, hope and love or weighing us down with self-condemnation, bitterness and fear. And yet, even though we know that our thoughts powerfully influence the way we act, it’s so easy to get sucked into the downward spiral of negativity. Just as bad company corrupts good morals, negative thinking spoils the life growing in us.
For years, I’ve struggled with telling myself I’m not good enough – for that job, that guy, that award. I’ve told myself some pretty destructive things, and I know you have too. Whether it’s been on my couch or over email, we’ve talked about the dreams you’re afraid of pursuing – the career change, motherhood, the new relationship– because you’re not sure you’re cut out for it. You’re afraid of failing, and you’re telling yourself all sorts of bad things about yourself.
You’re stuck thinking the things you hate instead of filling your mind with the good you know should be there.
Even today, as I prepared this post for publishing, re-reading through what I’d written last week, I struggled to let the truth of it sink down deep into my heart. I chose to think the thoughts I hate: You shouldn’t have had that extra bit of cake. You should make better choices. Who are you to think you can write a book?
I was being tested.
Last night, I celebrated my 29th birthday with some of my best girlfriends. They went around the table sharing what they love about me and the advice they want to share with me as I enter the last year of my twenties. It was such a profoundly moving experience – hearing them call out the love and light they see in my life, the confidence they want me to continue cultivating through closeness with God. One friend in particular got very choked up as she talked about my beauty.
“I wish you could see your beauty,” she said through tears. “I think self-doubt is what Satan uses most to hold women back from living fully and following the calling God has placed on their life.”
Her words shook me in a great way and reminded me of something I read recently in SheReadsTruth.
“When we listen to fear, we become powerless. When we partner with anxiety, we lose authority. The spirit of fear is a tool of the enemy, who seeks to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). But our Jesus, He came to give us abundant life to the full—a life of power, love and self-control.”
I don’t want to lose my authority. I don’t want my power to seep out through self-inflicted wounds of fear and unworthiness. I don’t want any of these things to keep me from living out my calling – to write honestly and to love fiercely. And yet, even this morning, I was tested. After an evening of being filled with love and encouragement, my old lies and fearful thoughts crept back up on me.
But those aren’t the thoughts I want to fill my mind and heart. I don’t want that for you either. When we’re telling ourselves these negative things, when we’re feeding our minds with fear, that’s what we’re going to produce too. And that’s definitely not what I want to produce in my life. Do you?
So, how do we change? We have to stop listening to the playlist of fear in our lives. We have to shred the tape of negativity and self-doubt and start a new soundtrack.
As my dear friend Kathryn would say: negative, fear-based, worry-driven self-talk is like a drug. The more you say yes to it, the easier it is to buy into the lies. So, to stop the cycle you have to just say no.
So much easier said than done, right? And, if you’re anything like me, it may feel like saying no is just living in denial. We can trick ourselves into thinking that our self-criticism is the best way to “make ourselves better.” But in reality, that’s a trick of the enemy. And just like the fruit in the garden of Eden, when we bite into that shiny fruit, it only brings death.
I want to live a full life. And I’m guessing you do, too. So, I’m going to recommend a couple practices that are making a difference in my life these days.
The first technique is one I learned from Brene Brown, who researches universal human experiences like shame, love and belonging. Instead of just “armoring up” and shutting yourself off from self-criticism or others’ critiques, for that matter, we must “reserve a seat” for the critics and our own self-doubt. Brene says:
“Tell them, I see you, I hear you, but I’m going to do this anyway.”
Brene’s advice reminds me so much of the wisdom laid out in God’s word – to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” Thank God that we can ask him to take our negative thoughts. We can hold our thoughts up against the truth of his words, the truth of who God says we are: beloved, perfect, his delight, his workmanship, his sons and daughters.
And that’s the second part of the equation. Once we learn to recognize our critics and tell them no, we have to replace those negative thoughts with truth. We have to reserve room for our greatest champions – our God and the people who love us well. We have to lay our thoughts next to the truth of what God says about us. Do they line up? If not, we can cast out the negative self-talk that seeks to destroy us and lean into the truth that gives life.
“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” (Philippians 4:18)
Have you ever tried smiling when you don’t feel happy? If you have, then you know the power this action has to change your attitude. Simply by shifting our physical posture, our attitudes can be noticeably transformed. The same is true with our thoughts. When we feel stuck in the spiral of negativity, we can so “no” – even if it feels false for the moment – and clothe ourselves with goodness, love, mercy, grace and kindness. Rather than clothing ourselves with ill-fitting thoughts that weigh us down, we can cloth ourselves in beautiful truth that fits the calling on our lives today.
And moreover, when we fill our minds with thanks and our mouths with praise, we can’t help but live in a place of joy.
“A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22)
Today, I’m saying “no!” in the loudest voice I can muster. I refuse to let self-criticism dry me up and make me ineffective. I choose not to stay stuck in my fear.
Instead, I want to keep running hard through this life. I’ll keep writing, bleeding on paper and putting myself out there. I’ll keep dating even though God knows it is so hard and will someone just please arrange my marriage because sometimes I don’t know if all the heartbreak and awkward dates are worth it. And I’ll keep loving people even though they disappoint me or I disappoint them.
Why? Because I don’t want anything – especially myself and my thoughts– to hold me back from the life God has sent me to live.
We have to keep trying at life even though it’s weird and hard and shaky at times. I’d venture to say that the shaky ground may even be necessary to help us grow. Learning to steady ourselves on the rocky terrain trains us for the road ahead.
And, more importantly, while circumstances around us are unsteady or constantly shifting, we can remember this truth: We live in an unshakable kingdom that’s ruled by a God who is always steady, never changing. Even when everything else feels uncertain, we can always be sure of his steadfast love for us. And that’s the best truth. The truth I’m choosing to hang onto today.
Do you have trouble saying no to feelings of not being enough? What opportunities do you need to say yes to today, even if you don’t feel fully equipped?