Just Say No!
We often talk about overcommitment (or entanglement), but what is it exactly? A simple definition might be the inability or unwillingness to say no when we should. So why would anyone get overcommitted when all he needs to do is say “No!” at the right times? I think there are four reasons:
- Often we don’t want to say no.
- Many of us don’t know how to say no.
- Most of us don’t understand what we should say no to.
Suppose someone approaches you at church and asks you to assume a responsibility. How do you react? If you’re already so overcommitted that you’re experiencing anxiety, you might say no in a very inappropriate way. You might be defensive or become angry. You may cry. You might respond with a lecture, or wither the person with your meanest look. What you probably would not do is thank him for being offered an opportunity to fill that need.
If you’re not already anxious despite being overcommitted, you might go to the other extreme. You know you shouldn’t say yes, but you might anyway. You may conceal your discomfort, even though you resent being asked.
There is a third category: If you’re the rare individual who is not already overcommitted, you may feel like someone who is not in debt. Have you ever just paid off a credit card bill and felt the irresistible urge to go out and charge something? That is exactly what overcommitment is–attempting to spend time that you don’t have, going into debt with your time.
Thankfully, God did not make provision for either saving up time or for spending it in advance. Instead, we suffer at the point where we would borrow if we could. Overcommitment, then, is our futile attempt to “borrow” time. Each of us, at one time or another, fails to say no when we should. But that is no excuse for being overcommitted as a way of life.
The average person finds himself overcommitted far too often. Many people don’t know what it would be like not to be overcommitted! Ironically, among Christians the person most likely to overcommit himself is one who reflects much of the fruit of the Spirit as expressed in Galatians 5:22, 23–love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and gentleness. Eagerness to serve and exercise spiritual gifts can prompt a detour to the path of unrighteousness because of overcommitment.
You may have noted that the one fruit of the Spirit that I didn’t mention was self-control. The Christian without self-control or self-discipline (actually Holy Spirit-directed discipline) can display all the outward signs of a Spirit-led life and yet be ineffective due to poor discipline. Our strengths almost always relate to our weaknesses. Lack of self-control can neutralize even those whom God could use the most, despite how many good traits they have.
A different kind of person often guilty of overcommitment is the self–centered individual who wants it all–and right now! He constantly drives for success in the secular sense. He never has enough time to accumulate all the wealth, acquire all the knowledge or achieve all the power that he feels he needs. This person suffers from greed; he will never have enough. He refuses to say no for the opposite reason as the servant. He fears missing something for himself, rather than an opportunity to serve someone else. Then there are the rest of us. We are at neither extreme; we just haven’t learned when and to what we should say no. Our yes or no is haphazard, a response to circumstances of the moment rather than planning. Generally, we attribute overcommitment to lack of personal organization, but even the most organized person finds himself overcommitted once in a while. Here are some ways you can avoid the trap of entanglement:
Establish Goals and Priorities.
If you know enough about yourself and how you use time, you should avoid chronic overcommitment. You know where you’ve been, where you are and where you’re going. Based on your goals and priorities, you can be prepared to say no to things that are not consistent with those objectives.
For instance, an opportunity for career advancement almost always comes with a cost attached. You may be asked to devote 75 percent of your time over the next year to travel. If you haven’t set goals and priorities for yourself and your family, you have no rational basis for turning down such an opportunity. You suspect this will create problems at home, but you have no objective way to analyze the consequences. (And let’s face it–that’s not something we like to do in advance.) But if you have specific goals and priorities, it is much easier to recognize potential conflicts and arrive at the right decision. In this way, we can be more confident about knowing when God wants us to say yes and when He wants us to say no.
We frequently become overcommitted because we aren’t accountable to anyone. If you are married, make a habit of consulting your spouse before making commitments. A friend of mine has spent half his life making unrealistic commitments–and the other half undoing them after his wife finds out.
Consider Other Factors.
Sometimes the reasons for overcommitment are beyond our immediate control. If your boss is unrealistic about your workload or abilities, you may stay overcommitted without fully understanding why. Or you may have physical or emotional problems which inhibit your performance. These must be identified and addressed before you can do anything at a reasonable rate.
Put God’s Desires First.
Disobedience is the underlying problem with overcommitment. We don’t do what God wants and we do what He doesn’t want. So the first step in dealing with overload is to understand what He is saying now. You may have to follow through on commitments that you now know were not in God’s plan for you, but you may need to go back and say no to other commitments. The cost may be high, and it’s difficult to break commitments, but if that’s what God wants you to do, you must be willing–if not exactly tickled pink about doing so.
Wait Before Saying Yes.
Form a habit of never saying yes until you have had time to pray about a request. When asked to do something, give a specific time when you will be able to give an answer. Make a note of the request and pray about it during your next quiet time.
God is seldom, if ever, in a hurry. Even when you know your answer will be yes, don’t respond immediately. If it’s important to God, it will wait at least one day. It’s surprising how much difference a one-day delay can make. You may still say yes, but you will have much more insight into your decision. For example, you may determine that a different completion date for a project is needed, or someone else should also be involved.
One final word: Follow the axiom, “If in doubt, don’t.” You may occasionally miss a blessing, but you also will avoid tons for grief. I find it’s much better to run the risk of missing God than to bear the pain of getting ahead of Him.