Life comes at us fast. We want to be effective in our ministries, but sometimes helping and leading morphs into a mania of doing that piles so much on us that we forget who we are, and how we are called to live differently. As women, we put pressure on ourselves to succeed, to live faster and faster until the rat race swallows us up. And as we get sucked into doing more, the word “no” becomes almost a curse word. To be known as someone who says “no” could limit our chances for advancement or for greater responsibilities, or so we’re told; but learning to say “no” is important if we are truly to shine in the areas God has gifted and equipped us to lead. We know we need to say “no” more, and we know the reasons, but in our daily scramble, we forget.
Not sure if you need to learn to say “no” more? Here are eight signs:
1. You aren’t quite sure how you ended up with four email accounts that you monitor daily, but somehow you’ve landed here and now you have to switch back and forth. The strain it gives your eyes has definitely been the reason you have to get a new eyeglass prescription yearly.
2. You’ve heard the latest on how multi-tasking was a myth perpetuated by some [insert devious agenda by foes real and imagined] to keep us spinning in our hamster wheels. Now you have to come to terms with the fact that in your season of life, each “yes” means a “no” to something else.
Actually, that was true all along, but you are just now really contending with it. In your 20s, there was always the prospect of sleep later. Back then, there was a friend to hang out with and that paper to procrastinate on. But now you have a five-year-old daughter, a husband who travels a few days each week, a needy dog, a whiny cat who hasn’t decided if she hates or loves you, and three ministry jobs that end up totaling way over the goal of 40 hours per week.
“No” should be a much used word in your vocabulary. But “no” is uncomfortable.
3. Your grandfather had several heart attacks and your grandmother suffered from daily minor strokes during her last six months. The doctors shrugged when they’d offered both diagnoses and said it was probably stress-related. You don’t want to be next.
4. You haven’t had a full day to yourself since that first morning you took the pregnancy test. It’s been womb-full, arms-full, or email-full ever since. A whole day’s break at the library or beach or even to sit in a car alone feels impossible. Don’t even think about a day at an art museum, like when you were young and [reasonably] wild.
5. You haven’t prioritized your life in months. Ha! Months is generous. It’s probably been years while you’ve juggled increasing amounts of responsibilities. One slip and it’ll all come crashing down. It’s like your responsibilities are plates spinning on impossibly tall sticks attached to your hands and mouth. If you drop the blue bordered plate, your daughter’s extracurriculars shatter on the ground. The one with the gold stripe around the side is your ministry job with its multi-faceted relationships. It’s already been cracked and one more drop might finish it off. The scalloped edged plate is the writing you try to prioritize daily. The much-chipped one is your spouse and spending time with him. No breaks for the weary.
6. Those migraine headaches that blur your vision and keep you from driving at times aren’t stellar. You’re told it isn’t very serious, but that the cure is “less stress.” You scoffed at the doctor when she told you. “Whose life is stress-free?” you joked. She didn’t think it was amusing. Your doctor did, however, tell you that your chipping nails are a sign of stress, not a lack of calcium in your diet like you’d thought. You can now give all those Greek yogurt cups to your daughter.
But really and truly, you lie awake at night sometimes wondering if there is such a thing as a stress-free adult life. It seems as mythical as Shangri-La. In response, you dutifully read an article about how to reduce stress but even the thought of implementing some of those practices makes your head pound alarmingly.
7. Lately, you’ve had to turn down things that you’d really love to do. You don’t have time because you’ve filled the margins of life with so much that you’re left sitting on the floor crying because your to-do list grows like kudzu along Georgia highways.
So you said “no” to that article you wanted to write.
You said “no” to that painting class your four friends attended without you.
You said “no” to that small-group conference that could have really helped you in your job because you’d foolishly said yes to the first thing that came your way. Now you wish you had the guts to say “no” to one and “yes” to the other.
8. You’re really smart and very talented, but there’s only so much of you. Sure, you can do in three hours what it takes someone else to do in six. You can read whole books in a few hours. You send careful and well-written emails in seconds flat. But, lady, you’re gonna burn out. You shine so brightly, but if you shine and shine and shine without letting yourself take in someone else’s light, you’ll burn out.
You’ve known people who have burned out and it took them weeks to recover and months to regain their confidence. One women never recovered. She decided that shining wasn’t for her and she dimmed permanently. It still hurts you to see the dimming of her God-given gifts.
You only have one life, so why are you not filling it with the things that fill you with real energy? That way, when you do say “yes,” it’ll light you up with that special heat only true passion and delight bestows. Finding that true passion and delight is what God intends for each of us. And sometimes we only get there by practicing self-care and saying “no.”
Stefanie Coleman has a Masters of Divinity from Emmanuel Christian Seminary. She has worked in various roles from youth ministry leader to international church planter to Christian college adjunct instructor to her current role as the Adult Ministry Director at Community Christian Church Lincoln Square. Having lived on three continents, she can now be found in coffee shops in Chicago.