In the rental car on the way to my meeting while in Lubbock, Texas, I came across a Christian radio station that caught my attention. From what I gathered, people were calling in to discuss their struggles with saying “no”. I’ve read countless articles on wellness and self-care that often emphasize the benefits of saying “no” sometimes. As I’ve gotten older and have vanquished my former people-pleasing ways (a lot of them), my “no” indicates that I’ve set some boundaries and recognize that I have limitations. It’s a statement that indicates that I value myself more than I desire to please people. What struck a chord with me was that the host presented a whole new perspective on thinking about this. His point was that it’s great for people to take on different tasks, goals, activities, etc. as long as it doesn’t prevent them from doing their very best in their primary God-given assignment. Everybody has an assigment from God whether that be taking care of their family, community, business, ministry, etc., but if you take on so much that you are unable to effectively manage your main assignment, then it’s time to say “no” to some things.
The main reason that resonated with me is I’ve had to learn to say no without feeling guilty. I know that my primary God given assignment is to take care of my family. However, there was a point in my life that God had to remind me. I do value an identity outside of being a wife and mother, after all, I was myself before they came along. As a result, I am involved in different activities that bring me joy. I constantly set goals on different things I want to accomplish, I’m a constant learner, and tend to be an overachiever. Balancing all of this while raising a family with my husband can be challenging at times. For example, upon completing graduate school, I felt like SUPERWOMAN. Around that time, I used to pray for God to use me to fulfill his purpose, which is to help people. Completing such a fete while working full time and raising a family with small children fueled the fire that I could do most anything. Plus, I wanted to help people. Therefore, I said a lot of “yeses” when I should have been saying “no”.
Soon after I graduated, I became a board member of a small, local dance company that my daughter attended. I had also been leading a ministry at my church. Both projects required a lot of time and effort, which I did put in. I genuinely enjoyed them both, but boy did I overextend myself. I started to see the toll this was taking on me and my family. I honestly didn’t realize how much work each would take. God was sending me messages that I was doing too much. I also didn’t like how stressed I was and I struggled with resentment. I began questioning my intentions and why I had committed myself in such a way. And then one day, I heard the message loud and clear that I should be using my gifts for my family. I had constantly prayed for God to use me to help others, but he had already entrusted me with my beautiful family (people to help). I had spent so much time away from them while in graduate school and here I was helping other families in these projects when I needed to be with my own. Don’t get me wrong, my family was not neglected (that much – I’m an overachiever), but I began to think about what more I could pour into them by redirecting that energy.
I resigned as the board chair of the dance company after a year. That experience taught me to question my intentions and examine my expectations and returns on investment before I agree to extend my time for such a project. What was I trying to prove and what did this project have to do with my larger goals? I also eventually phased out of leading the ministry at church, which I had done for a few years. Thankfully, the pastors were messaging the importance of taking a break from ministry to avoid burnout, so it was all coming together.
Something that the radio host stated that made me pause was to ask God about what to do when approached with various requests. As an intellectual, yes, I can rationalize, and after careful consideration, come to a solid conclusion on my next steps – participate or not. In some ways, I do believe that listening to my gut and gaging for signs of peace with my decision (s) are indicators that I am seeking guidance from the God within me, but I will work on also asking God directly.
As I indicated earlier, I’m involved in several activities/groups and I get offers to participate in various activities such as lunches, fitness classes, events, projects, etc. Similarly to what the radio host indicated, if any of these take me too far away from my primary God-given assignment, then I say “no”. And I do think it’s possible to have more than one God-given assignment although the radio host didn’t mention it. He did specify “primary” assignment. Therefore, since my family’s happiness is my gage of performance in my primary assignment, then if either of my children start having problems of any sort, I pull back on things I’m working on. If I find myself working on projects that cause me to spend less time with my family for long periods of time, I pull back. If it feels more chaotic at home or if I sense that my husband is becoming stressed, I pull back. If anyone becomes sick, such as when my husband was ill, I pull back. If I no longer feel enjoyment, start feeling burdened or stressed by the activity, I pull back. I schedule my reqired work travel so that I am not gone for too many consecutive days so that I can get back to my assignment. All of this requires self-awareness, constant re-examination, flexibility, and knowing my assignment.
Something tells me that someone from the peanut gallery (I haven’t used or heard that expression in years…ha!) may be frowning and thinking that I’m giving too much and should put myself first. In a lot of ways, I do put myself first, but I also know that my primary God-given assignment (my family) requires me to be selfless too. And saying “no” isn’t so bad because it means that I’m saying “yes” to something else that I happen to find more important.