Saying no is hard.
A couple weeks ago I felt that familiar pang when I was asked to do something. I had the evening free, and I could definitely fit it in. But I was tired, and my to-do list felt a mile long, and adding another evening event was obviously not the best thing to do.
But the pang was because, well, I had no actual reason to say no. I couldn’t say, “Well, I’d love to, but we’ve already got something that night.” I had to just say no. And the real reason was that I needed to be home with my family. That was my plan for the evening.
If you’re anything like me, this is a familiar cause for anxiety. I want to say yes to everyone, all the time. I can fill up an empty calendar week in no time and I don’t even know how it happened. This is especially true this time of year, with endless possibilities for Christmas activities and parties.
But it’s right to want to be there for people. Right? Especially as a pastor’s wife, I should be busy ministering to and with people. At least this is what I tell myself. Or used to tell myself, until God started to reveal some important truths to me.
My time, like all of my other resources, belongs to Him. And when I say yes, with no discernment, to every opportunity that comes my way, I am not submitting that resource to Him. I’m being reckless and selfish with it. It was time to give it back to Him.
Letting God Have My Time
Ephesians 5 tells us to be careful how we walk, “making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”
Best use does not always mean the busiest use, but I think it can feel that way. I should be doing more! The days are evil! There are so many hours in a day to minister and I must fill them up!
But I think that might be veering off into foolishness when I should instead be trying to understand what the will of the Lord is for my days.
It’s taken far too many weeks of over-planning and burning out for me to begin to learn this lesson, but I think I’m finally beginning to see ‘no’ as the right answer sometimes. However, I also don’t want to fall into laziness or isolationism, constant temptations in our post-modern era.
It can feel easier to say no than to deal with people’s messiness. Or easier to maintain my lofty opinions and ideals if I just avoid those pesky humans altogether.
But then, if this is the case, when IS it the right time to say no to an opportunity? How do I discern what is good but maybe not best? And how do I discern when I need to say yes in spite of my selfish desire to say no? It seems I’m right back where I started.
This is why it’s so important to invite God into our planning, our scheduling, our yeses and our nos.
Being Discerning With My Time
I’ve found the following to be incredibly helpful for me as I ask these tough questions.
Ask God. This seems obvious, but too often it is easiest to simply act on instinct before we ask God what He would have for us. Different seasons of life bring different opportunities, and believe it or not, God wants us to make the most of our time for our It brings Him pleasure and glory when we invite Him into the details of our decision making.
Prioritize relationships. I do this every 6 months or so to recalibrate myself. Who is most important? There are my husband and my children, and they must come first. After that, the litany often changes. Discipleship relationships change over time, and God calls us into and out of other people’s lives. So I think it’s important to ask this question fairly frequently.
One important caveat here, though. I do think it’s easy to fall into idolatry of the family, to the point of saying no to church and no to those in need.
Family must always come first, but if we are in the body of Christ, the church is, in fact, our family. If this is true, then our church relationships ought to rank highly for us. Sacrificial love requires – and I know this is shocking – sacrifice. If every relationship feels easy and painless, I’m not sure we’re doing it quite right.
Prioritize responsibilities. This comes after prioritizing relationships because our responsibilities often flow out of our most important relationships. Whatever we are doing, it is almost always in relationship to someone.
This step is especially helpful for me. Too often I busy myself with something only to find it’s not all that important at the moment and I’ve wasted time on something unnecessary. It’s helpful to ask someone else what they think about these priorities. I usually ask my husband what he thinks, and he almost always helps me cross a few things off the list.
Leave room for the unplanned. In spite of the necessity of being wise with our time, we become automatons if we don’t leave room for the unexpected things God has for is. We have His Spirit for a reason, and when we are desiring to do His will above all else, we will let Him change our plans.
Sometimes I begin a day with a well-thought out plan, only to find that God has something entirely different on His agenda. If I’m too attached to my yeses and nos, I may miss something amazing He has for me.
This isn’t a foolproof plan. I still find myself saying yes and no at the wrong times on occasion. But keeping priorities in place and continuing to ask God how I should use my time has relieved a lot of unnecessary stress for me and done quite a bit to free me from the tyranny of the urgent. Perhaps it can do the same for you.