Almost 40 years ago two million people bought a copy of Manual Smith’s When I Say No I Feel Guilty. That tells me that at least two million people had trouble saying “no” because they didn’t want to feel guilty. I imagine many of us were among them.
Obedient Christians are particularly prone to guilt feelings when we say “no” because there is so much scripture that encourages us to be of service to our fellow man. Verses such as, “Inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25: 37-40) and “Whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain” (Matthew 5:41) echo in our minds.
Scriptures such as, “When ye are in the service of your fellow man, you are only in the service of your God.” (Mosiah 2:17) “See that ye serve with all your heart, might, mind and strength.” (D&C 4:1-2) can make it more difficult than ever to say “no” when presented with an opportunity to serve.
So what do we tell the good-hearted family of six who invited a homeless family of seven to come stay in their modest three bed room, two bath home? The good-hearted family gave up their beds and their children slept on the living room floor. The homeless family stayed, two weeks and then four. The toys that belonged to the good-hearted family were gradually broken, their meals became sparse. After six weeks of squatting, the homeless family of seven had still made no attempt to remove themselves out from under the roof of the good-hearted family of six. At what point is the good-hearted family allowed to say “no?”
I have a neighbor with whom I have shared the gospel, given a Book of Mormon and invited to listen to the missionaries, but she still isn’t interested in the Church. When she asked if I would watch her Weimaraner while she went to Europe, I didn’t dare say “no” because I figured if I served her, she would be more interested in the Church. But saying “yes” meant we would have a barking dog in the back of our van for an hour and a half 1/2 while we went on our own family vacation. It meant all the dogs at the lake would stop by to make the Weimaraner’s acquaintance, and it meant I would sneeze for 7 days straight because I am allergic to dogs. Obviously, there are situations where we can, and we must, say “no.”
Deciding when to say “no” can be a tricky task. We certainly can’t say “yes” to everything is asked of us. Nor would we want to say “no” every time we are needed. A rule of thumb that I have found effective in my counseling practice, and in my own life is the following: If you are able to serve, go ahead and serve unless doing so will lead to feelings of resentment. The paramount consideration is deciding to say “no” is avoiding feelings of resentment. When we start feeling resentment as a result of our service, it’s a strong warning sign that we shouldn’t have said “yes” in the first place.
Although saying “no” may prick our conscience, there are things worse than saying “no”. Saying yes, and feeling resentment is worse than saying “no”. While saying “yes” may allow us to keep the commandment to serve our fellow man, it’s certainly not worth it if it means harboring ill feelings toward our fellow man. The commandment to love one another is every bit as important as serving our fellow man.
-The Savior taught us to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34)
-We’re admonished, to avoid malice toward our fellow man. “And again, the Lord God hath commanded that men should not …have malice..”. (2 Ne 26:32)
-The very same sermon that admonishes us to walk two miles with the man who asks us to walk just one, also tells us that we are to love our enemy. It says it’s easy to love our friends, even the publicans do the same. True followers of Christ must love all men.
If our service leads to resentment, we are faced with a dilemma. We either say “no” to the opportunity to serve, thus maintaining our positive, loving feelings toward our fellow man, or we go ahead and serve, even though it may breed ill feelings toward our fellow man.
Feelings of resentment are so dangerous, I am far more inclined to recommend that my clients say “no” and avoid those ill feelings.
I have seen too many marriages end in divorce because a spouse didn’t have the ability to say “no.” Resentment builds and builds until, one of the couple “suddenly” files for divorce. Such a tragedy would never happen, if either of them had said “no” as soon as they started feeling resentful, and abated the fomentation of such feelings.
In an equally tragic scenario, I know a bishop who left the church because after many, many years of service, he was worn out. He asked for a release numerous times. He became resentful when the the release didn’t come, and finally he just stopped coming himself.
Clearly, it is better to say “no” than to feel resentful toward our fellow man.
To simplify the question, we can ask ourselves, “Who am I most trying to please? Am I going to please a human who has decided I need to jump through 11 hoops and a hurdle?” or “Am I going to please my Heavenly Father who has instructed us to love our fellow man?” My choice is to love.
It feels WONDERFUL to have absolutely no feelings of resentment. It feels great to have positive feelings toward our fellow man. If we say “yes” when we should have said “no” we are not be able to feel so much charity. We would be filled with a variety of negative feelings, none of which invites the Holy Ghost.
Obviously, we can’t say “no” all the time. Who would teach primary? Who would work in the nursery? Service is still a great virtue, and still a necessary characteristic of true followers of Christ.
Ideally we will identify the times when our service leads to resentment and assiduously avoid those situations.
Feeling of resentment generally occur under one of the following conditions:
1) We serve beyond our means
2) When we say “yes” to one person, it requires us to say “no” to someone else
3) The person asking us to serve won’t take “no” for an answer
4) Our service is taken for granted
5) We are taken advantage of
In my next column I will discuss these five conditions that lead to resentment, and how to avoid them. If we learn to avoid resentment we can serve with as much joy as we love.
JeaNette Goates Smith is the author of the newly released, Unsteady Dating: Resisting the Rush to Romance.
Her website is: www.smithfamilytherapy.org Her column appears every other Tuesday.