It’s surprising to see an article in the mainstream media encouraging couples to work at their marriage so it’s worth highlighting them when they come along. This one is worth a read.
The motives for sticking together fall far short of those I would appeal to when urging Christians to work at a marriage but they are true none the less. According to Angela Neustatter;
There is now so much research demonstrating that if people can manage to survive their tough patches, and make time and energy to focus on what they have together rather than what is missing, the hidden psychological and physical beneﬁts are enormous. It’s not a question of morality versus narcissism – making your bed and lying on it, rather than heading for the hills – but understanding what will ultimately make us happiest.
[Thanks to Solas Centre for highlighting this article]
Let’s be honest, how many of us have ever even heard of a NOT-to-do list let alone tried to make use of one? In a blog post in the Daily Telegraph Daniel H. Pink (author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us) argues the case that in a world of too many competing priorities, to quote Tom Peters, ‘what you decide not to do is probably more important than what you decide to do.’
The key insight of both Peters and [Jim] Collins is that we spend too much time on addition and not nearly enough on subtraction. Yet it’s only by taking away what doesn’t matter that allows us to reveal what does matter.
That’s why a couple of years ago I began using a hybrid of the Peters’ and Collins’ techniques – a combo of a to-don’t and stop-doing list. I revisit the list more than once a year, but I don’t craft a new one every day. Instead, I post it on the wall next to my desk where it’s always in view and revise it when circumstances demand.
Let me share with you what’s been on the list:
• Don’t answer email during peak morning writing hours;
• Don’t accept meetings or conference calls initiated by others that you wouldn’t have initiated yourself;
• Don’t drink coffee in the afternoon;
• Don’t go to sleep after 11pm.
Pink’s examples in his NOT-to-do list are a good starter but they are limited to general principles of working practice. I wonder how we could extend them to strategic priorities in our work? A NOT-to-list could be extended to help us choose between good, yet competing, options and opportunities at work and become an ally in that battle to say ‘no’ to people (see this blog post on the issue).
How might that work?
Maybe our list of what we do NOT do could include;
Decisions as to where we will NOT put our energies to ensure that we can focus them elsewhere.
A decision NOT to let my sermon preparation time suffer in my role as a church pastor might mean agreeing NOT to accept any more than ‘x’ speaking invitations in a quarter or year. Learning to say no to some things is certainly helped if we have already committed NOT to do so too!
A decision NOT to give time to developing one ministry area (by ideally delegating it to another) so that I can invest more energy in a different area.
And so on.
Then of course there is the option to publish our NOT-to-do list. That would be an interesting thought that colleagues and for me my congregation knew what I wanted them NOT to ask me to do!
Skimming through some of my old paperbacks I came across ‘Pressure Points: How to survive in your stress filled world’ by Peter Meadows.
He offers some good common sense advice on learning to say ‘no’ to people when they make demands of our time. In the book he refers to the ‘seven steps of saying ‘no’’.
1. Make up your mind before any request is likely to come. It is easier to set boundaries when not confronted with specific requests.
2. If caught unaware, at least play for time by, asking for more information or a chance to think it over.
3. Remind yourself that if they feel they have the permission to ask, you have the permission to say no. You are free to set your own priorities, express your own opinions, assert your own values – without feeling guilty or selfish.
4. Deliberately speak slowly, steadily and warmly to avoid the danger of sounding rude or abrupt.
5. Say ‘no’ clearly, firmly and without any long-winded explanation, invented excuses or self-justification. It might help to own up to your feelings – ‘I feel embarrassed about this, but I’m going to have to say “no” or “I feel guilty saying “no”, but that’s the answer I’m going to have to give,’
6. Stick to your statement, repeating it as often as is necessary to get your message across.
7. Don’t hang around. To do so could send out misleading signals and encourage those who are asking to try to persuade you to change your mind.
But why can’t we just say ‘no’?
Meadows offers some good advice but wouldn’t it be even better to ask some questions when we are struggling to say ‘no.’ Here’s our opportunity to dig a little deeper and ask ‘why is this such a problem for me?’ and ‘what exactly is at work in the motives of our hearts when we just can’t say ‘no’?
In trying to identify reasons we might find a number of different motives at work in different circumstances.
a. A godly motive. Sometimes there are situations in which it is a godly response to say ‘yes’ even if you would rather say ‘no.’ Perhaps a moment of crisis in which you have to step in to prevent something bad from happening. There are times when you must sacrifice time and other plans to meet an urgent need eg a pastoral crisis or to cover illness.
b. Pride or flattery. Maybe we are struggling to say ‘no’ to something simply because we’re feeling good about being asked! We feel noticed, important, valued. It might be that we’re glad for an opportunity to show what we can do, to make a name for ourselves or establish a reputation at work or church.
c. A sense of importance that comes not from the individual request but from the cumulative effect of being too busy. Some of us love the adrenalin rush from over-commitment and a sense of things being out of control. Like a drug we love being simply too busy!
d. Guilt. There is an evangelical guilt that is self-induced rather than God-induced. We feel we ought to say ‘yes’ because that is the Christian thing to do even if that means denying our higher calling of loving our spouse or children perhaps. Maybe we feel that we would be letting God down or that he would be disappointed in us if we don’t. We might even reason that we must say ‘yes’ because ‘if I don’t do it God’s purposes may fail’.
e. Fear. At other times we don’t want to say ‘no’ because we are afraid of what impact it will have on our relationship with others. What it might do to a friendship or working relationship. What others will think of us. We fear their rejection and their condemnation. A general fear of rejection or retaliation if we don’t can be a powerful factor in simply being unable to say ‘no’.
Assessing your motives:
At heart, the issue is whether if I say ‘yes’ I can with integrity say I am doing this for God and not for me. Is this me working from a secure identity in Christ or working for an identity in my work?
The following questions might help:
- Would you be as happy for someone else to do it as for yourself to do it?
- Do you think God can’t do this without you?
- In saying ‘yes’ would you be putting your work ahead of other, higher, calling. E.g to family.
- Are you more worried as to what others think of your decision than what God things of your decision.
Paul David Tripp warns:
The objects of most of our desires are not evil. The problem is the way they tend to grow, and the control they come to exercise over our hearts. Desires are a part of human existence, but they must be held with an open hand. All human desire must be held in submission to a greater purpose, the desires of God and his Kingdom.
Various other strategies may help:
1. Time out! Recognise that even 24 hours may help you decide the wisdom of saying yes or no. So ask for the request to be sent in a-mail because that gives you time to reflect. It also happens to be easier to write ‘no’ than to say ‘no’ so it will help with the fear of man!
2. Involve others in your decisions.
That may be a boss, it may be a spouse or good friend. It’s easier for others to help you assess whether it would be appropriate to say ‘yes’.It’s also easier to say ‘no’ if you can tell the person who’s made the invitation that it was a team decision.
Paul David Tripp writes in Instruments in the Redeemers Hands
If my heart is the source of my sin problem, then lasting change must always travel through the pathway of my heart. It is not enough to alter my behaviour or to change my circumstances.
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