DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Saying No When You Mind Says Yes

Written by: on November 3, 2020

As I sat in front of my desk, pen in hand, I began to write out a check for my son. It wasn’t the first time I wrote a check to assist one of my children. For some reason this one was different. Why was I struggling so much with writing this check and not the others? It wasn’t about the money. We were doing well financially. It was my son’s second year in college. He was a gifted wrestler at a local junior college on a wrestling scholarship. He was preparing for a national wrestling tournament hoping to earn a scholarship to a 4-year college.  His first year’s attempt was cut short due to his refusal to care for an ingrown toenail that required surgery. His second year’s attempt was questionable because he squandered his scholarship money and didn’t pay his school debt. He needed $800.00 to pay his bill and finish out the year. With pen in hand I slowly wrote out the check. When it was time to sign it my hand stopped. Something in me knew I couldn’t sign that check. He would be by the house in the morning, I told myself I would sign it then.

It was a long night. I knew my son was running from God. When he was young, we prayed the sinner’s prayer together. But now that he was 19 it was his choice. I knew he had to grapple with whether he would choose to follow the spiritual path we raised him in or whether he would choose another path. Everything in my mind said just sign the stupid check. It was his last chance to earn a scholarship to go on and wrestle in a 4-year college. Besides he needed an education if he was going to get ahead in life. The next morning as I sat down to sign the check something in my spirit told me if you sign this check your son will never serve God. I don’t know why I knew, but I knew. I couldn’t shake the feeling that to sign the check meant to lose my son. Despite my mind saying to sign, my heart was telling me not to. As I tore up the check, I didn’t know what the outcome would be, but I knew the choice was the right one.

“Refraining from action can, at times, be the most compassionate thing to do. The danger in rescuing is that it has the potential to place the other person in a position of dependance, getting in the way of learning; interfering in a process we have no way of fully understanding.”[1] There is never a guarantee when making a tough decision. There is the risk of the unknown, or the unpredictability of the human response. Sometimes all you have is the assurance that the decision was the right one to make. In the space between knowing and not knowing there are times when assurance and doubt occupy the same space.

Life between my son and I was a bit tense for the next year. He wasn’t happy with my choice, but he knew that it was his poor choices that brought him to this point in time. His journey back to God wasn’t overnight, it was slow and there were challenges along the way. Over 17 years has passed since that day. Our relationship is stronger. He still doesn’t have a college degree, but he is serving God and actively serving in his church. He is a successful property manager and general contractor and his grasp of business vastly exceeds mine in every way.


[1] Steven D’Souza and Diana Renner, Not Doing: The Art of Effortless Action, (London: LID Publishing,2018), 191

About the Author


Greg Reich

Entrepreneur, Visiting Adjunct Professor, Arm Chair Theologian, Leadership/Life Coach, married 39 years, father and grandfather. Jesus follower, part time preacher! Handy man, wood carver, carpenter and master of none. Outdoor enthusiast, fly fisherman, hunter and all around gun nut.

11 responses to “Saying No When You Mind Says Yes”

  1. mm Dylan Branson says:

    “In the space between knowing and not knowing there are times when assurance and doubt occupy the same space.”

    This. The tension can be unbearable at times and it can make us make a decision in order to reconcile it, but sometimes we have to hold on our intuition about whether to act or not. What are some ways you would suggest to someone about how to navigate that in-between space?

  2. mm Jer Swigart says:

    Profound story, Greg. Thank you.

    I want to connect with this to Friedman’s idea that empathy isn’t necessarily helpful in that it doesn’t encourage personal responsibility. I’m not sure that I agree fully with Friedman. Yet, as your story so amply portrays, there are moments when doing nothing is the wisest possible decision for another as it forces them to mature.

    • mm Greg Reich says:

      I think empathy has a place. I don’t think a differentiated leader is non-empathetic I think they don’t let their empathy get in the way of making the hard choices. One of the points Friedman brings up is whether showing empathy is a better choice over personal responsibility. Can it be possible that to not show empathy can be a form of empathy? You once mentioned in a response to one of your earlier blogs that you felt the need to choose the causes you were going to fight. I doubt that your need to choose had to do with a lack of empathy! It was most likely with looking at a level of priority and effectiveness. Does a lack of action constitute a lack of empathy? Can it be possible to be empathetic without condoning or supporting the actions a person takes? I truly hurt and had empathy for my son, I made some terrible choices as a youth that hurt myself and others, but I couldn’t condone his actions just because of my past. To me Friedman is looking at how empathy has become a way of condoning a persons behavior allowing them to stay stuck in unhealthiness. If we allow a person to be stuck in unhealthiness are we being empathetic?

      • mm Jer Swigart says:

        In my initial comment, I was affirming your empathic decision to not demonstrate empathy by writing the check as it would likely reinforce a negative set of habits. Instead, perhaps you demonstrated empathy by not writing the check.

        It’s interesting to consider how empathy can be an internal reality yet the form that the empathy takes doesn’t always look like a gentle caress. In this case, I agree with you that empathy looked like a hard “no.”

        • mm Greg Reich says:

          I understood you were affirming my choice. In my last comment I was trying to broaden Friedman’s view of empathy as I understood him. In my reading I didn’t get a feeling that Friedman devalued empathy he just doesn’t value it over taking personal responsibility. It was helpful for me to remember Friedman is speaking from a therapist back ground. I obviously didn’t explain myself clearly or clarify my response.

  3. mm Darcy Hansen says:

    As a differentiated parent, you made a decision where you knew the consequences could play out in a number of different ways. You chose the more difficult road in place of a quick fix. Consequences come either way. What is your process for differentiating between intuition, logic, or Spirit led decisions, or maybe they are all the same for you? For me, difficult decisions require a hightened level of discernment than with more clear cut choices. Wrestling through what makes sense verses what God is leading me to do can be complicated. Sometimes they are the same; but often they can be different. If the hard decision is clearly Spirit led, then it is easier to stay the course when challenging consequences threaten to derail relationships.

    • mm Greg Reich says:

      Darcy, I agree that in most cases the hard decisions take a great level of discernment. In the case with my son Val and I had been praying for him for well over a year. When it came to writing the check it was almost as if God tapped me on the shoulder and told me not to write it. It was a clear decision. There have been other times in hard decisions that discernment and Spirit leading didn’t come. I have learned over the years to ask myself a few questions. First, what in my opinion is the biblical thing to do? Second, what story do I want to tell? Third, are there any red flags that I am not considering? Lastly I ask, which choice brings the greatest glory to God? I seek wise counsel as much as possible. Pray a lot and I then buckle up and make the decision with what information I have. After that I live with the consequences without regret knowing I did my best and I own my decision.

  4. mm John McLarty says:

    Parenting certainly comes with more than its fair share of challenging decisions. Sometimes all we can do what we think is right in a particular moment. Your story is a good reminder that the choice to refrain is indeed as viable an option as any other. It also illustrated the importance of paying attention to the prompting of the Spirit, no matter how subtle or how painful the result.

    • mm Greg Reich says:

      Sadly it seems we live in an age of “the avenue of the least resistance.” I wonder if this is due to a short term mindset instead of one of legacy. People tend to have shifted into survival mode and lost the will to fight for what is right.

  5. mm Chris Pollock says:

    Refraining from action. Powerful story of self-control in a heart-wrenching moment. Thanks Greg! So sweet to hear of how God has moved in the life of your son from that moment.

    Recently, one of the team here did not show up for a week of shifts. This has happened before.

    I continue to refrain from action, perhaps an obvious action that another workplace could be quick towards. Patient and waiting on how the Spirit moves. I can see healing in this work of non-action. There’s no push, nor tension, anxiety or muscling toward a quick healing either; certainly discussions and meetings can put the pressure on.

    Could it be, when we are willing to pause at the feeling of any inclination of anxiety or increased heart-rate, space opens for what deep-down we may know (or we may be being led into) the ‘more right’ or ‘truer’ or ‘original’ way?

  6. mm Shawn Cramer says:

    Taleb would also applaud your sense of pause.

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