Our discussion from Thursday about accepting help reminded me of something else I’ve struggled with that falls into this general category of “knowing and humbly accepting your limits”: saying no when I am asked to take on new responsibilities.
I think I am probably even worse at this than I am at accepting help. For some reason, I just cannot say no when people ask me to get involved with some project, ministry, organization, etc. Even when I know that I am completely maxed out and already have too much on my plate, I have a bad habit of signing myself up for even more responsibilities simply because I don’t know how to politely turn people down when they ask.
I’ve noticed that it’s hard to find concrete advice on this topic, perhaps because not everyone struggles with it (my husband, for example). A few months ago I told my husband about the stress I felt about being asked to head up a new ministry at our church. “How do I say no?!” I asked him.
He was confused by the question. “Well, start by placing your tongue on the upper soft palate of your mouth, and make an nnnnnn sound…” he quipped.
I tried this oh-so-simple sounding advice, except when I tried to make a sound like nnnooooo it came out more like sure, I’d be happy to take complete control of that ministry and, oh, can I offer to bring an extra dish to the potluck next week?
After ending up bringing more stress to everyone’s lives by repeatedly getting myself overcommitted with far more responsibilities than I can realistically handle, I sought advice from other women I know who struggle with this. I ended up getting some great tips that have really helped me. I thought I’d share in case anyone else struggles with this:
1. Open up about your situation
When you need to withdraw your involvement from an organization or decline a request that you help with a certain project, don’t feel like you just need to leave it at “no.” Open up about your struggles with frequently overcommitting yourself, and maybe even share some of the ways that trying to juggle too many balls at once has negatively impacted your life.
I’ve found this advice to be surprisingly effective at breaking through tension. I was recently asked to spearhead a major web project for a local Christian group. It was a great cause, and they were adamant that they needed my help; yet the scope of the project was way more than I could handle. At first it was a little tense when I had to tell the director that there’s no way I could take on such a project in this phase of life. But when I opened up to her about my struggles with chronically overcommitting myself and the negative impact it had had on my spiritual life and my family, she ended up gushing that she had the exact same problem. We were both so relieved to talk to someone who could relate, and there was zero tension at the end of the conversation.
2. Offer to help find someone else (with limits)
This can be a little bit dangerous for people like me, since “I’ll help you find someone else” can often lead into “please go ahead and let me be the de facto organizer of this project.” One suggestion I’ve found helpful in this area is to set a limit for how much time you can spend trying to find someone else, e.g. “I can’t take on this responsibility right now, but I could spend two or three hours this week calling around to see if anyone else might be available.” That way you can still offer to lend a hand, but are upfront about what sort of time commitment you can make in that area.
3. Watch out for pride
A lot of times when I find myself agonizing over having to decline involvement in some organization, when I take a close look at what motivates my angst, I see that it’s two main things: being prideful and controlling. It goes back to that whole inability to delegate thing that I was talking about in my previous post: it’s easy for me to slide into the ridiculous mentality that I know how to do the job the “best” or “right” way, and therefore I am the only person on the face of the planet who should even attempt it.
Once when I was agonizing about telling a family member I didn’t have time to do a website for his business, a friend counseled me to remember that maybe — just maybe — the fabric of the universe wouldn’t tear apart if I wasn’t involved in this project. I had to laugh. Sure enough, I had once again let my prideful and controlling tendencies take over, and hadn’t even considered that this family member is a skilled businessman who is more than capable of dealing with a change in plans. Sure enough, he quickly found someone else and had a fantastic website in just a few weeks.
4. Trust God
This is by far the best advice I’ve heard on this topic. There are two sub-points here:
- Trust that if you are meant to be involved in this project, God will help you do it in peace. Some of the most important advice I’ve heard in recent memory is that God would never call us to something that would detract from our primary vocations. For example, if you’re a wife and a mother, he would never call you to something that would mean neglecting your marriage or your children. Sometimes, as I’ve recently found, God sometimes does seem to miraculously give us extra time or mental bandwidth to do things peacefully that would seem to be impossible given our state in life — and that’s a good indicator that we’re meant to do those things. But if you find that you continue to feel anxious and stressed about taking on this new responsibility, that even after turning to prayer it’s a drain on you and takes too much time and/or mental energy out of your life and away from your family, then you can safely assume that you’re simply not meant to pursue this path and this time.
- Trust that if God intends for this project or organization to succeed, he will guide it. Trust that he will open the right doors and lead the people in charge to the right resources to make it happen if it’s meant to happen. If it doesn’t succeed, it’s highly unlikely that it’s only because you weren’t involved.
Anyway, those are a few tips that have been a great help to me. Anyone else have any tips?
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