new sabbath 08.01.21: everyday ways to say, "no."

choosing ourselves should be more than just moments. it should be a lifestyle.

i think it’s so wonderful and beautiful. that we are on the cusp of dismantling this toxic and antiquated idea that Black women must suffer for everything. the idea that suffering somehow validates our righteousness, gets us a few inches closer to the cross, or makes us best friends with Jesus. the idea that suffering has to be the main attraction of our stories. the idea that our suffering somehow endows us with Christ-likeness, as if all he did was suffer. suffering isn’t to celebrated. it’s not even to be tolerated. it really just, is. it will happen, just as sure as we are breathing. and because we are often reared in churches, homes and schools that glorify the trope of suffering, it becomes difficult for us to choose otherwise. 

Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon wrote about this in chapter seven of her seminal work, Katie’s Canon. i highly recommend this book to anyone who desires to build, or to fortify, a Womanist theological foundation. recently, however, we’ve seen a powerful wave of Black women’s refusal in popular culture. in fact, it’s happening with such frequency and voracity, i’m encouraged to believe that it’s more than just a wave. it’s a shift that will have powerful long-term implications for Black women now, and in the future.

While in the throes of the French Open, Naomi Osaka decided that it would be better for her mental health to discontinue her engagement with the press. Her decision to protect her mental health was met with such vitriolic backlash, that she ultimately decided to withdraw from the tournament altogether.* Similarly, just this week, Simone Biles, practiced a similar discernment, and assessed that she, too, was struggling mentally, citing the high stressfulness of the Games, and the year. she withdrew from the Gymnastics Women’s Team Final in the Tokyo Olympic Games. subsequently, she went on to withdraw from the individual all-around final, as well. despite being some of the most decorated and elite athletes of all time, and despite competing on behemoth platforms, these women still chose their mental health and personal wellness.

as i’ve sat with the significance of these two young women and their decisions, i thought about the many times in my career that i did things that i didn’t want to do because i was tired, drained, sad, or even sick (such as in the case of the white church in Virginia that threatened to speak out against me if i didn’t come to engagement because i had the flu). i even think about the entirety of 2018, a year where i really could have taken the entire year to restore after a tumultuous 2017. but, the scripts of striving, people-pleasing, showing up, and even “doing my part,” were far more familiar and convincing than the script of, “i don’t have to do this.” i was afraid of what i would lose and what people would say if i didn’t perform. i knew that it could ultimately cost me to over-exert myself, but it was something that i was used to doing.

i’m almost embarrassed to say that it took a global pandemic for me to realize the importance of my mental and emotional wellbeing. i don’t remember what month it was, but somewhere in the spring of 2020, i began to claim my ‘no.’ i couldn’t do the extra things, not even virtually. i’d ticked therapy up to weekly, instead of bi-weekly. i started taking naps, working out, savoring the feeling of being in love, and of course, leaning into non-ministry related passions. i realize now, that for the first time on a consistent basis, i was choosing myself. while i’d certainly had watershed moments in my lifetime, choosing myself was becoming lifestyle. a way of being. unapologetically.

perhaps this is, for me, the greatest joy of getting older and of Being a Black woman. i realize that agency is a real thing, and it is radical. what’s even more radical than agency itself, is the recognition that we have it, and then exercising it. under no circumstances are we required to settle, to shape-shift, or to suffer for a job, a vocation, or even a relationship. there is an intrinsic joy in being who we are and showing up in our fullness. there is an intrinsic joy in embracing our curiosities and discovering why they have piqued our interest. there is an intrinsic joy in creating the life we desire and loving every moment of it. another joy is watching younger women make the kinds of choices that i couldn’t in my twenties, and following their example of wellness and thriving.

all of this being said, walking away from dead-end, or potentially hazardous, situations is one way of saying “no.” but, saying ‘no’ can happen everyday, and when it does, it opens up space for us to say ‘yes’ to the things, places, and people that give us life. furthermore, when we say ‘no,’ we are disrupting systems of caste that were created to relegate certain bodies and communities in subservient positions. all of these are necessary for promoting the fullness of life, on a personal and systemic basis.

everyday ways to say “no:”

declining the invitation.

delegating the task.

drawing the boundary line.

putting the phone on silent. or airplane mode.

laying down.

choosing a frame, such as love or adventure, for our life stories. something other than suffering.

writing the letter of resignation or retirement.

blocking the phone number.

unfollowing the account.

deleting the app, the contact, the e-mail.

not granting immediate access.

ignoring the unimportant.

being fully present to one thing at a time.

being unavailable.

in the spirit of creating room for more of the good stuff, i wish you a beautiful week.

❤️

  • if you haven’t yet, i recommend Naomi’s self-titled docuseries on Netflix. I binged it in one sitting, and was consistently moved by this woman’s huge heart and keen insight.

  • photo credit: Time Magazine.