So often, we fill our days with good things, meaningful things. We can generally handle a lot of tasks at once—until we can’t.
We add more to our calendars because we buy into the idea that:
I’m capable, therefore I should.
It’s the right thing to do.
If I don’t do it, no one else will.
If someone else does it, it won’t be done properly.
Our motives are generally good.
In fact, much of our doing is usually aimed at helping people we love. And so, we “do.” But somehow, our “doing” doesn’t feel like enough. We wonder, “If I’m doing so much for others, why do I feel so distant from them?”
Maya Angelou is credited with saying, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
This gets at the heart of an essential truth: You can’t control and connect at the same time.
So before adding anything back to your calendar ask yourself five questions:
1. What do I love?
2. What is essential?
3. What am I willing to give up?
4. What is good but no longer right?
5. What simply needs to be discarded?
Only when you answer those questions with intentionality; only when you can start saying yes to the best things and no to some good things; only when you can stop having to do it all; only then will you be able to live a life quiet enough to hear the voice of God.
Let’s take this one step further.
Imagine taking your whole life and setting it before you. Now take the time to evaluate every piece of it. Take stock of it all: your family responsibilities, your household chores, your work assignments, your calendar, your studies, your exercise program, your date nights, your travel, your recreation.
As you examine each piece of your life, set it in one of three piles marked do, delegate, or dismiss.
Do: These are assignments that you consider essential or that you simply enjoy.
Delegate: These are assignments that you will turn over to someone else. (I know how hard this is, so I’ve devoted an entire book chapter to the topic of asking for help.)
Dismiss: These are assignments that you will have to let go of, without guilt.
Of course, when we let go of things or say no, we will invariably disappoint people. There’s no way around it.
But listen up.
Jesus disappointed people too. He didn’t stick around when people wanted him to stay and heal (see Mark 1:36-38.) He disappointed religious leaders when he dined with sinners (see Mark 2:16.) He aggravated people when he showed up “late” (see John 11:21).
You will disappoint people too. In time, you will be able to let go of the shame and offer a guilt-free no.
Here are a few steps toward dismissing what you need to let go without picking up the baggage of guilt:
1. Know who you are.
It’s tempting to tie your worth to your ability to get things done. But women with a clear sense of purpose and identity in Christ are able to say no without letting it prescribe something about their worth. Take time every day to affirm your truest identity—the one you have in Jesus.
2. Know your priorities.
The clearer your priorities, the easier your decisions. Filter every request for your time through the prism of your core boundaries, values, and calling. If it doesn’t pass the core boundaries test, it’s a huge sign that you should dismiss it.
3. Be resolute.
Sure, it’s polite to offer an explanation for your no, but don’t feel like you have to give a drawn-out justification, even if you know that your no will disappoint the asker. As Jesus said, “All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’” (Matthew 5:37).
4. Keep perspective.
Remember that a yes to one more thing means a no to something else.
5. Remind yourself that your no is someone else’s yes.
Your no may open the door for another soul to learn, lead, and serve.
6. Hear God’s big yes over you.
There is wisdom in knowing when to walk away, and you will need courage to follow through. Know that when you need to say no, God is still in your corner, pouring all kinds of yes down on you! Hear these words from Paul: “Whatever God has promised gets stamped with the Yes of Jesus. . . . God affirms us, making us a sure thing in Christ, putting his Yes within us” (2 Corinthians 1:20-22, MSG).
You will find freedom in establishing ground rules for yourself, knowing what you simply won’t do. That begins by extracting yourself from excessive commitments today.
You will still get to say yes to a lot of wonderful opportunities, designed by God specifically for you. And no doubt, God is going to ask you to do hard things and take on commitments that seem difficult. But he will not burden you to the point of breakdown.
This is the way we will get back to God’s agenda for us: Do. Delegate. Dismiss.
You get to control your agenda. Don’t let your agenda control you. It’s time to figure out what doesn’t matter, so you can focus on what does.
Make a list of core boundaries. Your core boundaries are the values you want to establish for your life and the lines you refuse to cross. To get you started, consider the following ideas, and then craft value statements that work for you:
“I don’t take on work that requires me to be away from my church on Sunday.”
“Every Wednesday night and Friday night are reserved for family.”
“I will set aside the first ten minutes of every day for devotions, no matter what.”
Be sure to keep your list of core boundaries nearby so you don’t violate lines you’ve wisely drawn for yourself.
Use this exercise regularly to help you take on God’s best assignments for your life—even when deciding on the small stuff. Saying a lot of little no’s can lead to bigger and better yeses. Work toward being a woman who can let go of what God has not asked you to do, so you can shine at what he has.
Adapted from It’s All Under Control: A Journey of Letting Go, Hanging On, and Finding a Peace You Almost Forgot Was Possible by Jennifer Dukes Lee, releasing this fall from Tyndale House Publishers.