Saying no without feeling guilty is hard for many people. For Christians like me, learning how to say no without guilt or self-condemnation is practically impossible! Especially when I could say yes if I really wanted to.
Every morning I go for a walk with Jesus. I always invite the Holy Spirit along for the ride, and often blow a kiss to God the Father above. Today was different, though. Jesus and I still went for our walk, but we mostly talked about saying no, feeling guilty, and expectations for Christian women. I’m facing one of those difficult decisions in life.
I know what I want to do, but I also know what Jesus calls all Christians to do. “Love one another, as I have loved you.” Unfortunately what I want to do doesn’t appear to be the most loving thing to do. Unless, of course, I have God’s perspective! It’s entirely possible that the reason I want to say no is actually the best possible decision for everyone involved — even though it doesn’t feel or look like it right now.
Let’s use the example of teaching Sunday School (this is a made-up scenario; it’s simple yet powerful). Pretend I want to say to teaching Sunday School, but I feel guilty because my church needs Sunday School leaders. The kids need somewhere to go so the parents can get their desperately needed fix of Jesus. And, the kids like me! I’m actually a trained teacher and armchair theologian. And yet I want to say no because I don’t like teaching Sunday school. How do Christians say no to legitimate requests without feeling guilty?
Here’s what came to me as I walked and talked with Jesus this morning.
How to Say No as a Christian Without Feeling Guilty
This blog post is part of my She Blossoms Through the Bible project; I’m writing an article for every chapter in every book of Scripture. I’m moving through the book of Leviticus now; today is chapter 4 of Leviticus. It’s called “The Sin Offering of Ignorance” in my Bible.
How does Leviticus 4 relate to saying no without guilty feelings? Surprisingly well!
1. Don’t overanalyze your instinct to say no
In Leviticus 4:1 the Lord said to Moses: “Tell the Israelites: When someone sins unintentionally against any of the Lord’s commands and does anything prohibited by them…” What immediately caught my attention was the word unintentionally. Sometimes the Israelites planned to sin, such as premeditating a murder or plotting a theft of an ox. Other times the Israelites accidentally or unintentionally sinned, such as by speaking out in anger or hastily bringing unclean bodies into clean or even the holy places. Leviticus 4 describes the sacrifice for unintentional sin; Leviticus 5 offers detailed examples of unintentional sins. Here’s my question: how do you know if you’re sinning unintentionally? Take, for example, speaking rashly in an oath? Unless you’re incredibly self-aware — and/or you analyze every little thing you do and say — you may not even realize your unintentional sin. And I know from experience that overanalyzing leads to extreme self-consciousness and paralysis. The Israelites had to keep each other accountable, as sinless as humanly, and constantly moving back into God’s holy presence.
Accept your instinct to say no — and the freedom not to feel guilty! Are you committing an “unintentional sin” by saying no as a Christian? Do you feel guilty because of your own thoughts and expectations, or because of other Christians’ expectations? Are you overanalyzing your initial instinct to say no? What are the consequences of saying no, of saying yes, or of putting off the decision for a few days or weeks? There are so many ways to overanalyze our own decisions, and all of them lead to hell! Instead, sit with your instinct to say no. Accept that you will probably feel guilty because you’re a “good Christian.” Can you accept the fact that you are free to say no AND free not to feel guilty even though you’re a good Christian woman? If not, then you don’t know the deep love, peace, joy and freedom of Jesus.
2. Put yourself in the “you said no and you should feel guilty” position
Leviticus 4 tells us that the Israelites knew when they sinned. They had to atone for the guilt by making sacrifices, so they could return to God’s presence. They were dealing with guilty feelings and moving on when they brought their sin offering of a young, unblemished bull and the priest sprinkled the blood in various places. The ritual of the Sin Offering was important and holy; it allowed the Israelites to sin, feel guilty, make a sacrifice, and be freed from feeling guilty. Whether they unthinkingly said a harsh no to a request or accidentally touched uncleanliness, the Israelites knew what it was like to feel guilty and receive absolution for their sins. God gave Moses a process for the priests to follow.
How do you handle guilty feelings as a Christian? This morning I tried something I’ve never done before — and it was amazing! While walking with Jesus, I put myself in the “you should feel guilty because you said no” position. I berated, criticized, condemned and belittled myself for saying no. I heaped guilt, guilt, and more guilt upon myself. “How could you say no?! You call yourself a Christian, yet you said no? What is wrong with you, how could you be so unChrist-like and unloving?” And I felt terrible — not for saying no, but for what it must be like to be the type of person who is so critical and judgmental! Who would want to live like that, to criticize and condemn another person? And then I realized I’d much rather be the Christian who says no without feeling guilty than the person who judges and condemns. Somehow, that insight freed me to say no.
3. Allow God to be God
God spoke to Moses, and Moses wrote down all the details and laws of Sin Offerings, sacrifices, commandments, and ways the Israelites should live. All of it failed, over and over again! Leviticus 4 is just a tiny glimpse into the blood, sweat, tears, sin and suffering that went into the sacrifices of the Israelites people, priests, and animals. I’m reflecting on the idea that God spoke to Moses, and allowed Moses to share what he thought God wanted…which may not be exactly what God intended. Just like in the New Testament, when Jesus’ disciples misunderstood Jesus all the time. Even when men were face-to-face with God, they could not hear what He was actually saying. Yet, God let them do what they thought they heard…because God is God. He tells us things through the Holy Spirit, and He gives us the freedom to do what we will.
What if saying no is part of God’s plan — and so you shouldn’t feel guilty? What if the reason you want to say no is because God has something different and better in store for the thing? Take my example of “saying no to teaching Sunday School even though the Christian parents at church want their kids go to Sunday School.” My first, last, and perhaps forever instinct is to say no. As a Christian, I feel guilty for saying no because I do want to serve my church and her people. And yet…what if I’d do more harm than good as a Sunday School teacher because I really don’t want to be there? My wanting to say no is for a good reason — even though that reason may not be evident to other Christians or even myself. However, the reason for saying no is evident to God. And if I am to truly love God, I must follow His lead by listening to the Holy Spirit’s nudges and leaning on Jesus even when I feel confused or unsettled.
This blog post wasn’t supposed to give you a definite answer to the “how do Christians say no without feeling guilty?” question. Rather, it’s to encourage you to gain a greater awareness of yourself and God. Take time to walk with Jesus. Ask Him to help you follow through with your desire to say no. Trust that you as a Christian woman are good, and that you want to be a loving, helpful, compassionate follower of Christ. Know that this doesn’t always mean saying yes — despite your guilty feelings for saying no, or the judgements and condemnations of fellow Christians.
What do you think, feel, sense, believe, know to be true? Listen to the Holy Spirit. Walk with Jesus. Trust God the Father.
If you’re a Christian woman who never learned how to say no without feeling guilty, read Remembering the Past Without Feeling Ashamed or Guilty.
With His love,