During the time that my daughter, Lydia attended our church's child care program, our family became very fond of the preschool's director, Miss Mary. Never have I met anyone with such a heart for children. Because we thought so highly of Miss Mary, imagine what my first thoughts were one day when she told me the child care program was in desperate need of help. A couple of teachers had recently left, and Miss Mary was looking for new employees to fill the vacancies. But in the interim, parents who were able were asked to help out.
Maybe I could spare a morning or two a week, I thought. At the time I was in a busy season of writing. I was also heading up a prayer group and helping out with a Sunday school class at church. I had more than a full plate.
I could rearrange my schedule, I speculated, and get up a little earlier each day. I was already rising at 4:00 am to get in a few hours of work before Lydia woke up. How much earlier did I think I could get up?
Then I heard it. The words were so clear and concise, I knew better than to question what I heard: "Tend your own garden!"
Wanting to support Miss Mary was honorable. Helping fill the vacancies was a good thing, but not one of the best things God was calling me to do. When I thought about it that way, how could I say anything but "no" to that part of me that wanted to say "Sure, I'll help"?
For many of us, saying no is one of the biggest challenges we face. How do we learn to stop trying to do everything so we can do well the few things God has called us to do? Here are some strategies that have worked for me:
1.Be clear about your priorities.This may sound like a no-brainer. Of course, your first priorities are God, your spouse, and your children. But be more specific. In your mind, what does it mean to put God first? What does it mean to be a good wife and mom? Does being a good mother have to include being soccer mom and den mother every year? Does being a committed Christian mean you must be involved with every project your church sponsors?
2.Classify your priorities in order of importance.As you identify your priorities, it is also helpful to make your own "good, better, best" list of the various commitments in your life. Even within the scope of things that support your core values, inevitably there will be some things that are more beneficial and more supportive of your values than others. For example, having your kids in one extracurricular activity per year may support the priority you place on raising well-rounded children. Allowing more than one sport or club per year may fall into the "good" category-something you'd do only if it didn't endanger carrying out any of the things in the "best" category.
3.Set a time budget for additional commitments.Once you're sure what you should focus on, set a limit for how much time you can devote to things that are good but not the best use of your time and energy. How many hours per week can you spare without cutting into the time needed to tend to your own priorities? After looking at your list of most important obligations, you may realize that you can allot only two additional hours per week to good-but-not-best commitments. Use this limit as your guide in accepting or declining additional commitments. When considering something new, remember that in order to stay within your time budget, you must take away one previous commitment for every new one you add.
Are you tired of living in conflict over trying to do it all? Do you want to learn to say no without guilt and yes without sacrificing your sanity? If so, it's time to move from clutter to clarity. No is not a dirty word. Let go of being a yes-woman so you can be a woman who truly knows how to put first things first.