Am I the only person who feels guilty when I tell someone no?
I really hate disappointing people. So I say yes a lot. Even when I really shouldn’t.
This was very evident this past month when I somehow ended up in charge of a homecoming party for the entire high school (we have a small Christian school so this isn’t quite as large as some of you might be imagining). I’m not even sure how it happened exactly. One minute I was asking a question about the venue, and the next, I was in charge.
It was one of those things I should NOT have said yes to. Not only did I find myself hyperventilating in the weeks leading up to the event, but my son was having his own event. This summer he made a short movie, and the weekend before the homecoming party he had his movie premiere. I thought maybe 50 people would come, but 200 ended up showing up. It was a wonderful night, but it was overshadowed by my anxiety over the coming homecoming party.
Not only did my son have a major event, but I was supposed to be launching my debut novel, Hook’s Daughter: The Untold Tale of a Pirate Princess. But of course, with two events on back to back weekends, that wasn’t happening.
Was the party a bad thing? Not at all.
Did the kids enjoy it? Yes, they did.
Did I need to be in charge? Absolutely not!
Not only did I have a lot on my plate— things that I have been called to do—but event planning is NOT something I enjoy or even particularly good at. And this party had numerous challenges, including losing all power for the entirety of the party.
By taking on this party, I ended up putting my own priorities, goals and calling at the very bottom of the list – right where it wasn’t supposed to be.
How did this happen? Too often, I let other people’s priorities become my priorities.
While it can feel super spiritual to always say yes to people when they ask you for something, the problem is by saying yes to one thing, you are automatically saying no to something else – whether you mean to or not.
Even Jesus – who came to bring salvation to people by dying for them – sometimes told people no. When people found out that He could heal the sick, there were times that the people pressed in so closely He could barely move. He would often leave to give Himself some space. There were times when the people begged Him to stay, but He said no and moved on.
Why? Because Jesus wasn’t just about saying yes to people. He was about saying yes to the Father.
I think this is where the boundary line comes in. If we say yes to every single thing people ask of us, we could ultimately be saying no to what God is asking of us – even if we don’t mean to be.
Jesus had a very short time from the time He started His ministry to the time He died on the cross, yet He never seemed rushed or hurried.
He put God the Father’s priorities over people’s priorities, even when some of the things people were asking seemed important or were legitimate needs.
I know I often let false guilt sway me even when I know God has asked me to do certain things, and by saying yes, I am pushing those things onto the back burner.
This problem is especially true for women, and I believe it all has to do with our definition of the word selfish.
The actual definition from Webster’s dictionary is “lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure,”
Unfortunately, for many of us (me included) selfish has come to mean telling anyone the word no.
Just because someone else doesn’t think what you are doing is important doesn’t mean you can’t tell them no. As a creative, I need downtime and space to create. Before I ever sat down to write one word of my current novel, there was a lot of what looked like me doing nothing to an outsider. But it wasn’t really free time. Working out a plot or developing characters takes a lot of thinking and mulling over.
I often felt bad for telling people no when it looked like I was just sitting around staring into space, but without that empty space, my imaginary people and places couldn’t come into existence.
When you have a baby, the entire experience doesn’t happen in the labor and delivery room. You spend nine months where all the important stuff happens beneath the surface, invisible to the human eye. You would never tell a pregnant woman she needed to skip that nine months and get right into the labor room.
But we do this all the time to creatives. I had to learn to be “selfish” about the time I needed to create because that is what God has called me to do. If I say yes to everybody else’s stuff, I can’t do what God has called me to do.
Here are five questions I’ve learned to ask before saying yes. It goes without saying, you should always pray about whether you should say yes or no to requests for your time and energy, but these questions can help.
- Is this something only YOU can do? For example, you are your child’s only mother, your husband’s only wife, and your parent’s only child. Will saying yes improve those key relationships or fulfill one of your key roles like mom or wife? By saying yes, will you NOT be able to serve/care for the people only YOU can serve/care for?
- Is this something the person can do for themselves? Some people have learned to be helpless, or we have taught them to be. If you are a parent, it is all too easy to fall into the pattern of doing every little thing for your child. Sometimes, this is because we just have a natural bent to serve, and other times, it is because our expectations of our children haven’t grown with them. While we want to be caring and helpful, don’t enable helplessness, especially out of false guilt!
- Will saying yes create an unhealthy lack of margin in your life? We weren’t made to fill our lives to the very edges. It is very difficult to “live by the Spirit,” when every moment of every day is filled to the absolute limit. We create stress for ourselves and short circuit those unique God-encounters when we have packed our schedules so full that any tiny interruption becomes a catastrophe.
- Does this request fit with your gifts, your calling, or brings joy; or is it something that will drain you and feel like a burden? This is a somewhat tricky one because there are times when God asks us to do things that step out of our comfort zone and might cause us stress. However, this is probably not going to be the norm unless He is moving you in a new direction (another reason why prayer is so important before we say yes). When we say yes to too many things that drain us or stress us out because they are not things we are gifted in, this effects everything else in our lives too. Case in point, I felt like my life was on hold until this homecoming party was over. I’m glad the kids had fun, but there were other people whose gifts DO include organizing events that would have probably stepped up, if I hadn’t taken it on.
- When you say yes, what will you have to say no to? The hard truth is we all have the same number of hours in our days. We can’t buy more time. Saying yes to one thing means we will have less time for something else. Only you can determine if the trade-off is worth it.
While I type this post, I can see a little printable I made with a quote from one my favorite Christian bloggers, Arabah Joy (you can find her at http://www.arabahjoy.com).
“You can’t do all the good things people ask you to do…if you want to do the one thing God is calling you to do.”
Even though I believe that wholeheartedly, in recent weeks I have found myself sucked into a lot of busy. Some of it, like my son’s movie premiere (you can find his movie Spider-man: Origins here), was something that was a good yes, but others – like getting sucked into organizing a homecoming party – were drains on my time and energy that I should have said no to.
I am still learning that saying no to someone’s request or need isn’t necessarily selfish. Sometimes, saying no is the most selfless thing I can do because it frees me up to fulfill the call God has on my life.
How about you? I’d love to hear about what you’ve learned about when to say yes.