“I Have Trouble Saying No!”
By Gabriele Rienas
Q: I feel overwhelmed by the many responsibilities I have in my personal and church life. I often feel exhausted and have little joy in ministry. I hate to say no, especially when I am capable of doing what is needed; and, I believe people expect me to do it. Lately I have been dropping the ball and half-heartedly doing things. What can I do?
A: The issue this question raises is the tension between managing your own life versus letting felt needs and other people manage it. While the second option may bring approval and admiration, it sets us up for burnout and discouragement.
We all have limitations. Our time, energy, and stamina are all limited. When these limits are crossed, our capacity to function quickly deteriorates. Imagine a small table in my office that is a catchall for items I am not yet ready to put away. Gradually the pile builds as I add pieces of paper, books, coffee mugs, and miscellaneous items. If I keep adding more items without regarding the limits of the table’s strength, it will eventually collapse. When the table crashes, it happens quickly and disaster ensues.
We often disregard our personal limits, or worse still, we let others determine where they should be. When our collapse comes, we are often surprised and bewildered. The negative effects can be felt spiritually, emotionally, and physically.
Saying no is not so much about declining opportunities as it is about prioritizing responsibilities. Every time you agree to anything that requires your time or attention, you limit yourself in another area. When you say yes to dropping everything and meeting with a person in crisis, you are saying no to whatever you were going to do before the phone call came. You may be saying no to having dinner with your family or spending quiet time with the Lord. God requires us to make wise choices, keeping in mind the cost of each commitment.
Each person has a different measure of stamina, energy, and resilience. Understanding your limits is an important part of managing your life. Ask yourself: Is it feasible for me to do this? Can I freely say yes because I believe this is God’s will for me? In light of the other responsibilities I have, how likely is this to negatively impact other things I am responsible for?
But what about the need? Who will fill it? What about people in crisis? If I say no, what will become of them? What if they resent me for failing them? These are compelling questions. If we consider these from a narrow viewpoint, our logic might be: This person has a need. They have asked me for help. I am able to provide help (even though it will cost me in other areas). Therefore, it seems that the Christian thing to do is respond.
The difficulty with this logic is that it makes you responsible for the outcome. I would suggest that this might be pride in a subtle form. The thinking is: I am the solution for this person’s need. IfI do not step in, they will fail.
Now let’s broaden our perspective by looking at ministry opportunities from an eternal perspective: A person has a need. She has asked me for help. What will it cost me to provide that help? Does God want me to prioritize my life to include this opportunity in what He has already called me to do? If He does, He will help me. If He does not, He will take responsibility for the other person’s need by providing another means. This way of thinking removes the responsibility from you and requires that God be responsible for the outcome.
Doing things because we fear that someone will be unhappy, angry, or rejecting is not proper motivation. We need to feel called to serve. God makes a distinction between these two motivations as well. God’s will for His children is not a burden. If we live our lives to please people, we are in for many ups and downs. If we live our lives to please God, we can live to our fullest potential without being overwhelmed.
For further reading on this topic, I suggest Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.
If you have questions you would like Gabriele to answer, e-mail them to: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also mail your questions to: Q&A for Pastors’ Wives, Enrichment journal, 1445 N. Boonville Ave., Springfield, MO 65802-1894.