When I was a kid we went through the D.A.R.E program.
It’s a substance-abuse prevention and education course. Do kids even take D.A.R.E anymore? They should. It was hands down the best part of middle school. I say it was the best only because we got to skip boring things like math and science and do cool things like talk to cops or practice our improv skills.
I even poured my heart and soul into a D.A.R.E essay and won a shiny medal. Should’ve known I was a writer.
D.A.R.E’s claim to fame is teaching kids how to “just say no to drugs”. They give you all sorts of practical and impractical ways to turn down drugs or redirect the conversation. I will say D.A.R.E gave me the rather unrealistic impression that drugs lurked around every corner and anyone with a goatee was likely to offer me substances.
I don’t get offered drugs nearly as often as D.A.R.E implied I would.
Which is probably a good thing because, as it turns out, I’m terrible at saying no.
In D.A.R.E it was easy to say no because drugs are horrific and they’ll rip you apart. We knew the dangers they presented and we were in a safe and predictable environment to turn down the imaginary drugs offered to us. We were armed with an arsenal of escape and avoidance tactics such as, “I’m driving” or “I don’t do that.” By far the most powerful thing we learned was the art of just flat out saying “no.” Back then it was easy because we were naïve and bored and grateful for D.A.R.E to break up our monotonous school day activities.
And yet looking back, I could use some more D.A.R.E in my life.
In the real world, when you’re not in a safe little room full of tiny humans and minimal expectations, it’s so hard to say “no”. Looking another person square in the eyes and telling them “no” feels impossible. The way they ask with that expectant look in their eyes, the way they’re counting on you, the way you can tell they really need you. And who doesn’t want to feel needed? Who doesn’t want to be the hero and save the day? It all starts so innocently.
Like any addiction, saying “yes” starts small.
I don’t even remember when I got hooked on “yes”. It probably started with volunteering to stay a few minutes late. Then I took on a few extra projects just to help out. Honestly it made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I love helping! I love loving! I love volunteering! But then it stopped being fun and voluntary and started getting dark and necessary. I didn’t want to disappoint anyone so I just kept saying “yes” over and over again. If everyone else was happy and less stressed out, then surely I would feel the same, right?
I would run from meeting to meeting, project to project, hangout to hangout and though I was high on pleasing people I would crash and burn each night exhausted, overwhelmed, and completely inefficient. Like any addict, I didn’t even realize I had a “yes” problem until I was forced to start living without it. I had backed myself into a corner and was at max capacity. Physically incapable of any more “yes” I found myself having to say “no” out of necessity. My schedule literally couldn’t allow any extra wiggle room. I had nothing left to give to anyone, especially not the people who needed me most.
I was seeking the approval of strangers and neglecting the unconditional love of my real friends and family. Fear of disappointing others often leads us to disappoint those who matter most.
If we’re trying to be everything to everyone we’ll end up being a nobody to everybody.
I thought saying “yes” and bragging about my busyness would help validate my existence. I was looking for acceptance in people and places that could never give it to me. People always want more and need more. We can’t help it. We’re needy creatures and we were designed to be that way. But it turns out once you start saying “yes” it’s nearly impossible to stop. You get on the hook and only when desperate times call for desperate measures will you rip yourself off.
But now I’m taking a lesson from D.A.R.E and turning down the “yes” that people are offering me. It’s pretty damn hard but I had to learn the hard way. Only when I was completely exhausted and spinning my wheels did I finally turn to the people around me and ask for help. To my surprise, they loved and accepted me even when I was empty-handed. Even when I couldn’t offer them any of my services they welcomed me in and nursed me back to a healthy place.
I’m settling into the realization that because I’m in Christ I’m lovable enough to say “no”. In fact, I’m likeable enough too.
People will actually like you more when you say “no” or “I can’t”.
When we set boundaries around our time and energy by saying “no” it actually frees other people up to say “no” too. And to be honest, we’re all dying to know we’re accepted outside of our performance. We’re all dying for the freedom to decline and still be loved in spite of our empty handedness.
We weren’t made to volunteer as tribute and get ourselves killed trying to prove ourselves. Someone else already volunteered and did all the necessary work for us to be validated now and forevermore.
I think the Gospel dares us to say “no” more than we say “yes”. It’s so much harder to sit and rest in the finished work of Christ than it is to spin our wheels trying to prove ourselves. The Gospel frees us from the addiction of “yes” and offers us the freedom of “no”.
Dare to decline this week. You’re likeable enough for it.