What to Do When You’re Told “No”

Some women make your heart breathe a sigh of relief. My Word-sister Holley Gerth, who loves words, baked goods and connecting with the hearts of women, does just that for me in the deep places. She does so as a best-selling author, life coach, and encouraging blogger. Holley makes her home in the South with her husband, Mark, and she’d have you over for coffee anytime. A grace for us all to share coffee with her today on the farm’s front porch…


We live in a world of words.

Yet out of millions of syllables and sentences two little letters seem to hold the most power: “no.”

We fear no.

We avoid it.

We misunderstand it.







But being able to say and hear “no” are essential to surviving and thriving, to loving and being loved, to following Jesus.

Our living Word actually said the word “no” a surprising amount. Usually to what looked like excellent opportunities on the surface…

“No” to becoming King. {John 6:15}

“No” to offers of instant satisfaction, wealth and power. {Matthew 4:1-11}

“No” to coming right away when Lazarus became deathly ill. {John 11}

It’s the last one that causes me to pause most. The other two seem like simple spiritual choices. But the third?

Someone Jesus loved was dying. Yet he said “no” when asked to come immediately and instead waited two more days.

When He made that choice —  it hurt the hearts of Mary and Martha.

“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”{John 11:21}.

When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” {John 11:32}

Two friends Jesus deeply cared about were essentially saying to him, “If you had said ‘yes’ then we would not be hurting and disappointed right now.” Jesus felt the pain of that “no” in his humanity.

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. {John 11:33}

Saying “no” hurts—even when it’s God’s will. Especially when we have to say it to people we love and then watch pain that might have been prevented enter their lives because of it.

It’s remarkable to see how Mary and Martha responded in this incredibly difficult situation. They wondered why Jesus didn’t make a different decision, they shared their disappointment, they showed their grief.

Yet they did something wildly courageous too: they received the “no” without turning against the one who said it.

We wrestle with the same as believers in God and friends to each other: Can we hear “no” and still believe we’re loved? Can we reply with grace in the middle of our desire to have a different answer?

Real friends love your “no” as much as they love your “yes.”

Mary and Martha received a “no” when they wanted Jesus to come right away. But that “no” led to the resurrection of Lazarus—a miracle beyond what they could have imagined when they first asked Jesus to come.

I wonder if Mary, Martha, Lazarus and Jesus embraced and wept again when they were reunited. But this time the tears would not have been from sorrow.

Instead the tears would be the kind we shed when we see how God can transform even a painful “no” into a glorious “YES!”

It’s a divine mystery: When we say and hear “no” freely, we give God room to work, to amaze us, to give us back to each other again.

And even when love says “no” along the way, it always leads us to a greater “yes” in the end.

To the relief that, really?

We’re going to be okay.




With her trademark positive encouragement and probing questions for self-reflection, Holley encourages women to spend less of their lives regretting and more of their lives truly living. She shows them how to guard their hearts against despair and look to the future with confidence, remembering that they are part of a greater plan and nothing can stop God’s purposes for them. 

Refreshing, reviving — life re-making. On my nightstand right now — and breathing courage and joy into the days. You’re Going to Be Okay: Encouraging Truth Your Heart Needs to Hear, Especially on the Hard Days. This book is fresh hope for every woman.