I wrote to a colleague a day before a meeting. I had committed to do an optional project. I was reflecting on how I could squeeze the work in. I started typing. “I do have a new word for you,” I said. “No.”

We often offer each other new words. Prolegomenon. Anacrusis. Usually they are simply interesting. This one, “no”, mattered.

Later that day, I sat with a grieving woman, with a history of recent loss. Her attempts to offer comfort to other family members had been rebuffed. She had some reason for feeling hurt.

I wrote on my hand. “I have a word for you,” I said. I turned my palm toward her.

“No,” it said.

NoMy grieving friend and I had this in common. A little bit of the yeses we said, a certain percentage of the commitments we made, were about how they would make us feel. They would make us valuable, make us matter, make us helpful. At least how we thought that we would be viewed.

In truth, saying “no” helps form identity, allows us to spend more of ourselves for the things that we really want to say “yes” to.

It’s the Friday before Advent. The day before December. It’s a perfect time to reflect on what we might say “no” to. For a day, for a season, for a life.