Just say "no."
Nancy Reagan made this slogan famous in the 1980s as she promoted sobriety through a method of refusing to give in to temptation. In those days you could get the board game (yes, it's true) or a T-shirt, mug, even a baseball bat, all with this slogan emblazoned upon them.
In terms of time and our use (or misuse) of it, I think one of my dearest and most difficult lessons has been learning to just say, "no." That one little word is so difficult. I get really serious and dedicated about simplifying my life and keeping our commitments at a minimum and then I can turn around and we are chock-a-block full all over again. How does this happen, and what is the impact spiritually?
Yesterday was a prime example: County Fair in the morning ... We met some friends there and walked through livestock pavilions, played in the children's area, saw newborn pigs suckling on their mother and spent time petting all sorts of animals. By the time we got home we were burnt out. We had planned to return to the Fair tonight since a friend's band was on the main stage. I called my husband at work and said, "I don't think we should go." We decided to provide a "consolation" to the boys and we all went out to ice cream after supper. It was so calm and peaceful in our home tonight. We didn't miss the Fair even though we did miss seeing our friend play guitar. Sometimes enough is just enough. We said "no" to a good thing and in exchange we had a really sweet night of connection as a family and we will all got to bed on time and be fresh for the rest of the week
In my twenties as I made my way through graduate school, we lived near the beach and met with friends regularly to play volleyball. One afternoon when I should have been working hard making progress on a reading list or writing my thesis, we got invited to meet friends for a game on the sand. We got there and only one other person showed up. I walked to the edge of the water and asked myself why I had felt compelled to go to this game instead of staying the course and getting work done. I realized I just didn't want to miss out on anything. In my heart I longed to be included and to get everything I could out of life. That longing was driving me to over-commit and keep a schedule that left me frazzled and scattered.
It has taken years to learn what that day revealed. The glimmer of a lesson started that day, but years later I still struggled with saying "yes" when I should say "no." Reasons for "yes" abound and not all of them come from a healthy place in the heart. When we get down to it, there is only one reason we need to say "yes" to things and that is that it lines up with what we know God has for us in this day, hour or season.
Two summers ago my husband and I went through a process of defining our family's mission and vision. It sounds really nerdy, I know, but I found this wonderful book by Tsh Oxenrider called Organized Simplicity. In it there is a list of really good questions to help you define your mission. My husband is not a "let's define our mission" kind of guy, so I had to corner him on long drives to our summer camping trips. He was a sport. We answered these questions and through the process we came up with our mission and it has helped us greatly. We have an idea of what we are about as a family and what each person is being called to by God. We are now able to say "yes" and (sometimes more importantly) "no" to opportunities by filtering them through our mission.
Spiritually, our ability to sort and discern has left us what is commonly called, "margin." And in that margin we have breathing room which means we can serve people when we see needs around us or even, as we did tonight, turn the whole plan around and go in another direction without causing havoc.
What is it that keeps you from saying "no" more often? Or, if you have been learning more about the blessings of healthy limits and knowing your purpose, I'd love to hear about that too.