Saying no: the essential gesture of stewardship
A few weeks ago I got invited to a “women in business” luncheon put on by the business school where my husband teaches part-time (this is the one I mentioned in #2 here where I got caught in the downpour right before). I thought about declining since my skills from managing this crazy household might just be too advanced compared to the women who are only CEO’s or VP’s of large companies, but when I saw the topic I realized it was an answered prayer: Finding Balance.
The guest speaker was a professor at the school who is known for getting standing ovations at the end of his classes, so I had high expectations about his presentation. And I wasn’t disappointed. He covered a lot of territory, too much to summarize in a blog post, but the main thing he said that has stuck with me ever since is this:
To say no is to protect what you’ve said yes to.
He referred to being able to say no to new demands on your time as “the essential gesture of stewardship.” In other words, if you’re going to be a good steward of the responsibilities you’ve already been given, you must learn to set firm limits on how many other responsibilities you can realistically take on. In other words, you must learn to say no.
I thought this was a refreshing way to look at it. I’ve always thought of having to turn down requests to get involved in some new activity as an entirely difficult, negative proposition, but this helps me see it in a more positive light. When I say no to getting involved in that new parish ministry, I’m really saying yes to the commitment I’ve made to spend evenings hanging out with my husband; when I say no to creating an elaborate website for a friend, I’m saying yes to the commitment I made to put my heart into an article that’s due next month; when I say no to joining some friends for a playdate this week, I’m saying yes to the commitment I made to have more relaxed time with my children where we’re not rushing around to get somewhere; and so on.
I think that this message was truly an answered prayer. After my great to-do-list-slashing session in January I found such great peace, but in the past eleven months I’ve slowly let myself get overbooked again, leaving me back to feeling overwhelmed, like I’m so far behind on everything that I’m drowning.
So the questions I’ve been asking myself over the past few weeks are: “What are the essential responsibilities that I have said yes to?” And, therefore, “What do I need to start saying no to?”
After thinking about it for a long time, the answers I came up with to the second question were interesting and surprising. I’m out of blogging time for this morning, so I’ll share them in an upcoming Part II of this post.
UPDATE: Part II is here.