Just say no.
Seriously, it’s the cheesiest slogan ever. But, for some reason, I still have a hard time actually doing it. I don’t mean that when my friends offer me pot (they don’t), I can’t say no. What I mean is, I am bad at saying no to things that seem like “the right thing” at the moment—but sometimes I need to. At times, my weakness is being nice.
I thought this principle only applied in the small things. If my friends ask me to help them move or go to their concert or baby-sit their kids, my first inclination is to say yes. Even if I have a prior commitment, I’ll feel really bad about being unable to be there for them. This is only a shadow of the downside of being called a “sweetie” by everyone you know.
Something I recently discovered about myself is that being nice can also mean being easy to manipulate. The Bible does require us to be compassionate and forgiving when wronged, something that may come easier for some personalities. However, sometimes in my niceness, I am bending over backward and allowing others to push me around. I had a friendship like this with a girl I grew up with.
We met in eighth grade and quickly became close friends. We even let each other read one another’s diaries once. (The joys of junior high!) Throughout high school we remained close; however, she would sometimes get mad at me and refuse to speak to me. At the time I usually didn’t know why; and to be honest, I still don’t.
The older we grew, the more dysfunctional things got. She made a lot of cutting comments and got mad at me for hanging out with someone or not calling her when she wanted. And I just let her. I thought I’d love her best by just saying encouraging things, spending time with her and being the best friend I knew how to be.
Most of the time these little tiffs lasted a few weeks, and then all of a sudden she’d start treating me like a best friend again. And I got used to the pattern.
It continued like this for a while, until it all came toppling down last summer. Life has a way of handing us a bunch of tough stuff all at once. For me, the previous year had been filled with post-college decisions, new jobs, moving, boy stuff, etc. Life had been rough for her, too; and through a series of complicated situations, she just started ignoring me—for three months. She wouldn’t even hang out with the same people as me if she knew I was going to be there. It was the most awkward social situation ever.
And for the first time, I was genuinely angry. Very angry. And this made me very uncomfortable. After all, I was used to being the nice one. But the truth is, in all that anger, I finally realized that my sweet personality could become unhealthy. For so long I had allowed her to tug on my heart to get me to do whatever she wanted. I had allowed her to hurt me over and over again without defending myself. Not only was it unhealthy for her, it was unhealthy for me.
Sometimes the best thing you can do for a person is to say no, to put your foot down, to stand up for yourself. It’s something I should have done a long time ago.
Throughout the process, God has helped me to understand that forgiving a person does not mean giving her permission to continue in the very thing you are forgiving her for. Before, I viewed forgiveness more like a polite excusing. But it is much more than that.
To be honest, the situation is probably only partly resolved. Forgiveness has been a process. And I don’t know if any situation is ever completely a closed book. After some advice from friends, I ended up writing her a letter—a letter I should have written a long time ago.
The struggle was still the same. The whole time I was asking myself, “But how do I say it nicely?” It wasn’t easy to figure out the balance. I can’t tell you how I found it—other than through prayer and the counsel of friends. But now I know that there is definitely a nice way to say no.