To whom do I really need to say no?

December 11, 2008 | 15 comments

In my post on Monday I mentioned that great talk I went to where the speaker made the point that to say no is to protect what you’ve said yes to. As I said in that post, it helped me see the concept of saying no and setting limits in a much more positive light.

Inspired by this speech, I took some time to reevaluate how I got myself back into this state of being overwhelmed and overbooked; specifically, I took a look at where I should have set limits but didn’t.

I started by listing the essential things I feel called to do right now, i.e. what I have (or should have) said yes to:

  • my vocation is, of course, always #1
  • a low-time-commitment meal ministry at our parish that I’m involved in
  • making regular time to connect with friends and family
  • writing

Through prayer and discussions with my husband, I decided that those are the highest priorities for me right now, and that I do have the bandwidth to do them.

That led me to the question: In order to say yes to these things, to what (or to whom) do I need to start saying no? The answer was surprising.

I realized that the vast majority of my feelings of being overwhelmed were due to a very specific, identifiable group of people. These folks are constantly pressuring me to take on more than I can handle or just lose sight of what really matters in my life right now. In order to regain balance, I must start saying no to:

  • That woman who’s always insisting that if I am not personally involved with every event I get asked to help with, it will fall to pieces because nobody knows how to do it as well as I do.
  • That socially immature girl who jabbers warnings at me that friends and acquaintances will be angry and deeply offended if I don’t reply to every single voicemail or email or blog comment or Twitter tweet or text message right away.
  • The person who whispers that I can’t accept help from anyone because it’s too complicated and, besides, people would think less of me if they really got a glimpse into my life and saw how un-perfect and disorganized it actually is.
  • That nagging lady who insists that cannot trust God to work out situations that are beyond my limits; the one who says that I must personally control everything with an iron fist and balks at the suggestion that I need to stop when I’ve hit my limit and just turn it over to God.
  • That spiritually immature chick who tempts me to seek the instant gratification that comes with other people’s approval more than I seek the still, small voice that indicates God’s approval.

So that is the list of people who have been and continue to be bad influences on my life, who constantly pressure me into getting in way over my head and lose sight of my true priorities. These are the people whom I must learn to boldly say no to if I have any hope of living a life of peace and balance.

And, as you’ve probably guessed, they’re all me.

If anyone else is in a similar situation, I’d be interested to know: To what (or whom) do you need to start saying no?


  1. Kimberly

    Oh, that cranky inner critic, eh?

    I knew that I needed to say no to some things even before I had children. So, I quit my practice as a lawyer. Quit is a bit of a misnomer, I suppose, as it took me about 8 mos to get out of it entirely. But, I got pregnant a month after I quit, confirming to me that I had needed to move into a different vocation.

    In addition to that “inner critic” now, my emotional eyes are bigger than my energy stomach, so to speak. There are so many things that I would like to do, but the energy isn’t there. (I am 37 weeks pregnant, so that might have SOMETHING to do with it.)

    I need to pray more about it, I suppose.

  2. Jen G

    It just goes to show that we can be our own worst critics, tempters, and nags! 🙂 It’s hard to turn off those inner voices that tell us we’re not good enough. That’s the enemy trying to distract us, and turn us inward rather than looking outward, to others. That kind of isolation can be crippling. I’m trying to stop listening to those destructive voices myself.

    I love what you do! Keep writing.

    Jen G

  3. Cara

    I just found your blog today and I like it! Thanks for the great post of limit, boundaries, margins or whatever you want to call them. You put it in such a positive light. I am a mother of 4 and am learning that I have to do mental calculations as to how much “emotional energy” certain tasks are going to require.

    And yes, there are always the “voices”–glad to see that I am not the only one who struggles with such difficulties. Again thanks for the reminder to keep priorities in order.

  4. Chris

    1) My vocation as husband, father, and capelle meister for my family.
    2) My professional obligations, so that I am able to attend to priority #1 (above).
    3) Making more time for my little domestic church and for our Christian friends.
    4) A bit of music ministry at our parish.
    5) (Currently), reading The Lord of the Rings out loud to my oldest boys (we finished “The Council of Elrond” last night).

    That seems to be it.

    I need to say no to:
    –That obnoxious fellow who thinks I need to personally inform everyone of exactly what they have done wrong, paying scrupulous attention to choose the worst possible moment in which to do it.
    –That pride-filled guy who thinks that Spanish NFP apostolate in our diocese will fall apart if my wife and I take some time away to welcome our fifth child this February.
    –The gentleman who kindly informs me that the next ACTS retreat will be so much better if I am at the piano helping to lead the men in song.
    –The idiot who spends too much time urging me on in front of the computer, even if it is late and the kids are in bed already.

  5. Candace Jean July 16

    All those people you’re saying no to? They’re me, too. Thanks for the slap up the side of the head. It was kind and gentle, however, but still a convicting slap.

  6. Martha

    I *did* have to say no to the Church movement that constantly asked me to consider that God was going to ask how I had used my talents, to come to meetings, tp volunteer for everything I was asked to in my parish, and to try to say yes to every apostolate the movement asked me to work in. Ugh. With my 4th pregnancy, I now need to find the balance between “I don’t have time to help anyone, I am too busy with my kids” and “I must help everyone who asks for help in any church-related capacity!!”

  7. TaniaRocha

    Are you me? I also need to say no to:

    – The depressed girl who believes God needs time off from her problems and probably has lots of people who really need His grace, not like her who clearly should be able to shoulder it all by herself and let God alone,

    – The immature child who is afraid from searching for a full-time job instead of the part-time I have now,

    – The nagging old lady who says I’ll never be good enough to get a real job,

    – The lonely emo girl who thinks she will never ever fulfill her vocation of being a mother and a wife and will surely live her life all alone,

    – But mostly the overthinking intellectual who cannot hear God calling to her “Come nestle into My arms” because she spends all her time overthinking everything, even prayer.

  8. Carrien

    What? Are you implying that all of my work and worry is not single handedly keeping the universe from falling apart? Are you sure you want to risk being wrong if I stop?

    I have no idea what you’re talking about Jennifer. I’ve never done anything like this. 🙂

    Gah, the road from micro managing control freak to, well, slightly less of a control freak is a long and painful one, walked safely only with the repeated reminder, “I trust God, I trust God I trust God. At least I will, I choose to act as if I do,even though I don’t really and am actually terrified.”

  9. Sara

    I’m thinking that all those women you have to say no to need to start their day with prayer! That’s what I need. Miraculously, things are better when I do. It still may be chaos and i have the occasional failure, but I’m more peaceful and aware that it’s all good.

    But there are things that I never say “yes” to when I should. How to find that balance?

  10. Therese

    I had a similar experience soon after joining plurk. I was so wrapped up in the karma and maintaining it and increasing it that I constantly was thinking about what I should plurk next and who I should reply too. I ended up leaving there because it was so unhealthy for me personally.

  11. Kristin T.

    This is an especially appropriate thing to be thinking about during the holidays. Not only are we more overwhelmed than usual, but it’s a good time to be thinking about the gifts we can give ourselves. There’s nothing selfish about that! In fact, I think the people we care most about end up benefiting, because we’re putting ourselves more in touch with who God created us to be, and how he wants us to live.

    Earlier this week I actually wrote a post about a “coupon book” I decided to create for myself. One of the coupons was for “saying no, guilt-free.” Thanks for affirming and encouraging through your post!

  12. nutmeg

    Yup. That’d be me too.
    Such a long way to go….

  13. Robin

    This was beautifully expressed, and so true! Recently, saying no to some extraneous tasks at work freed me to produce something truly valuable. Setting new limits was uncomfortable for me, but my co-workers had no problem with it. It was only the slave-driver in my own head who fought the change!

    If we all focused on our own God-given vocation & priorities, and refused to be distracted, what amazing things would result? The Holy Spirit is the ultimate manager of our resources, able to orchestrate each individual's activities into a whole larger endeavor greater than we can fathom.

  14. pearlsoftruth

    Wow, I didn’t guess it was YOU! LOL, I was thinking that you must have some pretty rude people around your life! Fantastic post, and beneficial for us all…


  15. Jamie

    Wow, I need to say no to all those people too, but when I say no, the guilt pours in.

    The blog one is a big one, I feel this overwhelming need to read all the blogs of people that read mine. It gets overwhelming.

    Great post.
    Very true.

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