Every time I break bread with Shauna Niequist, I am struck again with the rare, warm wisdom of the woman. It’s like she has a magnetic heart with the realest laughter that immediately says: you are safe with me. In a world that seems to value efficiency, multi-tasking, and busyness, Shauna found herself exhausted and empty, yearning for another way of living—one marked by joy, rest, simplicity and solitude. Present Over Perfect is an account of her three year journey along that path. One thing she discovered is that instead of overlaying a new way of living onto an already overly full life, she had to dismantle a complicated, cluttered schedule and way of living, and there was one word that she began to see as a powerful change-maker along the way. A grace to welcome the gem that is Shauna to the farm’s front porch today…
The word that changed everything, of course, is No.
I’d been saying yes and yes and yes, indiscriminately, haphazardly, resentfully for years.
And I realized all at once that I’d spent all my yeses, and in order to find peace and health in my life, I needed to learn to say no.
People love it when you say yes, and they get used to it—they start to figure out who the people are who will always say yes, always come through, always make it happen.
If you are one of these people, it does cause a little freak-out when you begin saying no. People are not generally down with this right away. That’s okay.
You may know that yes is an important word for me.
Maybe you’ve seen my yes sweatshirt, my yes earrings, my yes tote bag, my yes tattoo. I’m not kidding about any of those things.
Yes matters to me on a deep level—saying a broad and brave yes to this beautiful world, to love and challenge and hard laughter and dancing and trying and failing. Yes is totally my jam.
But you can’t have yes without no.
Another way to say it: if you’re not careful with your yeses, you start to say no to some very important things without even realizing it.
In my rampant yes-yes-yes-ing, I said no, without intending to, to rest, to peace, to groundedness, to listening, to deep and slow connection, built over years instead of moments.
All my yeses brought me to a shallow way of living—an exhausting, frantic lifestyle that actually ended up having little resemblance to that deep, brave yes I was searching for.
And so if you, like me, have said too many yeses, and found that all that hopeful, exciting, wide-open intention has actually left you scraped raw and empty, the word that can change everything is no.
I know. I don’t like it either.
Yes is fun and sparkly and printed on tote bags. No? What if you saw someone wearing a sweatshirt that just said no? I do not want to sit next to that bundle of fun.
But no became the scalpel I wielded as I remade my life, slicing through the tender tissue of what needed to go and what I wanted to remain.
My mentor’s words rang in my ears: Stop. Right now. Remake your life from the inside out.
I don’t know a way to remake anything without first taking down the existing structures, and that’s what no does—it puts the brakes on your screaming-fast life and gives you a chance to stop and inspect just exactly what you’ve created for yourself, as difficult as that might be.
It was very difficult for me to learn to say no.
I did it badly, awkwardly, sometimes too forcefully, and sometimes with so many disclaimers and weird ancillary statements that people actually had no idea what I was saying.
I hovered endlessly after I said it—Was that okay? Are we okay? Because I love you—you know I love you, right? We’re okay?
But like anything you learn, it gets easier over time. You begin to build up muscle memory for what it feels like to say exactly what you feel, what you need, what your limitations are.
And a very interesting thing begins to happen: some people peer into your face with fascination—I want some of that, essentially, is what they’re saying. Your honesty and freedom is giving them the permission to be honest and free as well.
And some people are not down with this way of living at all. They’d prefer you continue over-functioning for their own purposes, thank you very much. Or they’re so wrapped up in their own hyper-functioning life that it’s a personal affront to their value system when you say something insane like, “I’m sorry, I can’t do that.”
Bless them. But don’t spend too much time with them.
Draw close to people who honor your no, who cheer you on for telling the truth, who value your growth more than they value their own needs getting met or their own pathologies celebrated.
Our little Cooking Club—my day-to-day lifeline best people—we’re cheering each other on along this journey, and it makes all the difference.
We talk every day, usually many times a day, and our constant refrain sounds like this: what can you lay down? How can we make this simpler? Are you getting enough rest? Can I take your kids for a couple hours?
Instead of competing for who’s busier or who’s more tired, who’s keeping more balls in the air, we’re constantly looking for ways to help each other’s lives get lighter, easier to carry, closer to the heart of what we love, less clogged with expectations and unnecessary tasks.
These women are like my training wheels as I learn this, keeping me upright as I wobble along, and I’m so thankful.
And don’t worry: no won’t always be the word you use most often.
I hate that for a season, no had to be the answer to almost everything.
But over time, when you rebuild a life that’s the right size and dimension and weight, full of the things you’re called to, emptied of the rest, then you do get to live some yes again.
But for a while, no is what gets you there.
Shauna Niequist is a bookworm, a beachbum, and a passionate gatherer of people, especially around the table. Present Over Perfect, her fifth book, is an invitation, a hand reaching out across the pages, calling out to each one of us who find ourselves drowning under the weight of our lives. In its pages, you’ll find a gentle friend, space to breathe, room to fail and get back up, and a vision for life grounded deeply in God’s unconditional love. This book is a keeper for years to come.
[ Our humble thanks to Zondervan for their partnership in today’s devotion ]