Spiritual Practices and the Art of Saying No

I’ve been thinking a lot about spiritual practices recently. I used to do traditional Mormon prayer, lengthy scripture study, and journaling, but those aren’t working for me in the way that they used to. The Project Zion podcast has a lot of discussion about the different spiritual practices that people in Community of Christ use, but the ones that have been most important to me are a little less obvious. I’m interested in activities that encourage me to reflect, prioritize, and feel connected to my own story.  It is this sense of connectedness that makes me feel like God is leading me toward self knowledge and wisdom. These spiritual practices give me a big-picture perspective that helps me to see my life and choices more clearly and to fear the unknown less.  The three that I am currently practicing are writing poetry (quality is not connected to spiritual benefit), reading tarot cards (for narrative reflection – I don’t believe in divination), and practicing saying no.

Practicing saying no has allowed me to reclaim my life and move me away from feeling obliged to be a martyr. It was one of my first steps to making my time and effort align with my priorities. In one semester, I said no to a handful of things I wanted to do, but didn’t fit into my life in the ways that were most meaningful to me. It wasn’t just a process of trimming extra things out, but a way of putting my own goals first and keeping the best things. I created time and reserved energy for what I wanted and in the process I let myself know that I mattered to me.

This week I said no to two good things. One worthy activity was running my family ragged and the sacrifice was not worth the benefit. The other was beyond my time and energy at present. Maybe someday I will return to one or both of those things, but they do not align with my top priorities right now.

My spiritual practices help me create meaning through my choices and that kind of deliberateness is important to me. I feel that God wants me to search for and find God with intention, to keep my efforts in line with my goals, which God has led me to discern.

Nancy Ross

Nancy Ross is an art history professor by day and a sociologist of religion by night. She lives in St. George, Utah with her husband and two daughters and co-hosts the Faith Transitions podcast.

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3 Responses

  1. Ziff says:

    I really like this, Nancy. It seems very much in keeping with the admonition in Mosiah 4 to not run faster than you have strength. But of course it’s very much out of line with typical Mormon culture, where everyone–especially women–is expected to say yes to everything. I’m happy to hear that being in the CoC has been so helpful in this area!

  2. Kirsten says:

    I think many Mormons- women in particular- have a tough time saying “no” when they really need to do so. We are told that we shouldn’t say no to callings when they are extended to us. Many feel they need to say yes to whatever is asked when things come up in one’s Ward: moving, cleaning, childcare, set-up/take-down, food prep etc. The sustaining of others and giving our time, talents, and all we have can imply we cannot say no. Learning to say no when I need to has saved me from emotional, spiritual, and physical stress. Saying no does not make you a bad person.

  3. MDearest says:

    Not saying no when you should decline can cause a lot of damage. I earnestly believed what was taught in my RS (and elsewhere, it was just more distilled in RS venues) lessons, that I should lose myself in sacrifice for the sake of my salvation and that of my family. It has resulted in disaster, and I am trying to override decades of this codependency training. The losses are devastating. I feel like I’m struggling to learn things I should have learned as a young adult. So I thank you sincerely for this lesson.

    It takes practice! Who knew?

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