red berries

Saying no (to yourself)

As you start this week, may you be willing to give something up. And may you be willing to give it up with no expectation of return, other than maturity, wisdom, and a heightened sense of who you are.

(If you can’t tell, I’m pretty much writing this to myself.)

Some of you reading this are Christians, like me, and so you know that this Wednesday marks the start of Lent, the season where we historically practice the art of sacrifice for the sake of soul strengthening. But even if you aren’t a Christian, there’s something of value for you in this act as well, because—well, to put it simply… it’s often good that we don’t always get what we want.

As an adult who walks this earth, and as someone who probably lives a rather everyday life (no servants to answer your door, in other words), you probably have countless opportunities to do without. Chocolate, Facebook, sleeping in, extra purchases of whatever… they’re there, all the time.

Our wisdom helps us dictate throughout our days what we should say yes or no to—it’s a hallmark of adulthood, in fact, this ability to say “no” when our flesh wants to say yes. It’s not easy.

Saying no is about quieting ourselves so that we can hear who we really are. -Tsh Oxenreider

And it’s not about holiness, even, or about proving ourselves a worthwhile person who’s better than our neighbor chowing down on junk food. It’s about quieting our soul so that we can hear who we really are. It’s about nitty-gritty, down to earth reflection.

This benediction today isn’t about Lent. it’s not asking you to partake of a ritual or a practice beyond what you’re called to—it’s a simple reminder, a call to action, that life isn’t always about our immediate gratification, and that this week, you can choose to remind yourself of this through a simple “no.”

Think about your default indulgences, the rituals in your life you save for your escape hatch…is there something there you might need to set aside for a short period of time in order to strengthen your soul? Could you benefit from a brief hiatus from that (fill in the blank) in your life?

I know I have one, so this week, I’m going to start the simple practice of saying “no” to that thing so that I have room to listen, to grow, to learn, and to mature by denying a small thing in my life. I’m curious to find out what I’ll learn from this centuries-long practice of temporary self-deprivation for the betterment of my spirit. I hope God’s voice becomes clearer.

What’s been your experience in saying “no” to yourself so that you say yes to maturity?

Tsh Oxenreider

Tsh is the founder of this blog and just finished traveling around the world with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

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  1. Liisa R says:

    I don’t do this often enough, but I have noticed that when I do, once the initial shock wears off, it really isn’t as big of a deal as I thought it would be! In fact, a lot of times I will be dreaming of, say, coffee for the time I have decided to give it up. It will haunt me, but then when I actually have a cup again it isn’t as amazing as I had made it out to be. Yummy, to be sure, but not necessary and not worth all the mental energy I had wasted on it!

    • That happened to me when I did a Whole 30 last year – the first few weeks were excruciating, but then it ended up no big deal.

  2. I’ve given up spending on several occasions for a month or week at a time. I find that I become far more mindful of how shopping can be a replacement for other things. Boredom, loneliness, the need to create… it’s easy to spend money instead of feeding the real hunger.

  3. Lent has become one of the key milestones in this Baptist girl’s walk with the Lord. I look forward to it every year. This year I’ve been struggling with if there was something I needed to “give up”, and God didn’t seem to be leading one way or the other. I know that I will read with the Common Book of Prayer’s Lenten readings, I really like the idea of studying the same thing thousands of other Christian’s around the world are studying – but other than that I was blank. But, I’m reading your “Blue Bike” book (and loving it by the way!) and God has nudged me all the way through of my excess in things. Stuff. I am not a shopper, and most people would probably no look at our lives and think we are overcome with stuff, but my soul feels like it. So, for Lent this year I will get rid of things every day. I will intentionally subtract something of excess in our lives, and intentionally NOT add anything else that is unnecessary. I will be saying “no” to myself every day. Thank you for the encouragement in this blog post and in your book! This got a lot longer than I intended it to….

  4. Popcorn. Not even the microwave or oil popped kind. Air popped. It may not sound like something that would take immense will-power to avoid, but when you have developed the habit of eating it every day and sometimes even twice a day, it is surprisingly difficult. I would have no issue giving up chocolate or coffee or shopping. For me, it’s crunchy, buttery, salty goodness. I’ve simply been waiting for the perfect timing to motivate me. I think this is it.

  5. What I’ve noticed is that at the end of it all, that thing I gave up turns out to be not so important and is usually something I can almost always do without.

  6. Let’s be real with ourselves and truly evaluate what will make us a more contemplative, stronger more disciplined person. Sometimes we aim for the all too easy way out. Remembering the goal is not to agonize over what we don’t have, but to move toward what we are replacing it with, something more meaningful and healthy for ourselves. Thanks Tsh for the post, for us Christians it is a reflective time and you did well to also include even those who may have yet to meet Jesus.

  7. I gave up Facebook…for good. It’s been a few weeks now and the freedom I feel (and extra time to be quiet and reflective) is extraordinary. I’m now more aware of other things that are distractions from God’s voice and His calling, and I will be gradually giving those up as well. It’s all about freedom to BE and abide in Him. It’s nothing short of awesome! Thanks for this great reminder, Tsh 🙂

  8. Thank you for this reminder that denying things in your life can build character!

    Too often we expect things instantaneously and forget the reward of waiting for something, or even the reward of saying no to something. I really appreciate your post encouraging your readers to take a hiatus from something in order to make room for personal/spiritual growth.

  9. I started observing Lent seven years ago when teaching at an Episcopal school in the predominately Catholic and Cajun southern Louisiana. It has enriched my life tremendously.

    One of my favorite things we did as a school was to pack away the word “hallelujah,” waiting to bring it out again at Easter time. Each class made a hallelujah poster, and as we put them away, we sang hallelujah until just a few voices were left. When Easter came, we reversed the process until the chapel was truly ringing. It was a beautiful way for me to experience the quiet, contemplative time Lent is and to celebrate Easter’s coming.

    Blessings to you in this season.

  10. I love spring! While I certainly enjoy the over indulgence of the fall and winter holidays, spring seems to be a purifying and reflective time. It is about simplifying: cleaning out the home, the heart, and the mind. I had never thought of the Lent sacrifice as a way to truly examine who we are by giving up a thing that we substitute for feeling. A thing that may get in the way of self reflection. In fact, I had never partaken in a Lent sacrifice, but with clarity of thought and heart in mind, perhaps I will this year.

  11. I always think of observing Lent through “going without” as a Catholic practice…and since I’m a Christian but not Catholic, I don’t think I’ve ever done it. But you make such a good point…that this is a time that we can remember it’s good to go without something, but that it doesn’t have to be for the ritualistic practice. It’s simply good for our well-being and ultimately will strengthen our relationship with Jesus. Thanks Tsh!

  12. I saw something on facebook today that was great – 20 things to give up for Lent. A very nice twist on how to change for the good. I loved it. Here’s the link to my facebook page, where I shared it. Check it out, if you’d like. I’m going to focus on one of these starting tomorrow. 🙂

  13. Funny how things are. I was just reading about Lent on the internet, it’s meaning and rituals (after spending a ‘mardi gras’ eating crêpes, keeping the french tradition), and the food deprivation that follows (at least the day after and the holy friday), when I came to read your blog.

    I confess I had a secret wish you’d write about it. Thank you for the reminder, focusing the soul and it’s ‘cleansing’ too!

  14. Thanks for sharing about Lent, Tsh. I haven’t given anything up in a long time, but have been thinking about it this year.

    Also, because of Sarah’s comment I’m craving popcorn. 😉

  15. Every Lent I give up something that seems impossible to give up–and it turns out to be easy.
    I had gotten in a daily ice cream habit. Even though it was “half the fat” ice cream, this is not a good habit for someone who is trying to lose weight. So this year, I gave up ice cream for Lent. Knowing that I can’t have it, I look around for alternatives like fruit or a frozen banana. It almost feels TOO easy!
    The other thing I’m doing for Lent is participating in my church’s Journey to Jerusalem. I walk every day while reflecting on a Bible quote and reading about Jesus’ journeys. We record our mileage as a group and try to get from here to Jerusalem. We’re exercising physically while growing spiritually.

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