Perhaps you can relate to emails and voice mails like these that I’ve gotten:
“Mrs. Wallin? Hi, this is Marion from the school. We need some things for the holiday party in class tomorrow. Will you bring [something that takes more hours than you’ve got in the day to prepare]?”
“Hi Laurie, this is Andie. Someone stepped down from this task at church. Can you fill in for a few [years] months?”
“Hey, honey. Can we [you] make that new [two-hour prep time] recipe for dinner tonight?”
“Parent” can sometimes seem synonymous with “vending machine.” Sometimes I love meeting needs and helping people around me. But if I’m not careful—if I say yes to too much, or for the wrong reasons—my “help” comes off more like anger, sarcasm, annoyance, frustration, or resentment.
Been there? Scripture tells us that God (and everyone else!) loves a “cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). So how can we be that kind of community participant without it knocking the wind out of our sails? For one thing, we can learn when it’s appropriate to say yes and when it isn’t.
From the many times I’ve agreed to do something when I should have declined I can share a few ways to help you determine whether yes is the right answer to a need that comes up:
It honors God in that it acts on your faith or fulfills a part of what you feel you were created to do. Or, if the task isn’t precisely in line with your lifelong calling, perhaps that yes makes sense based on what you feel God is calling you to do for this season. (Which doesn’t mean trying to be perfect or save the world.) Perhaps that yes stretches your faith a little too. The assignment may be out of your comfort zone, but it’s in line with what you believe—in whom you believe—and feels as though it’s worth the risk.
It honors your strengths and talents. The task or decision fits in with what you’re good at. It gives you energy rather than sapping it. Or maybe it opens the door to a dream that’s been brewing in your heart. That yes may be the first step of faith toward doing something you’ve longed to do for a while. Accepting and following through takes guts, but the prospect energizes you at the same time, just as using your strengths does.
It builds relationship. It deepens and supports a friendship or family bond because it’s life-affirming to others. Perhaps it helps, comforts, supports, or refuels others or provides opportunity for conversation and connection. Maybe that yes represents a first step toward redeeming a loss or mending a rift in a relationship—whether caused by you or someone else—and can begin to rebuild burned bridges.
And, of course, we know when a yes is right because it brings us joy. Not happiness, which hinges on circumstances, but joy that’s heart-deep, unshakable, and independent of what anyone else may think of our yes or no. Whatever the reason, when we’re intentional and give within the context of our larger vision for life and people, we can say yes wholeheartedly and enjoy the ride!
If a need that comes doesn’t fit one of these criteria, maybe it’s time to respond with the hardest word ever: no. (With a warm smile, of course.) That two-letter word? It can be almost painful to utter for us parents whose family needs make it hard to feel like the productive, generous members of the community we wish we could be.
But it’s a crucial addition to our working vocabularies. Being able to say no, even if we feel obliged to do so frequently, means that we’re implicitly saying a bigger yes—to God’s best for us or others. And that’s a reason for joy.
(Excerpted from Laurie’s new book, Get Your Joy Back. Find out more at LaurieWallin.com)