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It may seem that because I am involved in everything and always willing to go the extra mile, I must be the most selfless and generous person ever. While I would like for those things are true about me, sometimes it is just that I don’t know how to say no.
Every time you say yes to something, you are choosing to say no to something else. This concept is true in any area where there is a limited amount of something. It’s much easier for me to understand this concept as it pertains to our finances. We have a limited amount of money. Therefore, I can buy a daily $5 fancy coffee, or I can say no to that little splurge and choose to save those $5 a day for a vacation. It’s not difficult to say no to the coffee if I know that I get something better in return.
I know how to say no when it comes to my finances
In finance, this has been pretty easy for me. I can recognize the cost/benefit and look forward to that upcoming vacation. It’s been freeing for me to stick to a budget to do or have the things we really value. Participating in Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University helped me see these concepts in action as we now have an emergency fund, savings and can go on family vacations. The photo books that we keep in the family room remind me of this daily. The experiences in those books remind me that the financial sacrifices are worth it.
Other areas of my life… not so much
Recognizing that these budgeting concepts apply in other areas of my life is an important step, but in situations where there are people involved, it seems I still don’t know how to say no. This is the “people pleaser” in me that I fight constantly. This deep-seated need to make everyone happy recently brought me to a pretty low place.
Here is a Pastor’s wife confession that I’m not even sure I want to admit. It feels wrong to say, but I think it is because I have been conditioned to believe that as the pastor’s wife, I need always to be willing and able to help everyone. While that is mostly true of me, I am still a human that has a lot of growing yet to do. Here goes…
I sometimes become bitter and resentful about the things I say yes to!
Yep. I said it. I say yes to things that I have a choice about, and then I get mad about having to do the thing I said yes to. It seems so ridiculous as I write it. Apparently, I have the emotional intelligence of a toddler at times. I’m like the kid who says they want extra spaghetti and then throws it on the floor because they hate spaghetti.
Ummm… If you don’t want to do something, just say no, Carrie!
In March of 2020, the world turned upside down, and church services went online. It turns out that I needed that time alone in my living room. For the first time in as long as I can remember, I could actually focus on God, the Bible teaching, and worship without putting out fires and worrying about everyone else. With my job’s craziness and the anxiety I felt because of it, I really needed that alone time. For that hour and a half of church in my living room, I could actually breathe! The first month of the shutdown, when the church was closed, was actually healing for me.
The typical life of a pastor’s wife
For the past ten years, I have served every Sunday without a break. Serving in ministries where I am not gifted to fill a need was a weekly occurrence. I served in Children’s Ministry while also being a teacher and a mom, greeted at the door, taught Jr. High, and filled in in the nursery. Serving my church is one of the things I enjoy most, but I desperately needed that break!
That hour and a half on Sunday helped me realize that I need to prioritize some things because I am trying to do too much. Frustration and bitterness were setting in because I wanted to do it all, but I was spread so thin that I was not doing anything well. At least I didn’t feel like I was.
Teaching was crushing me- I didn’t know how to say no
I had already said no to many things since I started teaching. It was apparent that I should have said no to something else. That day it was clear to me that I needed the break. Only the break I needed wasn’t from the church; I needed a break from my chosen career.
Working 60+ hours a week at school and feeling like the work was never done was killing me. Sundays, which I had always looked forward to, felt like a burden. I would serve where I was needed, but I didn’t want to talk to anyone. It’s not that I don’t love the people at my church and want to help them; I absolutely do. Exhaustion had set in, and there was nothing left in me to give. This brought with it an enormous amount of guilt, and I was miserable.
Grading papers and lesson planning filled my Saturdays. With a full day at church on Sunday, I never truly had a day off. Guilt overwhelmed me because I am a pastor’s wife who literally moved here to serve this community… and I didn’t have the capacity to do it. In my mind, I was failing my husband, I was failing my church, and I was ultimately failing as a Christian. Right before we went into quarantine, I was at one of the lowest places that I have been in a long time.
I needed church in my living room for God to teach me how to say no
That time in my living room gave me the courage to make better choices for our family. For a while, I had known that the thing I really had to say no to was teaching. I loved the people I worked with, the students, and the families at my school. The thought of leaving was heartbreaking, but I knew the job was killing me. Finally, with some encouragement from my son, who said, “You never spend time with us; you are always working!” (OUCH!) I finally had the strength to do something about it. I resigned from my position as a teacher and decided to look for something part-time to have more time for the most important things in my life.
You guys! I went back to school for this! I worked my butt off to pursue this career that I thought was my calling. Since my first year of teaching, I’d known that it wasn’t working for our family, but I kept hoping it would get better. It didn’t. On a positive note, we did get to take the best vacation ever! The problem is… vacation was the only real quality time we had together and it only happened once a year!
I now recognize that even though I was helping people and “making a difference in the world,” my job took me away from all the things I value most; my husband, my kids, and the church community we moved here to serve. I had become bitter and angry at all of my obligations. Not because I didn’t enjoy them or want to serve, but because I felt like I was drowning. Once I quit my job, I felt free.
This is not a working mom vs. stay at home mom debate
I feel the need to be clear on something here. This is not me saying that all women should stay home, and my problems were caused because I went back to work. While many women thrive while staying home, some of the best moms I know work full-time and still spend quality time with their kids and serve others. In fact, some of them do it better when they are working. I have many teacher friends who have been able to find a balance and are “rock stars” in my book. I do not believe there is a one size fits all “right way.” For me, working 60 hours a week was not helping anyone, and I was miserable.
Learning how to say no allows me to say yes
Yes to my kids
Several things happened after I had the courage to say no to teaching. First, I have spent more time with my kids in the past few months than I have in the last 4 years combined. Really, our 2-week yearly vacation was our only true quality family time. Now, I can do fun things with them again and create things like I did when they were little. My son literally said, “You spend so much time with us now; it’s great!” Learning how to say no has allowed me to say yes to my kids.
Yes to my husband
Next, I actually enjoy time with my husband again. Don’t get me wrong, my husband is my favorite person in the universe. He’s funny, kind, and the least annoying person I have ever met. However, when I am stressed out, my frustration gets taken out on him because he is safe. We have been able to have fun together again. We laugh a lot, run errands together, and force our kids to do things with us. I have missed him so much. Learning how to say no has allowed me to say yes to my husband.
Yes to serving and blessing others
Additionally, I am again in a place where I enjoy serving at church. Making plans with friends is something I look forward to, and I look for opportunities to invite people into my home. I didn’t realize the impact of losing these things, but I had to say no to all of them in order to teach. I only have so much time in the day, and my job took up 90% of it. Slowly bringing these things back has brought me joy. Learning how to say no has allowed me to say yes to serving and blessing others.
Yes to something that fills my soul
Finally, I was able to start this blog. For the past ten years, I have had it on my heart but always filled my plate with other things. For years I wanted to be a voice for those, like me, who don’t have it all together. Not because I think I have arrived, but because in my mistakes and trial and error, I have learned some things and have come out okay on the other side. By learning to say no, I discovered that my dream differed from what I thought it was. I have found something that fills my soul.
It’s not like quitting my job magically solved the problem; Overcommitment is still an issue because I don’t want to let people down. This is a character flaw that I am working on. Continuing to be thoughtful about my decisions is a way forward. In the past, putting a system in place has helped me to be intentional with my time. If you are like me, you will benefit from a system too.
How do you keep saying no in order to say yes?
The American Psychological Association has a great article on avoiding overcommitment. The four steps that they give to making good choices are: Examine your schedule and available time, survey and prioritize, avoid last-minute commitments, and say “no” and “yes” and mean it.
Create a budget for your time
Having a budget helped me tremendously with my finances. I need that same sort of budget for my time, as well. Prioritizing values will ensure that there is enough time for the things that I love. For me, it is God, my family, close friends, and serving others. It is too easy to fall back into the trap of saying yes to everything and then feeling resentful.
My highest values deserve at least as much attention as I put into my finances. Looking at how much time we have (examine your schedule) and intentionally setting time aside for the most important things (survey and prioritize) is critical. I even choose to pencil in time for last-minute plans. Some of our favorite things happen last minute because I don’t have to stress seeing them on the schedule. Then it’s no longer an overcommitment but a choice. The difficult part of all of this is that sometimes we still have to say no to really good things!
It is a certainty that unexpected things will still come up. I mean, I am married to a pastor. Crises happen. I need to be prepared for them by not already overcommitting myself. That way, when things get interrupted, it’s not devastating. I’ll be honest. When I have one night a month with my family and someone needs my husband; it sucks! The goal is that I have more than one night a month set aside for my family.
Our priorities can change each month, week, or day, as life has different seasons. But, we must be intentional about what we are saying yes to and what we are saying no to. Consider a monthly “time budget meeting” to keep yourself in check. Also, find a good planner or create your own spreadsheet. I am doing both of these things. Keep a list of your priorities and color code them to ensure that your time is not being eaten up by too many things that don’t matter. In my daily planner, I use different colors for each category. On the spreadsheet, I can color code and see the bigger picture of what my time is being spent on.30% Off Softbound Lifeplanners
See it on paper
I made a simple google doc and colored in the time slots by category. I categorized self-care, kids, husband, work, and church. If you would like to use a blank version of mine to see what your week looks like, click here. <<blank time budget tracker>>
In Conclusion, I realize that everyone can’t just quit their jobs if they are unhappy. I also think there are times to say yes simply because it is the right thing to do, even when we need to give up a bit of family time or self-care. But we must check our priorities and make sure we are doing our best to spend time on the things that matter. I can easily get sucked into watching a show for 2 hours but then get mad that I don’t get enough sleep. It’s not always a matter of time, but priorities. Pay attention to the things your yesses are keeping you from. That is the first step to making a change.
I am grateful for that time that I had church alone in my living room so that God could open my eyes to see what really matters and give me the strength to make changes.
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