It always starts in the pit of my stomach. Holy Spirit acid telling me I’ve done it again.
For some reason, during the past two years I’ve said “yes” to everyone and everything. At one time I was great at setting boundaries, leaving me plenty of time to work, to exercise, to spend time with family, and to be effective in ministry. But somewhere along the line I slipped into my old habit of prioritizing according to guilt. I accepted many projects that I didn’t want to do that ended up wreaking havoc in my life. If someone could make me feel guilty, I took on the project. (“I thought you’d be someone who made time for the unknown penniless writer,” whines wannabe novelist in her e-mail. I sigh and kill another six hours doing a free critique.) Sometimes the guilt-tripping was thinly disguised by flattery. (“You’re so good at this, and you’ve got the experience,” says sneaky flatterer. “No one else can do the job like you can!”)
I’ve struggled for years with knowing when to say no to people. There is so much need. So many opportunities to help. Aren’t we supposed to be flexible and open to the leading of the Holy Spirit? The more I thought about it, the more I confused myself (and took on more unwanted, unpaid work.) Then I saw Charles Stanley’s daily devotion. I cut part of it out and taped it to my computer. It’s called “Recognizing the Voice of God,” and the opening paragraph grabbed me by the throat.
“The Lord wants His will to be the single factor in our decision-making—not what we want or what others think; not the size of the need, our availability, the worthiness of the request, or our previous experience. ‘What God desires’ is to be the litmus test that decides what we do and say.”
Aha! I rarely asked God what He thought about a request. I just said “yes” under pressure. Now I’m learning to give myself time to think and pray before giving an answer. I respond with “Let me look at my calendar and get back to you” or “I need to pray about this first, and I’ll call you by the end of the week.” Or even sometimes “I can’t work it into my schedule right now, but if something changes, I’ll let you know.”
I’ve been a push-over in this area since high school; the requests were just different back then. Kids wanted me to type their term papers (often after writing them.) Teachers wanted me to produce the club newsletter, stay after the concert to clean up, and come early to paint signs. I was so afraid of rejection or people’s anger that I rarely said no.
If you don’t let the Holy Spirit guide your life, others will gladly do it for you. It’s never too early to learn to listen to God’s direction. God has a special purpose for your life. If you burn out doing everything other people want you to do, you’ll never have the energy to fulfill God’s call on your life. Memorize some simple responses to requests, then give yourself time to think and pray before taking on one more task. Free yourself so you can run the race God has set before you.
Girlz Rock, devotions for girls (Zondervan 2005)
No Boys Allowed, devotions for girls (Zondervan 2004)
Coming in 2006: Chick Chat and God Talk, devotions for girls, Zondervan