Reader Q: Where to Draw the Line

A reader asked me,

Your post on “saying no” hit home for me. I don’t handle saying no well. I say yes and then regret it. I feel like a jerk if I say no too many times to people or events. Then I burn out quickly if I have too much going on. I’ve had people make me feel bad if I say no to them. With my fibro, I know I need to rest more and start saying no more, but I know people with fibromyalgia who do more than me. I know what my priorities are, but I can’t seem to just do it…How do I draw the line between having good relationships and saying no? How do I say no without feeling like a jerk or lazy?

This isn’t easy. And, THAT is the understatement of the century.

My personal opinion on the matter is that you have to have something to give in order to be a blessing to others. If we perpetually allow others in our lives drain us until we’re dry, through over-commitment or an inability to say no to every good thing that comes along, we will not be able to accomplish much.

We need to have something to give if we’re to be a blessing. This means, we need to have some time for ourselves (depending on our personal needs in that department), we need to have time for our families, and we need to have time for the Lord, long before we make time for everything else and everybody else.  If “everybody else” can’t respect that, it’s not your problem; it’s theirs. 

Galatians 5:22-23 talks about the fruit of the Spirit, which needs to be cultivated in our lives, through time with Jesus. If someone or something is picking off fruit from your spiritual tree faster than it regrows, that’s going to leave you spiritually dead and fruitless. You can’t give someone what you don’t have.

An Object Lesson

Just as I was about to originally write this post, nearly two months ago now, I had a situation like this in my own life. I had to say no to a request from a friend because of prior commitments, someone got their feelings hurt and made assumptions about me being angry with them or otherwise having an ulterior motive to saying no, other than the clearly stated reason I gave.

This had happened several times already, but this time I put my foot down about being disrespected and wrongfully accused of having other motives in saying no.  I had to suggest she find a friend she could trust at face value, if that friend was not me.

It’s emotionally exhausting to have to explain yourself every time someone doesn’t like your answer.

This may sound cold, but I’m not here to make everyone in my life happy at the expense of my own life, health, sanity, and family.

Come Apart, or You Will Come Apart

Christ Himself, in speaking to the disciples, said to them, “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while.” (Mark 6:31).

Jesus, though He displayed for us perfect servanthood and love, did not allow everyone with a need around him to be around him 24/7. He often pulled away from the crowds, the needs, the pressing matters, and rested. He prayed. He renewed Himself. And, He commanded His disciples to do the same.

I’m big on generosity and on being a blessing in whatever way you can be to those God brings across your path.

However, you can only give what you have. If you wear yourself out running around doing all of the good things there is to do out there, you’ll find yourself without the energy or inner resources to do what you should be doing, the best things, the things that are most important to you.

Fenced-In Flexibility

This is not to say that I hold a hard line on scheduling and saying no. I try to be flexible but within set boundaries.

In other words, if I have to run an emergency errand for someone who has an urgent need, I’m not going to say no if it doesn’t happen on errand day. However, it depends on how maxed out I already am.

I’ve learned that there is a certain level of “busy” in my life that I can tolerate, and after that, life starts to fall apart. I set some tight fencing around that level, and allow myself some flexibility within that fence. 

This is because I’ve run around, busy as can be, with no fence at all, and collapsed in exhaustion, health problems, and realized I’ve neglected my family while helping everyone else’s. I have fibromyalgia too, and though my fibromyalgia is generally not an issue in my life much anymore, due to the fact that I’ve learned to take better care of myself, overextending myself sends me into a downward spiral. For me, it’s a matter of health to maintain those fences.

Don’t Put Your Toes to the Line

I think we each have a personal frustration level, where we feel over busy, rushed, and frazzled.

Years ago, when I was battling post partum depression and my fibromyalgia was at it’s worst, all of this came to a head. In fact, during this time, I realized that I needed to change how I approached my commitments, my relationships, and life in general.

My OBGYN gave me some great advice. She told me that if I know where my personal “line” is, I should not wait until my toes are right to the line to turn back and say “No!” I need to have a buffer zone, so to speak. 

If someone needed someone to fill in at the church nursery, I said yes even if I was exhausted. I was involved in many different things at church actually. I was involved at homeschool co-op. I was involved at Bible Study. I was trying to help and encourage three friends in hard places. I was trying to make my husband happier while he went through his own hard times. I was caring for young children. I frequently had others drop of their young children too, since I was at home “doing nothing” anyway. I was trying to placate some emotionally abusive extended family members. I had far too much on my plate, and not everything on that list was equally important to me, just important to everyone else. Since it was a “good thing” I felt obligated to say yes, instead of no.

I was doing all of this, while battling fibromyalgia, feeling like I went to sleep in wet concrete every morning when I woke up, and battling post partum depression. I don’t even know if the words “exhaustion” quite covered it.

If I know that getting involved to a certain level is going to cause me to start to fall apart, instead of committing myself right up to that line, I say no several steps earlier. After all, no situation is ever as advertised. Things tend to take longer than promised many times. I need to maintain the fencing, so to speak, and make sure we don’t go beyond my own abilities.

In the situation in January, I couldn’t drive up to her house in the morning because I had a commitment at noon. Technically, I could have, possibly, made it, as my schedule appeared free enough to someone looking from the outside in. However, I know where my line is. I was stressed about the preparations for the noon commitment, which was a non-negotiable for our family, and I knew if I had to leave the house before hand, I’d likely fall apart, get stressed, cause my fibromyalgia to flare back up, and have a generally bad day.

Back to Basics of Scheduling

Scheduling sounds so cold doesn’t it? As if prioritizing your life doesn’t leave any room to be a blessing or help out?

I’ve found, however, that the opposite is true. Keeping my priorities straight, and keeping my schedule well within a manageable level helps me to be more of a blessing, by helping me help within my maximum efficiency and health. If I get too exhausted or over-extended for too long, I’m not a happy shiny person to be around. 🙁

Keeping my priorities/schedule within a manageable level leaves room for what's impt Click To Tweet

The basics, as I’ve discussed elsewhere, start with figuring out what is most important to you in the different roles you have in life, and setting goals and priorities for those roles.

In many cases, when we look at what we value when deciding when to say yes and when to say no, we’ll find that the decision has already been made, in theory anyway.

look at what u value when making decisions, & the decision has already been made Click To Tweet

Being Misjudged Over Your Lines

There will always be people who aren’t going to understand you and your decisions. Unless someone has walked in your shoes, and experienced what you’ve experienced in life, they aren’t going to get it.

In other words, I don’t know if there is a way to say no to something that will guarantee that there won’t be someone thinking of you as a “jerk,” to use your words. Other words I’ve heard are “selfish”, “too focused on –“, “too busy with [something they don’t value but you do]”, “too shy”, “too lazy”, “carnal”, “uncompassionate”, “greedy”, and so on. You get the picture.

Some will think you're a jerk for saying no. That's their problem. Click To Tweet

More often than not, I’ve had people look at me, deem me perfectly healthy, tell me if I really had fibromyalgia I’d be much sicker as they are, or explain to me that they have fibromyalgia but still do x, y, and z, and dismiss “my fibro excuse” as a lame excuse to say no. It took me years to get to the place of saying, “Not my problem.” Really. It’s not my problem what people think of me or my decisions. 

It's not my problem what people think of me or my decisions. Click To Tweet

“The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the LORD shall be safe.” (Proverbs 29:25)

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