Learning to Say No

bro-just-say-noI am not quite sure when it happened.  Maybe it was the unexpected stomach pain that required a heavy treatment of antibiotics or maybe it was the look in someone’s eyes.   In any case, something was not right.  For too long I had been ignoring the signs that my body and other people were giving me.  If I didn’t slow down, make some changes in my life and begin to approach my work in a different way, I was going to be in big trouble.  Then I read her book.

Shauna Niequist, recently wrote a new book entitled, Present over Perfect and I just finished reading it from cover to cover.  While I approach my faith journey from a different theological perspective, I thought she had many helpful things to say.  One particular insight from her chapter called “Good Fruit” really stood out and here is what she had to say, “You don’t have to sacrifice your spirit, your joy, your soul, your family, your marriage on the altar of ministry.  Just because you have the capacity to do something doesn’t mean you have to do it.”  For driven leaders like myself, that sentiment is a lot easier said than done.

Saying no is something that we are taught from childhood to avoid.  As children, our parents trained us to be obedient and that meant saying yes to whatever we were asked to do.  As we got older, the implicit expectation from everyone around us says that if you want to get ahead, to build friendships, to be liked, you have to say yes.  In the church this is so deeply ingrained that saying no to a potential opportunity to serve as a volunteer can be seen as ungodly and maybe even unbiblical.  If your identity is tied to being liked and appreciated, this can become vicious cycle of saying yes and then finding yourself unable to meet the commitment or having to “plow through”, “gut it out” or similarly “killing yourself” to get something done.

I wish could say that I have discovered all the answers this huge problem, but truthfully I am still unpacking how big the problem really is. In Niequist’s book she goes on to make the devastating statement that “Your calling is not defined by the fruit it provides to the kingdom.  Your family and your very self are included in the kingdom you wish to serve, and if they are not thriving, the whole of your ministry is not thriving.”  In a year when I have said yes to more and more ministry responsibility and leadership, this was really hard to read.

One thing I do know, I have to own this problem and that is why I am writing about it.  I can no longer hide it in a corner and pretend that it does not exist. I must be willing to see the body language other people are giving me, listen to their concerns and be willing to be vulnerable enough to admit that I need help.  Even writing those last few word was not easy.   Someone recently told me that self-care and selfishness are not the same thing.  One is vital to our very survival and the other is a tool of Satan.  As a committed Christian, I think I have often conflated them as one and the same.

Going forward, I am actually looking forward to making some changes, I just don’t know what they will be.  Stay tuned for updates about this leap of faith as I spend more time listening, reading and praying.  Feel free to add your own comments about your struggle with this issue and what God had been teaching you.  I need to hear what you have to say.


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