Focus on the Family Broadcast

Learning to Say No

Learning to Say No

Pastor Kevin Harney offers practical guidance for simplifying your life and maintaining a healthy margin in your busy schedule by focusing your energy on your highest priorities and saying 'no' to those of lesser importance.
Original Air Date: September 3, 2021


Kevin Harney: Sometimes the most loving thing you can do is say no so you can say yes to the right things and unleash that peace and that joy that comes from a balanced, healthy life.

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John Fuller: Kevin Harney joins us today on Focus on the Family, and your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller.

Jim Daly: I don’t know about you, John, but my life is busy. Is yours?

John: Uh, somewhat, yes, (laughing) never a dull moment.

Jim: Our world is fast-paced and, keeping up, uh, it takes constant effort just to stay on top of it all with work and family and errands and other obligations. I’m sure people in the audience are going, “Yep, yep, yep. Check, check, check.” You know, finding margin can be a challenge, but it is crucial to do so. Jesus did it, of course. Um, in Matthew 11:28, Jesus tells us, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” What a wonderful promise that is and, today, we want to give you, uh, some tools to help you simplify your life by cutting out distractions and making wise choices. Who wants to do that? I see your hands (laughing).

Kevin: Yeah.

John: Sign me up. Well, as I said, we have Kevin Harney with us. Uh, he’s the founder of Organic Outreach International and also serves as the lead pastor at Shoreline Church in Monterey, California. He’s married to Sherry. They have three married sons, three grandchildren, and Kevin, uh, sounds busy and is (laughing). Yeah, he’s learned, though, how to prioritize the important things and he’s captured his insights in this book, No is a Beautiful Word: Hope and Help for the Overcommitted and (Occasionally) Exhausted. Look for your copy online at or call 800-A-FAMILY.

Jim: Kevin, welcome back to Focus.

Kevin: It’s a joy to be back here with both of you and the whole team. You have an amazing team.

Jim: I, I believe you’re right. I, I do believe we have a great team. Now I’m so glad, uh, you didn’t say no to being with us, (laughing) so that’s good. I guess margin was there for you flying out from California to say hi to us (laughs).

Kevin: I have some automatic no’s, but, but you guys are not one of them.

Jim: Now the problem is no is such a hard word for us, especially in the Christian community. Um, how do we use it effectively?

Kevin: Yeah, great question, and I think that, because we worship a savior who’s compassionate, who’s loving, um, who, you know, when we say amen, so be it, so often He says, “I love you, I’m going to …” you know, God provides, He, He protects, and yet we’re not, uh, all-powerful. We’re not all-knowing. We, we can’t do everything.

Jim: Yeah.

Kevin: We’re bound by time and bound by space and bound by schedules, and especially those who have families. On- once you have a family, your schedule just fills up in ways you never dreamed it would before. My-

Jim: That’s so true-

Kevin: Yeah, yeah.

Jim: … and it doesn’t necessarily get easier as they get older (laughs).

Kevin: My oldest son and his wife just had their first child, uh, little Cal…he’s only nine weeks old and their life has changed (laughing). And so, so just this process of saying no to certain things so you can say yes to the right things has really become a new part of their lives.

John: Mm-hmm.

Jim: Now balancing this, I mean, this is something you learn over years. Um, I feel like I’ve done a lot better job … the older I get, I’m better at saying no, so I don’t know if that’s wisdom or just disgruntlement (laughing). Hopefully, it’s wisdom (laughing).

Kevin: A combination…weariness (laughing).

Jim: But balancing those priorities really, uh, came into play for you as a dad. I think you had something called Dad Home Night-

Kevin: Yeah.

Jim: … and what happened?

Kevin: Well, when we moved into our neighborhood that we lived in in west Michigan, uh, we had 11 boys under 11 years old the day we moved in, and not us, but the neighborhood, the cul-de-sac, and other kids in the surrounding area. And when I’d go out and hang out with my boys, it would become an immediate neighborhood game time and I love, I love to play. I’m just … I love to have fun with my boys, and this is when they were little, I’d go out, and, at one point, my youngest son said, he said, “Dad, um, could we ever play with just you (laughs)?” And I thought, I thought, “Nate, what a great …” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Because every time we come out, the whole neighborhood comes.” And I said, “You know what?” I said, “We’re going to have times where it’s kind of dad-son playtime,” and so I told the neighborhood kids, uh, “Hey, sometimes when you come over here, it’s going to be the dad-son playtime, sometimes it’s going to be neighborhood playtime so, uh, and so when I say it’s dad-son playtime, you got to go away (laughing).” And here was the amazing thing, they understood.

Jim: Yeah.

John: Mm-hmm.

Jim: Oh, they went home and said to their dads, “Hey, Dad, when are we going to have our playtime?”

Kevin: (laughs). Can, can we have … they might have, but what they understood was … so then they’d run over and they’d say, “Hey, is it your playtime with your boys or is it playtime for the neighborhood?” And I’d say, “It’s going to be playtime with my boys,” and they’d say, “Well, when’s our turn?” And I’d say, “An hour and a half,” or I’d say, “Tomorrow.” And that simple no transformed my relationship with my boys ’cause they realized that, uh, I was saying no to the neighborhood to say yes to them. And then we also had nights where it, where I committed to be home, come home from work and not go back to work again.

Jim: Yeah.

Kevin: And that was a whole nother realm of-

Jim: Yeah.

Kevin: … saying no to my work so that I could say yes to my boys.

Jim: Kevin, it’s interesting ’cause what you’re, what you’re tapping into is an example of prioritization-

Kevin: Yes.

Jim: … and it’s so hard for us to do that at times.

Kevin: Yeah, yeah.

Jim: Uh, you know, when you look at that, how do you prioritize what’s your inner circle, what’s your next ring, what’s your ring after that?

Kevin: Yeah.

Jim: How did you do that and what were they?

Kevin: Yeah. Yeah. And I think that, that for followers of Jesus, we start with the scriptures and, and my boys have always known that my walk with Jesus and my commitment to Him is actually more important to me, uh, it sounds strange, than either their mom, my wife, or them. And then they also know that my relationship with my wife is more important to me, not, not maybe more important, but I, I told my boys-

Jim: Prioritize.

Kevin: … I, I told my boys, “Don’t you ever try to get between me and your mom ’cause I’ve known her longer than I’ve known you-”

Jim: And I’ll know her longer, (laughing) for a lot longer. I’ll have to live with her a lot longer.

Kevin: (laughs). Uh, uh, exac-, there’s, there’s that too (laughing) and, uh, and we, we just, just celebrated 38 years of marriage.

Jim: How wonderful.

Kevin: And so, uh, and so they, they get that picture. Uh, but, yeah, so just establishing and saying, “Okay, my, my faith is going to be …” And, so often, when we don’t say no, it’s our faith, our time with Jesus, the, the thing that gets bumped off the plate and kind of disappears, then family and, you know, pe- people say those things, fa-, you know, faith and then family and then work, but, but oftentimes you don’t live it out unless you establish those boundaries.

Jim: Well, and that was the reason for the question because that was a very-

Kevin: Yeah.

Jim: … practical example of doing that, saying no to the neighborhood-

Kevin: Yeah.

Jim: … boys so you can have, you know, unique time with your own kids.

Kevin: Yeah.

Jim: And I, I think that’s a great example.

Kevin: Yeah.

Jim: You compare our schedules to a buffet line.

Kevin: Yeah.

Jim: Okay, you got my attention (laughing).

Kevin: Okay, yeah. Y-, y-, y-, you’re in, you’re in. So, so, you, you, you walk down, uh, the, the buffet line, and they maybe aren’t as popular as they used to be, but when I was growing up, that was a big thing for the family to go to a buffet because you could get whatever you wanted-

Jim: Right.

Kevin: … and they had all kinds of options. So you start walking down, you kind … “Well, this looks nice and how about that and how about that?” But the problem is, you get halfway down the line and you go, “Oh, I’m out of space,” and then you’re either taking things off, which is kind of rude on the buffet to put something down to gra-, you know-

Jim: Yeah, you don’t do that.

Kevin: … and so, so the, the, the, the visual is this, if your life is like a plate and, with your work and with your faith, with your family, with your free time, your personal hobbies, whatever it is, at some point, the plate gets full and then, if you slide something onto the plate, if it’s truly full, something falls off. It’s just the science of it. It’s, it’s, it’s the mathematics. There’s no space left, so everything you slide on, something falls off. What I began to discover in my life and the people I was watching is that people who couldn’t say no kept sliding new things on and not intentionally taking off something less important, so what would happen is more important things would fall off the back of the plate, usually the kids, the marriage, personal health, time with Jesus, and all of a sudden, we’re saying yes to things and we’re accidentally saying no. I tell people, “You say no all the time.” Even the people that say, “I could never say … I can’t say no.” So is your life full? “Yeah.” Is your plate full? “Yeah.” Then you’re saying no all the time ’cause, every time you slip something new on the plate, something’s falling off. Yeah.

Jim: It, it sounds like intentionality.

Kevin: Yes. Yeah.

Jim: I mean, that’s another way to describe that.

Kevin: Yeah.

Jim: You have to be intentional about what you put on your plate.

Kevin: Yeah. Yeah.

Jim: Yeah, pudding was always the thing at the buffet line (laughing). You just keep piling the pudding on there.

John: That’s why they have separate little bowls for that (laughing).

Kevin: You, you, you are, you lo-, you love your puns, don’t you? Put on your plate, he goes to pudding (laughing). I like how you find words.

Jim: Pudding. Um, you say, in the book, every yes is a no-

Kevin: Yeah.

Jim: … and every no is a yes.

Kevin: Yeah.

Jim: I like that, I get it-

Kevin: Yeah.

Jim: … but describe it in more detail.

Kevin: Yeah. It’s really, it’s really revolutionary and when I, when I … and I was sharing this with people for years before I wrote the book because I was just trying to learn how to balance my life and, and with all the things that I do and love, um, I had to, I had to balance it out. And so I began to look and realize that, when your plate is full … and so when I explain to people, when your plate is full, when you say yes to something new, say, “Yeah, yeah, I can jump into that, uh, men’s, uh, softball league and then, then I’m saying no to my, going to my daughter’s recital.” If I say yes to this new commitment, I’m saying no to something, and so the opposite is true. If I want to really intentionally give guidance and, and boundaries to my life, I, and I say yes to something … I know right now saying yes to coming and being with you two gentlemen and with your audience, to I said no to some things back in Monterey. That’s just how life works. So I actually stop and think about those things. I had somebody ask me one time to do something and I said, “Well,” I said, “my plate is full. Give me two or three days and see if I can remove a few things to make room to do that.”

Jim: Yeah.

Kevin: And he laughed. He goes, “Well, (laughs) what you mean?” I said, I said, “No, that’s …” I said, “I can’t say yes to you unless I …” I said, “If I say yes to you, I’m going to remove something from my life. I have to decide what it is and if I can do that and if what you’re asking me to do is worth it.” He goes, “Wow, I’d never …” And so, so then we ended up … I ended up saying yes to it. I told him the things I removed, this is later in the conversation, and he said to me, kind of interpersonally, he said, “Can you walk me through this? I, my life is really full and I’ve never thought about intentional yeses, intentional no’s, to keep my life balanced.” He said, “I …” And, and the book wasn’t written at this time, uh, but it was being formed in my heart and my mind. And that, that’s the idea, when you say yes to something, you’re going to be saying no to something else, but when you say no to something, you can say yes to something even better.

Jim: Yeah.

Kevin: It’s just deciding.

Jim: Kevin, some people listening might not understand that because they don’t perceive themselves to be, you know, their plate is full.

Kevin: Yeah.

Jim: They, you know … “I’ve got recreational time.”

Kevin: Yeah.

Jim: “I have space for my family.”

Kevin: Yeah.

Jim: Uh, but, you know, kind of describe that discussion with your friend because even those people may not be realizing that, if you have downtime, that’s-

Kevin: Yeah.

Jim: … that’s part of what’s on your plate-

Kevin: Yeah. Yeah.

Jim: … and if you squeeze other things in, then you-

Kevin: Yeah.

Jim: … probably begin to eliminate some of that downtime. So I’m just not so sure everyone is as aware as you-

Kevin: Yeah. Yeah.

Jim: … were of what their inventory is.

Kevin: Yeah. Yeah, and one of the things that … the world has changed in, in the last, you know, probably five to eight years. It’s all, the world’s always changing, but with kind of the accessibility of on-demand video and, and, and shows and TV, pe- … I’m finding people’s schedules are getting more and more filled with things that probably aren’t that important, you know, pe- people binge watching this show, this show.

Jim: Right, screen time.

Kevin: Screen time. And so I’m finding that most people actually have a sense of feeling like they’re pretty busy, but when I say to them, “Busy doing what?”

Jim: Right. That’s the next question.

Kevin: You know, that, that’s the question-

Jim: Yeah.

Kevin: … and so, so people don’t often stop and look … and, and I would say, for your listeners, it’s not a hard process to stop and say, okay, even if you don’t keep a written schedule, say, “Okay, what did I do yesterday? What did I do the day before? What filled my time? And are the things that are filling my time the most, the things I really want to be saying yes to?” You know, the, the thing about the way media works now is, when is show is done, it pops up and says, “By the way, here’s the next show, you ought to watch this, let’s keep on going.”

Jim: Right (laughs).

Kevin: And it’s boom, boom, boom, and there’s a point where you got to say no, or even in advance, say, you know, maybe there’s a show a family enjoys, we’re going to watch one show, then we’re going to turn the TV off. It’s, it’s all these decisions and it’s, again, it’s saying, usually, it’s saying, no, no, no, no, so I can say yes, yes, yes.

Jim: And you’re describing something that can be difficult for people, it’s called discipline (laughs)-

Kevin: Yeah. Yeah.

Jim: … you know. So if you’re saying, “I’m going to allot myself and hour,” fill in the number, I don’t want to-

Kevin: Yeah.

Jim: … offend anybody, two hours-

Kevin: Yeah.

Jim: … of watching the news or whatever it might be-

Kevin: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Jim: … and then, you know, a half hour of doing, uh, my morning devotion-

Kevin: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Jim: … or praying with my spouse, whatever it might be.

Kevin: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Jim: Uh, uh, ha-, do you, are you a fan of allocating and regimenting yourself to that kind of discipline?

Kevin: Yeah. I think the, the, the more you do it, the more intentional you are, the less it feels regimented, the more feels it like life. You could feel like you could actually … you can breathe.

Jim: It’s just the way you do your day.

Kevin: Yeah, it’s just the way you do your day and so, uh, you know, when you say no to certain things … here’s what I find most people do. They go, “Oh, if I say no to that, I’m going to feel guilty or I’m going to feel bad or I’m going to miss it so much,” but when they start to say no to certain things that are just time fillers, there’s almost sort of like this, “Oh, wow, I got, I got room,” and they begin to slow down and spend time with people they love or spend time doing something that’s more meaningful and, all of a sudden, their, their life becomes more rich. And so people are afraid to say no, but once they learn to do it, it, it is incredibly freeing.

Jim: Well, and that leads to the other question, the power of saying no, and what, how have you, uh, won at this within your own family? Do you have an example or two?

Kevin: Oh, yeah. I mean, one of my, one, uh, uh, uh, a life-changing moment for me was when we were away actually in Colorado, uh, with our boys on a little ski trip. Uh, they were probably maybe seven … uh, they were probably maybe six, eight, and 10, something like that. Um, if my wife was here, she’d tell you exactly how old and-

Jim: Yeah, exactly.

Kevin: … she’d be right and I … but I say, I estimate.

Jim: Yeah.

Kevin: Uh, and so, uh, while we were away, I brought some work with me, which I shouldn’t have done. I should’ve said no to it, but I brought some work and I was working on it. I went to my wife and I actually said, you know, “I was reading this thing and it wa-, this, this pastor was talking about how he blocks out three nights a week where he just doesn’t go back to work. He makes sure that he’s, you know … ’cause they had like Sunday night services and they had Wednesday night family nights, but there’s three nights a week he would come home and not go back to work.” And I said to her, you know, “If I am not careful, I could end up going back to work every night or working at home every night,” and my wife very graciously said, “You do,” and I didn’t know it. And so I very maturely said, “No, I don’t,” and, uh, (laughing) she said, she said, “I think you do,” and very graciously.

Jim: Did not (laughing).

Kevin: Yeah. Well, then that, that was … and, Jim, that was my re-, I wa-, I, I turned into, I turned into a seven-year-old (laughing) and so I said, I said, “I’m going to get my, my schedule and show you.” And I got my schedule and I had to turn back three weeks to find one night I hadn’t brought work home or gone back to the office and it broke my heart-

Jim: Yeah.

Kevin: … uh, uh, ’cause I had promised I would not become that kind of pastor or that kind of dad. And so I actually said to my boys and to my wife, I made a commitment, and to my congregation, I shared it with them, “Three nights a week, I’m going to go home and I’m not going to go back to the church, I’m not going to do church work.” My congregational members were … they said, “We, we agree. We, we don’t want you to work seven days a week.” They weren’t asking that of me. But here was the fun part. First night I come home, I walk in and my son Nate, my youngest son, jumps on my back, “Dad, you’re not going back to work. You’re going to play with us the whole night,” and I said, “I am, buddy,” and we had a great night. That happened like three or four times in a row, then about the fifth or sixth time I come home on a Dad Home Night, I, I wait for Nate to jump on my back, he, he’s not there. And I, I, I looked up on the … he was always standing on the washing machine. I said, I said, “Sherry, where’s Nate?” She said, “Oh, he’s playing with DJ.” I said, “Where’s Josh?” “Oh, he’s playing with their friend.” “Where’s Zach?” “He’s off with a friend.” I said, “Don’t they know it’s a Dad Home Night?” And she said, “Oh, they said you’re always here.” Right?

Jim: So totally 180.

Kevin: God redeemed it, right-

Jim: Yeah.

Kevin: … because I just made those decisions. So, so and, and I can tell you something, from that point on in our family life, I kept that rhy-, that kind of that rhythm and, my boys, they love the church. They’re not bitter towards the church for taking their dad away.

Jim: Wow. So many pastors need to hear that-

Kevin: I know. I know.

Jim: … and so many professionals, I mean, same thing.

Kevin: Yeah. Yeah.

John: Yeah.

Jim: Um, Kevin, let me ask you, are all no’s the same and what does the menu of no’s look like?

Kevin: Yeah. Yeah, so in the book, one of the fun things about this book is that, uh, because I was just doing it for myself, some of the chapters are a paragraph long, some or three or four paragraphs, (laughing) some of the chapters are two or three pages. The, the longest chapter is three pages long. It’s 68 chapters long, (laughing) but you can read a chapter … one chapter, you can read in about, about 24 seconds and then you could be like, “I rea-, I finished a chapter (laughing).” You feel really good about yourself.

Jim: You are a high achiever.

Kevin: Exactly, exactly (laughing). And so, so, but, but one of things is, uh, a section, it’s called Know Your No’s and I go through all these different kinds of no’s and they’re very different. I have a nuclear no, it’s one I call, “No, never, I’m offended you asked me, don’t ever ask me again.” That’s my nuclear no. If somebody comes to me and asks me to do something immoral or illegal, I don’t say, “Oh, no, thanks.” I need to find the right words to say, “You know what? That’s not who I am and you don’t ever have to ask me that again because that’s against my character, against my faith, you know.”

Jim: That’s a good parenting tool-

Kevin: Yeah. Oh, yeah, and-

Jim: … teach your kids nuclear no.

Kevin: Yeah, and there’s times where … and, and I have, and I have and … but then there’s sometimes there’s a no where somebody asks to do something and you go, “You know what? I’m not the best person for … no, but I know a guy, no, but I know a woman who could help you with that,” so that I have a no that’s, “No, but I know someone,” and you pass of the no, you know, the, the opportunity to someone else. There’s, there’s the no, but maybe another time and you keep the door open. There’s all kinds of ways to say no and, once you learn them and you have a menu, then when a situation comes, you go, “Okay, which of the no’s am I going to use?” And, and I find, in most ci- circumstances, you can find two or three or four, and I tell people, “Make up your own no’s,” and then I tell them, “Know your no’s,” and then I tell them, “Pick your no’s (laughing) and pick them wisely.”

Jim: N-O apostrophe S.

Kevin: Know your, know your no’s, (laughing) and then choose or pick your no’s, and then don’t feel bad when you, when you say no because you’re saying yes to something better.

John: I love the balance that you’re bringing to this topic.

Kevin: Yeah. Yeah.

John: Uh, Kevin Harney is our guest on Focus on the Family. We’re talking about his book, No is a Beautiful Word and, uh, I hope you’ll contact us to get your copy. Uh, we’re at or call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.

Jim: Kevin, let me come back to that nuclear no. It may not be in that category, but something happened for you in, in that way at 13.

Kevin: Yeah.

Jim: What decision was that? And I think this is a great parenting example.

Kevin: Yeah, yeah, and this is one that’s become an automatic no, uh, I don’t ever consider saying yes to this one, uh, and so let me tell you what happened. At 13, uh, my dad’s mom sat me down, my granny, and I, and I loved my granny. She was one of the, in an extended family of over 100 people, one of the only Christians in my whole kind of atheistic, agnostic family, and she sat me down and she said, “Kevin, your dad, my son Terry, is an alcoholic and he’s,” she said, “he’s very functional. He’s got a very … he’s very successful at what he does,” but she says, “He’s controlled by alcohol.” She said, “My first husband, his dad, uh, died in a gutter as a drunk. His father, his,” she gave me the family history, “and his father and his father.” And she looked at me with, with tears in her eyes, and she said, “Don’t be the next generation of men in this family who is controlled by alcohol. Will you promise me you’ll never drink?” And I said, “I, it’s too late. I’ve already …” that I was already, uh, drinking and already smoking marijuana, and, uh, I said, “But I promise I’ll never do it again.” And, and so, from that day, I have never, at a wedding, a toast with champagne, not even a sip, I just made the decision … and I made the decision that that, that is an automatic, absolute no for me.

Jim: Uh, Kevin, let me talk to you about a parenting tool that I’ve actually, uh, expressed in some of the books I’ve written-

Kevin: Yeah.

Jim: … A Good Dad and, and other resources, many of us, as parents, we want to try to say yes to our kids-

Kevin: Yeah.

Jim: … more than we say no-

Kevin: Yeah.

Jim: … ’cause we can get into a rhythm of saying no to our-

Kevin: Yeah.

Jim: … kids. And I just wanted to offer you that opportunity to differentiate-

Kevin: Yeah.

Jim: … between kind of the scheduling no-

Kevin: Yeah. Yeah.

Jim: … where you get overcommitted, your plate is full-

Kevin: Yeah. Yeah.

Jim: … and how, in parenting, the yes/no decisions-

Kevin: Yeah.

Jim: … that you make. Uh, fill me in on that.

Kevin: Yeah. So I talk about saying no to the no monster, don’t become the no monster, don’t become that parent that says no to everything, that, that’s so kind of controlling and over cautious. So Sherry and I, when our boys were young, we agreed that we would say yes as often as we could so we could bank away those no’s that we really need to speak.

Jim: It’s a great strategy.

Kevin: Yeah, yeah, and so, so one of our boys came to us and said, uh, said, “I don’t like my bed. I just want to have a mattress on the floor. And I don’t like wearing, (laughing) I don’t like wearing a, a sleeping suit with a little pocket, like-”

Jim: Sleeping suit (laughs).

Kevin: “… pajamas, yeah, I don’t like wearing pajamas. Could I just sleep on a mattress on the floor with a blanket and just like some boxer shorts or shorts of something?” And, and so Sherry and I had a conv- … I said, “Sherry,” ’cause Sherry’s a little bit more, uh … she grew up in a little bit more structured home than I did and I said, I said, “Honey, this is a yes. This is not a big deal (laughing).” And I said, “We don’t have rodents on the floor. It’s not unclean, you know (laughs).” And so we said yes and, within, within a few months, all three of our boys were on, in, in mattresses on the floor and they thought that was kind of cool and, and, and so we stored away the, the, you know-

Jim: The wood frames and all that.

Kevin: … the wood frames, right? And … but, but it was one of those things where, when we did say no, they knew we meant it, but they knew we would try to say yes anytime … ’cause one of my boys came to me and said, “Dad, could we build a ramp off the end of this little dock into this little pond and ride bikes into the pond (laughing)?” And I said, went to Sherry and I said, “Sherry, you need to inside for a while (laughing).” And we built this ramp and they, and they … and it was beautiful. I mean, it was so fun to watch. They’d shoot off this ramp and in, into the water, so it was pretty safe, you know, and I said, “But only do it when I’m here.” So I’m out there watching. Eventually, they run up to me and they say, “Dad, do we have any life jackets?” And I said, “Well, that’s your mom’s department. I have no idea (laughs).” And so they run in and say, “Mom, do we have life jackets?” Oh, she was so excited. They, they’re going to use life jackets. So she gets a couple life jackets. They run out, outside together, they tie the life jackets on the bike.

Jim: Right, to keep the bikes up (laughing).

Kevin: From, from sinking (laughing). They were tired of diving down and getting them off the bottom of the pond (laughing).

Jim: That is really funny.

Kevin: And so, so Sherry was kind of like, “Oh, I thought they were being safe…” But, but, but we said yes, but only when I … and then but here’s the caveat, but I need to be out here to watch in case something happens. And it was a blast. And, and, and I, and I think that boys need to be adventurous and do stuff that, um … I got another story I wanna tell you, but-

Jim: Well, before that, though-

Kevin: … yeah, yeah, yeah.

Jim: … the disclaimer, you know, no children were hurt in the taping of this interview.

Kevin: Yeah. Yeah, yeah (laughing).

John: And we’re, we’re not suggesting you do this.

Jim: And write Kevin, write Kevin (laughing).

Kevin: No, no, no, no children, no, no small animals and all responsibility comes on me and not Focus on the Family.

Jim: I love it. Um, but what’s your next example?

Kevin: Well, (laughs) I don’t know if I should share this. Should I share this?

Jim: Yeah, yeah, of course.

Kevin: Okay. So my, my, one of my sons came to me and said, “Dad …” uh, we were sitting out by, by … we had a little above-ground pool, and the middle part, it was dug to about nine feet deep. And he said, “Dad,” he was looking up at, at the roof and he was looking at the window of his bedroom and he said, “Dad, do you think, if I went out the window of my bedroom and ran across the roof, I could jump in the pool?” And here’s what I knew, he was going to do it. If I, uh, if I said no-

Jim: You’re definitely talk, (laughing) not talking to your wife about this thing.

Kevin: No, no, no, no. Well, I, I, I, again, I said, “Sherry, you got to stay inside on this one.” But I said, uh, I said, “Listen, buddy,” I said, “here’s the thing, if you do, you got to hold the edge of the dormer, you got to, got to go about five feet, and then you got to jump feet first into the middle.” I said, “And your friends can’t do it, only you,” ’cause I, I knew if he did it without me there, um, it was going to be dangerous. I, I knew if he did it with me there, it, it wasn’t that dangerous. It wasn’t … it was an above-ground pool. It was only about four feet from here to here. But he did it perfect, did it for maybe four or five times, he got bored and never did it again. But he did it with dad there to watch. He, he said to me, “Dad, if I slipped and fell, it would hurt,” and I said, “Oh, buddy, it would hurt. You could, yeah, you could like, you could hurt yourself.”

Jim: Hurt yourself.

Kevin: Yeah. So you got to do it super careful, but I said, I said, “I got a …” I told him, I said, “I got a feeling you’re going to do this sometime anyways, aren’t you?” And he kind of smiled at me and I thought, “Let’s do it in a controlled environment.”

Jim: Mm-hmm.

Kevin: Now I don’t know if you want to cut this off your program or not, again, (laughing) all responsibility comes on Kevin Harney and you blame me, not the, not the program.

Jim: Hey, Kevin, let me ask you too, you write about a little change you made when you’re checking out at the store. I think this is a great application-

Kevin: Yeah.

Jim: … for just Christian worldview.

Kevin: Yeah, yeah.

Jim: Um, what is it and why did it change you?

Kevin: So it’s more like at Christmastime for about six or eight weeks, uh, I, I, I realized everywhere I was going, it would be like, you know, it’d be the Salvation Army bell-ringer, it would be the, “Hey, can we round up your bill, uh, for food for hungry kids? Could we … you know, do you want to give a dollar towards this?” And, and I, I was getting so irritated. I was just like, “Can I just buy a dinner and not round up my bill? Can I just go …” And I, and I found myself having a crummy attitude, and I, and I, and then I finally thought, “You know what? I’m just going to say yes every single time.”

Jim: I mean, it’s 43 cents (laughs).

Kevin: Ex-, yeah, yeah, exac- and, and, and if, and, and if, if mine was, you know, if what I’m buying is 5.93, it’s seven cents-

Jim: Right (laughs).

Kevin: … and so, and so I thought, “I’m going to not only say yes, I’m going to say yes really enthusiastically,” ’cause I, ’cause I watched their faces, they’re, they’re like, “Do you want to …” and they’re so used to no’s and they don’t want, they don’t want to be asking this question, but their, their work makes them do it. So I, I, basically, I made this decision and so for, since that time, this was years ago, I’ll say, I’ll, I’ll look at people and I’ll say, “Yes, I’d love to.” And some people are like, they’re startled, they’re like, “Wh- whoa,” and they’ll say, “I, I haven’t had anybody say yes all day.” And I say, uh, now, now I’m starting to actually ask what it’s for ’cause I don’t want to be giving to things … there are some things out there that I don’t support, so I’ll say, “What’s it for?” They’ll tell me, I’ll go, “Absolutely,” if it’s for hungry kids, if it’s for helping, uh, foster programs, you know, then I’ll say absolutely. And it brings a smile to their face, and here’s what figured out that first Christmastime, at the end of, at the end of Christmas, I went back and I figured out it was like 25 or 35 dollars altogether-

Jim: For the year (laughs).

Kevin: For, for the whole, for the whole Christmas season, and I made like 20 or 30 people happy that I said yes and I was less cranky ’cause I knew I’d have an automatic … so that’s one of those ones where, at the end of the book, I go to kind of the yeses and, and how it frees … I’m not going to say no to these things, unless they’re asking me to give towards something that I don’t support for my own values.

John: Yeah.

Jim: Kevin, we’re right at the end and I think this has been great.

Kevin: Yeah.

Jim: It’s, uh, a good reminder for us and our own self-discipline to remember to say no-

Kevin: Yeah.

Jim: … so that we have to-

Kevin: Yeah.

Jim: … we don’t have to push other things off the plate-

Kevin: Yeah.

Jim: … and to say yes to our kids as much as-

Kevin: Yeah.

Jim: … we can-

Kevin: Yeah.

Jim: … when it comes to involvement-

Kevin: Yes.

Jim: … engagement-

Kevin: Yes.

Jim: … time spent with them, etc. Uh, I’m thinking of a mom who maybe volunteers at school, uh, this sounds a little bit like my wife Jean when we had the kids in school, uh, maybe church, too, and runs her kids everywhere because they’re in soccer, this or that, or the dad who’s trying to get ahead at work so he’s working a bit late, like you were. They say yes to a lot-

Kevin: Yeah.

Jim: … and it costs them. Um, what’s the Christian thing to do? What would you say to them at the end of the program and how could they get on better footing and move toward a more confident no?

Kevin: Yeah. Well, I would say, you know, know your no’s. Come up, you know, come up with lots of different no’s and I actually tell people to practice saying no. Go in your bathroom, close the door, and say, “No. No, thank you. No,” and just practice (laughing) different tones and get used to the word coming out of your mouth, right? Uh, and-

Jim: Don’t do this around your spouse (laughs).

Kevin: Yeah. No, no. Uh, but, also, I tell people saying no is a great act of love, if you can understand that. I’ll tell you one last … a short little story. I was in a restaurant with my, with one of my sons and there was, uh, a mom with, uh, another son, a son about my son’s age and the son was just out of control, just out of control. And everyone in the, in the restaurant was kind of watching ’cause it was just really kind of not a pretty site and I, as I’m watching this, I looked at my son and realized that he was watching also and, uh, uh, he looked at me and he said, “Dad, why doesn’t that mommy love her son?” And I said, “Buddy, what, why do you, what do you mean?” He says, “Well, if he, if she loved him, she wouldn’t let him act that way.”

Jim: Wow.

Kevin: If she loved him, she, she, he re-, he realized that the reason that I wouldn’t let him act that way, the re-, they way, the reason that he, that Sherry and I have boundaries is because we love him. He understood that at a young age, and he realized that this mom didn’t … he, he was like, “She doesn’t love her son enough to say no.”

Jim: Yeah.

Kevin: So I would say to that mom, sometimes the most loving thing you can do is say no so you can say yes to the right things and unleash that peace and that joy that comes from a balanced, healthy life.

Jim: Yeah. Kevin, this has been so good and I hope, uh, people will, uh, be encouraged and take some of these lessons away from the discussion today and I just want to say thank you so much for taking the time and saying yes (laughs) to being with us.

Kevin: And, and you, you guys are an automatic yes to me. I, I love what you, (laughing) I love what you do here. I love your ministry. It is impacting people all over the word and so to come alongside and do anything to help is a privilege-

Jim: Wow.

Kevin: … so thank, thank you for the invitation.

Jim: Appreciate that. Let me remind our listeners, uh, we’re here for you and if you’re struggling in this area and your life is chaotic because you’re not finding God’s shalom-

Kevin: Yeah.

Jim: … His peace in your life because you’re saying yes to too much, get in touch with us. Uh, we have caring Christian counselors who can help you and discuss that issue with you in addition to great resources, one of which is Kevin Harney’s wonderful book, No Is a Beautiful Word. And if you can, uh, participate with us in ministry, we don’t pay shareholder dividends like the online people do, uh, all the money that, uh, you send to Focus goes right back into ministry, so if you can make a gift of any amount, we’ll send you a copy of Kevin’s book as our way of saying thank you for being part of the ministry and helping others, and you can do that through a monthly pledge or a one-time gift. Either way, we’ll send you a copy of the book.

John: Yeah, get in touch today, donate as you can, and get a copy of Kevin’s book. Our number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY, 800-232-6459, or stop by Have a great weekend and be sure to join us on Monday. Ken Costa will help you better understand how to discover God’s purpose for your life.


Ken Costa: If you know your why, you’ll find your way in life. If you don’t know your why, everything else is in the way. But if you know your why, somehow those mountains don’t appear to be as big as they were.

End of Preview

John: On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for joining us today for Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller inviting you back as we, once again, help you and your family thrive in Christ.

Today's Guests

Cover image of Kevin Harney's book "No is a Beautiful Word"

No is a Beautiful Word: Hope and Help for the Overcommitted and (Occasionally) Exhausted

Receive Kevin Harney's book No is a Beautiful Word for your donation of any amount!

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