One of the things I've had to come to grips with is that I can't do it all. I tried that. Sixty hour weeks, no vacation for two years, logging in nights, checking things out weekends, studying/reading/researching every other waking moment, and trying to have time for family and ministry. Needless to say, it didn't work. And the kicker of it all was there was always more to do. I felt like I was staring up at an AC-130 gunship, about to lay waste to everything I held dear.
Yet, despite this very hard life lesson, I still find it very hard to say, "No." It's such a simple word. Two short letters. And they come one right after the other in the alphabet. The reason I hate saying that word is because I hate disappointing people. I know better now. I know that when I say, "Yes," to some things, I'm really saying, "No," to others. And those other things may be more important. But even though I know and understand that intellectually, I still find it hard to do.
Case in point: a ministry at church. I've got a pretty lengthy background in children's ministry. I love children's ministry. I'm in youth ministry now and I love youth ministry, too. But there was a children's ministry area that I felt was really important at church. And it was struggling. So naturally I wanted to jump in with both feet and take it over, get it working, and mentor someone to take it on from me. This is in addition to trying to all the other things going on in my life. Thankfully, I am on a ministry team with two men who care about both the church and about me. They realized that if I took on this ministry initiative, that the other areas I'm involved in would take a hit. Those other areas are important, too. And they realized that while I would be able to get the floundering ministry going, I would take a heavy hit. So they spent a bit of time reasoning with me, helping me to understand I needed to say, "No."
I've got to be careful to say, "No," when I need to. I know that when I take on too much, everything suffers. I also understand that when I take on something I shouldn't, people around me suffer. I suffer. My curiosity and my drive to see things get done can and has worked against me in the past. And here's the thing most folks like me forget when we say, "Yes," instead of "No." We take an opportunity from someone else. We prevent someone else from having a chance to take on the task and grow from it. That may not be our intention, but that's exactly what we do. Going back to that ministry initiative, someone else did step up and take it on. Had I grabbed it, that person would not have had the opportunity to do so. That would be experience that person wouldn't get. That would be life lessons that person wouldn't learn. So I would be beat up, everything else around me would have suffered, and this person would not have gotten a growth opportunity for life. That would have been the cost of saying, "Yes," when I shouldn't have.
So while at first glance, having a hard time saying, "No," may not seem like that big a weakness. But when I consider the impact it has on others, especially that person who doesn't get the growth opportunity because I hogged it (is there any other way of saying it), it's a glaring weakness, and one I've worked on constantly the last few years. Thankfully I have a ministry team I'm part of that helps me in this area of weakness. I've got great peers at work who drop not so subtle hints that I may be taking on too much. And I have a manager who periodically checks in on how I'm doing, asks the hard questions about my work and priorities, and adjusts them when he sees I'm starting to slip back into the habit of saying, "Yes," when I should be saying, "No." But even with all this support structure around me, I am ultimately responsible for attacking this weakness. And so if you ever hear me say, "No," it's not because I don't care. I do, and likely I care a lot. But I need to make sure that I don't stretch myself too thin and that I allow someone else to step up when it's something I really shouldn't be working on.