A Window into Life in the Suburbs

"Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these." Luke 12:27 (NIV)

Monday, May 17, 2010

Learning to Say "No"

I used to think that the only reason I had so much trouble saying "no" to things was because I cared too much. To a large extent, I did care. A lot. I was schooled single-mindedly in the art of caring by my uber active, uber practical parents. It was drilled into me from a young age that church life is not a spectator sport and I saw my parents live it to the max. Hence, I've been a lifelong church volunteer and I've done everything from washing dishes to teaching Sunday School to organizing church events. My own observation has always been that the harvest is plentiful and the labourers are few and it's always baffled me that people can attend church week in, week out and not latched onto the Apostle Paul's teaching regarding participation in the church.

All through the years, there's been a significant part of me that has been arrogant enough to believe that I can make up for the slothfulness of others until... of course, I crash... and burn out. This was the norm despite a nagging suspicion that I was taking on far more than I should ...  Result: I devolve into an unholy bundle of nerves, terrible to live with, yet I continue to perpetuate this pattern with a kind of pathetic glee.

Lately, I've become better able to make sense of this insane cycle of self-inflicted, painful do-gooderism... now that I'm saying "no" a lot more... and now that I'm standing on the outside of this phenomenon and seeing it unravel in others.

Apparently you have to have a certain temperament to succumb to this kind of preening... creative, energetic and highly motivated. And underlying all that, a grandiose vision that you can change the world. None of those qualities are bad in and of themselves but if one lacks a certain ... wisdom... it can be a problem.

At the bottom of this is the Devil's problem... pride... I can't speak for others but I know my own proclivities. It is flattering when others tell you that they need you... that they think highly of you... at least enough to ask for your help. It's nice to be asked, it's great to be wanted and  when everything turns out well... it's so good to get that pat on the back. Soon you develop a reputation... everyone knows that you're capable or trustworthy that you'll get it done well... and everyone knows that if you want something done, you give it to a busy person.
Before I think it through and refer to my diary... I utter the unthinkable "yes" and the mind starts chugging away full speed ahead.

That's why I have trouble saying "no". With all my show of modesty, deep down I think I am indispensible.

But the beauty of having children is that you're forced to say "no" to some things because sooner or later you realize that you cannot be everywhere at the same time. You have to choose... and because I'm their only mummy and I'm not completely selfish, little by little, they take precedence over everything else.
Making choices in favour of the children, however, isn't always gratifying... they don't always seem to appreciate "what you've done for them". Thus, one develops a certain kind of humility. The kind of humility that comes from sleep deprivation, changing nappies, cleaning up vomit, picking up food scraps and pushing a screaming child through the supermarket checkout. Because a screaming, hungry child doesn't really care if mummy has a Masters degree in English literature or that she spearheaded  a church event. The priorities of that child are far more visceral.

These days I'm more or less inclined to say "no". If I want to live to the ripe old age of 45 and retain my sanity in the mean time, it's a foregone conclusion. The big surprise though, is I'm okay with it... It's weight off my shoulders that I don't have to prove myself and mostly it's quite a relief to know that the world will continue to turn without my help.


  1. Great post. Love your honesty. It is hard to say "no" - but you are right, having priorities helps!

  2. How very true! Children are good excuses to say 'no' to more commitments. Like you saying no to working full time. That was brave. God will honour you for ur time to nurture His children.


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