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The Two Most Important Words in Your Vocabulary

Jan 6, 2015

Jim Carrey has played a lot of characters. He has been a crazy cable repair man, a masked madman, the Grinch, the clueless co-owner of a pet grooming business, and the Riddler. In 2008, Carrey starred in Yes Man, a film where he vows to answer “Yes!” to every opportunity, request or invitation that comes his way. If you haven’t seen the film, he ends up in some pretty unique and often funny situations because he says yes constantly. It’s a fairly formulaic film (everything resolves in a happy ending), but I can remember laughing at what happened when Carrey responded to every question with a “Yes!”

How many of you would like your life to go that way? We would say “Yes!” to everything and it would lead to a happy ending. That would be nice, huh? This is real life, though, not Hollywood. And in real life, we have to navigate countless opportunities to use one of the two most important words in our vocabulary – yes or no.

Many of us struggle to balance those two words. We wear out “yes” while letting “no” collect dust. This pattern shows up in our approach to work and time off.

Americans left 169 million paid days off on the table last year. The main reason we did this? According to the Oxford study, we just “have too much work to do.” Work hours, for many, are hard to track when we are always accessible and engaged with our digital devices.

In the business world, “busy” is often worn as a badge of honor, a sign that we have importance and value. A 2012 op-ed in The New York Times called it “The Busy Trap” went viral, striking a chord with those who simultaneously wear this badge and tire from its cliché status.

As a pastor, I see the yes/no struggle play out in the families in our church. Parents say yes to club sports, which often leads to multiple kids playing multiple sports for multiple clubs with multiple nights of practice and games multiplying time away from home/spouse/family and lowering church attendance to one or two weekends a month. One pastor I heard described it as “child idolatry”, where the well-being of the children eclipses the importance of a couple’s relationship. He cited this as the cause of countless cases of marital strife and divorce in their church. I regularly observe good-intentioned church members say yes to multiple commitments in our church’s ministry, quickly seeing their motivation move from passion to guilt or obligation.

Lysa TerKeurst released a book in 2014, entitled, The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands. I learned a lot from an interview Lysa did on the Catalyst podcast. In the book, Lysa writes, “the decisions you make determine the schedule you keep. The schedule you keep determines the life you live. And how you live your life determines how you spend your soul.” Lysa described the way that our “yes” and “no” ultimately shape our lives, our very souls.

As I read the Scriptures, I see that even Jesus understood this challenge. Jesus regularly said “no” to another opportunity and commitment, refusing to be beholden to the expectations of every person he met. He even snuck away from his disciples to pray. Sometimes, he was successful, as we read about in Mark 1:35. Other times, his efforts were not so successful, as the crowds of people found him anyway. Even then, Jesus said yes and no regularly, even in the face of monumental expectations.

So, how do we begin using the two most important words to shape a healthy, balanced, fruitful life?

Establish your identity. I believe we were created by God and are today loved unconditionally by Him. Yet, many times, we believe God loves us based upon our good works. We believe we’ll go to heaven one day because we were a good person and lived a good life. Many church-going people are busy for God, in an effort to earn His love. We think “If I can just do more for God, then maybe I will be ______________.” What goes in your blank? Accepted? Enough? Loved? Free? Validated? Secure? We must establish a strong sense of our identity or our yes-es and no’s (and other people’s responses to them) will determine it. If this happens, we will always be wondering if we have what it takes, if we are enough.

Admit that you are limited resource. In his book, How to Lead and Still Have a Life: The 8 Principles of Less is More Leadership, Dale Burke states that each of us are “omni-nothing.” While God can be described as omnipotent (all-powerful), omnipresent (everywhere), and omniscient (all-knowing), Burke says we are omno-nothing – all-nothing. There is no area where we are all-_______. As limited resources, we must embrace our limitations and realize that saying “yes” to everything that comes our way will not produce comedy (like it did for Jim Carrey’s character) but rather tragedy. Stress, exhaustion, anger, and burnout await those of us who cannot say no and act as if our energy, efforts, and effectiveness are unlimited.

Refuse to let other people determine your yes or no. Often, we use “yes” and “no” based on the expectations of others. Making decisions based upon the expectations and responses of others reveals a lack of boundaries in our lives. Henry Cloud wrote the best-selling book, Boundaries: When To Say Yes, How to Say No, with John Townsend for this very reason. In the book, they write, “Boundaries are a ‘litmus test’ for the quality of our relationships. Those people in our lives who can respect our boundaries will love our wills, our opinions, our separateness. Those who can’t respect our boundaries are telling us that they don’t love our nos. They only love our yeses, our compliance. ‘I only like it when you do what I want.'” When someone only loves your yeses and not your nos, it is an opportunity to re-evaluate the relationship. Daily, we have an opportunity to regain control of our lives and create healthy boundaries.

-Learn the math of yes and no. In the The Best Yes, Lysa TerKeurst writes, “you say yes to something, there is less of you for something else. Make sure your yes is worth the less.” More yes = less no. You + Yes = Less of You. When we say yes, we are making our previous yes-es mean less. However, the opposite is true as well. More no = more yes. You + No = More of You to Give. When we say no, we make our yes mean more. I believe too many of us are seeing minimal impact in our lives in a multitude of areas because we have not learned this math. We could have maximum impact if we narrowed our focus and minimized the number of times we say “yes”. If we want to learn the difference, we have to begin saying no as often as we say yes.

You will use thousands of words today. Some research says that women will use more than men – something about a protein in your brains, ladies. You will use many words in hallway conversations, over emails, in text messages and Tweets. Yet, two words could turn the tide on your future. Use “Yes” and “No” well and you could change the quality of your life and the trajectory of your future. Two of the shortest words in the world are also two of the most important and powerful.

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