The Spiritual Practice of Saying “No”

Blue flower in strawBy Stephanie Gretchen Burgevin. Stephanie is a writer and retreat leader. She is an associate faculty member of Shalem and a graduate of theirLeading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats Program and leads spiritual and secular programs. Stephanie manages Shalem’s blog and is one of the social media coordinators for the Shalem Institute Facebook page.

Since “time,” or lack thereof, seems to be the nemesis of spiritual deepening, wrestling with it for another blog seemed like a good idea.

With our busy lives, and I hear people of all ages, stages, and locations talk about how busy they are. I often hear, “I felt so good when I was taking time to meditate, but then I just didn’t have time to keep it up.” Or “How do I find time to pray?”

I’ve asked myself these questions scores of times.

About 15 years ago I realized I was sick of hearing myself say I didn’t have time. I was tired of knowing I was a better me when I meditated and made space for the Spirit, but I often ran around my day without pause or time to deepen my spiritual practice. I didn’t have any empty pockets in my day.

I knew I wanted to change this, but I was so busy with young children, a full-time job, volunteering, a spouse, friends, family, a house, etc.!

I finally realized I needed to start the spiritual practice of saying, “no.” I needed to be proactive. So, I took it on like a spiritual discipline.

It was hard! How could I say no to volunteering with the county in the anti child abuse program? How could I say no to hosting Thanksgiving? How could I say no to being on that school committee?

It took years of practice and discipline, but I am finally able to (usually) take an opportunity into prayer and if the answer is no, I can now say no.

I don’t just say no to everything. It’s about discernment. I listen to what I’m called to do as opposed to doing something just because it is a good cause.

Saying no allows me to have quiet, empty places in my life, in my day, where I can sit with God.  It allows me to not just bowl through my to-do list, but savor moments and quench my thirst with the quiet.

How do you make space for the Spirit in your day? Do you yearn for it?

March 03, 2013 by Shalem Institute 4 Comments
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Linda MastroLinda Mastro

Thank you so much for the “empty pockets” metaphor. This image helps me understand the heaviness that accompanies overcomittment. Time to clean out some pockets…closets, drawers, book shelves…

judith schafman
11 years ago

I recall reading in a book by Robert Johnson, a wonderful Jungian analyst, as he spoke of the “creative no”, in relation to women’s individuation. He said that at some point the NO is a creative response to the myriad of needs coming at one from this world, and yes, to discern and discriminate, AND, to know that now is the time to make one’s own descent into the “underworld”, or, into one’s own interior Spirit leading the way. I love this sharing, as the creative no! is being said with great delight and firmness! Thank You!

Leah Rampy
Leah Rampy
11 years ago

Sometime saying “no” creates the room for a bigger “yes.”

Christine Jeffrey
Christine Jeffrey
11 years ago

Saying no can be difficult but if we take the time to listen, then we are able to hear what we are called to and answer no or yes with commitment rather than feeling we have added one more thing.


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