Have you ever been offered an amazing opportunity, only to get that feeling in the pit of your stomach, knowing you need to say no? Maybe the timing is off, or you feel overwhelmed with the commitments already on your plate.
I had that sinking feeling in the early days after Andy and I started North Point Ministries. I was raising three young kids, home-schooling our oldest for kindergarten and juggling all the details of young family life, so I didn't have a ton of margin for adding to-do's to the to-do list.
In the midst of that, I knew our church needed to launch a ministry to address the particular needs of the women. I mean, what's a church without a women's ministry, right?
As conversations began and a team developed, I was approached about being involved. Here's the thing: I hate disappointing people. I always have. So saying no was really hard. But, because I had already said yes to home-schooling our son during this season, there was clarity in the decision. I knew I couldn't do both well. So, I set aside time for what was important to our family.
Keeping to the plan
As the kids got a little older, I continued with the commitment to home-school. Honestly, home schooling was a bigger job than I anticipated. I began to recognize how easy it would be to lose focus if I said yes to other things. Yet there were certainly offers and options that came my way that would have been fun. Some of them were significant opportunities that were ministry-related and would do so much good for others.
Around this time, Andy preached a sermon series on Nehemiah. During the series, Nehemiah 6:3 jumped out at me as an anchor verse in my parenting and home-schooling journey. To help me stay focused, I posted this verse in strategic places around the house: I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?
I even had a copy framed and hung in our schoolroom. When the tug-of-war began within me, I repeated the words to myself. Like Nehemiah, I had a great work to do and I couldn't be pulled away. To do well at teaching my children, I had to categorically say no to other valuable ministries. It dawned on me that a no for now didn't mean no always — it's a no for this season.
Finding the right balance
Fast forward a few years, and our kids all went to public high school. Around the time our youngest entered ninth grade, we became a foster family to three little girls. Taking on this new responsibility meant adjustments and a fresh review of the activities on our calendars. Fortunately, the entire family had a heart for helping kids in hard places, so we all created space in our schedules. Everyone pitched in. Andrew, our oldest, and Garrett, our middle son, helped with driving kids to school and running errands. They also provided comic relief and entertained the girls, who'd never had brothers.
Our daughter, Allie, helped with child care and was an incredible role model for the girls. It was amazing to me that she could say the same things I'd say, but they would actually listen to her. The extra help from our kids gave Andy and me the needed margin to stay on top of appointments, parent visits, court dates and caseworker visits.
Because we chose to say no to less important activities, we had room to say yes to what really mattered to us — taking in three little girls who needed a home.
What's rewarded is repeated
Over time, our kids began seeing the value of saying no to certain opportunities in order to have more capacity for others. Recently, Allie, a senior at Auburn University, came to the conclusion that she was spreading herself too thin — being involved with Young Life, doing an internship with a startup church, leading in her sorority, and oh yeah, going to class. She made the hard decision to step away from a couple of activities she loved in order to give her best to the things she felt certain God had called her to.
Every now and then we get these little glimpses of proof that our kids really are getting what we're trying to teach them. Andy and I decided early on to make a big deal about our kids' good decisions. What's rewarded is repeated, and we decided we'd be crazy not to reward great decision-making. Sometimes it was simply verbal affirmation; other times a favorite dinner. I think I even resorted to balloons a time or two.
For me, a capstone moment came at my 50th birthday party. After dinner, each of my children read words they had written to honor me on my special day. Tears streamed down my face as my oldest son recounted how he had watched me live out each sacrificial no over the years so that I could stay focused on our family. He celebrated some of the opportunities I'm able to say yes to now. Who knew that my 25-year-old son was even paying attention to that? He talked about how proud he was that I was back in school getting a master's degree, taking advantage of writing and speaking opportunities, and pouring into our current foster daughter.
After hearing his words, I knew that I had given up far less than I had been given. Every no had indeed been worth it.Sandra Stanley is a foster care advocate, speaker and the author of Breathing Room: A 28-day devotional for women and The Comparison Trap: A 28-day devotional for women. Marie Isom is a freelance writer.