Learning to Say No

A hospitality ministry faces particular challenges, and one of them is people that try to take advantage of your generosity.  I have done it wrong, and now I’m learning to do it right.


I was contacted by a friend who is a missionary.  She had a friend traveling through Milan and asked hospitality for her friend.  It turned out that her friend was not a missionary—was not even a Christian.  The day before she arrived, the friend told me that she had a dog with her.

That was where I should have said no.  I didn’t want her to bring a dog that might pee on my parquet floors, bark all night, or chew up the couch cushions.  But I had already said yes to her, so I felt obligated to say yes to the dog, too.  She arrived and the dog was not a little travel bag dog.  It was a big, smelly dog.  Both were well-behaved and stayed only two nights.  But during their stay I had to turn away missionaries who were serving God and really needed a place, not just a free flophouse.  Saying yes to her meant saying no to those I am truly called to help.

This is just one example of a time when I should have said no.  As soon as I heard about the dog, I should have said no.  There are people who say no to almost every opportunity, and there are people who say yes.  I have always been a yes person.  Yes is born of faith, but sometimes it is also born of people-pleasing.  Recently I have learned the importance of saying no.

The Blessing of No

I was contacted recently through our website for a one night stay.  But as with many who contact me through the website, they were looking for lodging in Paris.  I told them that I don’t know of any guesthouses in Paris (the most difficult city in Europe for hospitality—second most difficult is Rome), and gave them a hospitality website that they could explore.  They have just recently contacted me again, saying that their plans had changed, and they were traveling to Rome and needed a night in Milan.  We got things all set up for their visit, then this morning they contacted me again, saying that they had forgotten to mention that they have nine children.  But they said that they travel with their own sleeping bags, and that the children are used to sleeping on the floor.

I started to write a response, saying that they need to enter and exit the building quietly, and that the children need to keep quiet in the apartment.  Then I realized that I was asking for the impossible from them.  I also realized that they had not forgotten to tell me.  Just like the dog, this was a deliberate deception, intended to secure a people-pleasing yes from me.

Deception was verified when I looked back over our correspondence and found where I had asked them specifically about how many were traveling and if there were children.  I had gotten no response to that question, then today—the day before their arrival—they wrote the “I forgot to tell you.”

I know it is going to be difficult and expensive for them to find accommodation for themselves and all those children, but that simply is not my problem.  It is a situation that they created for themselves when they “forgot” to answer my direct question.

Some people seem to love to argue.  I hate confrontation.  But confrontation, unpleasant as it is for some of us, is sometimes necessary.  In Italy argument is a sport.  After all, the word polemic (meaning controversy and discussion) comes from the Italian word polemica.

One time I was in a shop where I had been in line.  Just when I was next a crazy person walked in and started yelling at the clerk.  In the US, the clerk would have politely dismissed the crazy person and waited on the next person (me).  Instead, she tried reasoning with him.  When that didn’t work, she shouted back at him.  This went on for about ten minutes, then suddenly both tired of the argument and he left.

Another time I witnessed a shouting argument in which one person kept telling the other: “I don’t care!”  I was sure that Ms. I Don’t Care was going to win, having the stronger position.  But again, after about ten minutes both suddenly abandoned the argument, smiled, and shook hands.  It left me scratching my head, puzzled because nothing had changed.  Ms. I Don’t Care had just given up the fight.

I am learning that there is a time when it’s right to say yes and a time when it’s right to say no.  I don’t have to turn into an argumentative Italian, but I must abandon people-pleasing.  From now on, the only One I want to please is God, who taught me this important lesson.  God is good!

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