Jen searched her calendar, urgently looking for a free evening. She simply must squeeze her sister in somewhere—they hadn’t gotten together for weeks! Friday was her only open evening, so she texted her sister to confirm she was free and then excitedly wrote in “dinner with Sis!” in the small empty white space in her calendar.  

Then, Wednesday evening, Jen got a call from the youth pastor. “Jen, we really need another female chaperone, or we’ll have to cancel the girls’ event on Friday night. Can you help us out?”

Jen was torn: Should she help out or not? Yes, her sister would understand if she volunteered, but she’d already worked at church two days that week. It wouldn’t be fair to cancel on her sister. Still, the youth girls had really been looking forward to this event. They needed her. And being a Christian meant sacrificing. How could she refuse to help?

And so, using “I can do all things through Christ” as her motto, Jen once again donned her Superwoman cape.

Yes, Christ does give Jen the power to do anything He asks her to do. But are the things in her schedule things God purposed for her to do? Or were some of those things meant as tasks for other believers?

How about you? 

Is it hard for you to say “No”? We’ve all heard about the stressed-out Mom who, because she couldn’t say “no,” didn’t have time with her children, or the workaholic Dad who always missed his son’s soccer games.

But have you ever considered that you might be overcommitted?

I know I’m often guilty of taking on too much. It crowds my relationships with family, friends, and even God. Now, of course it’s important to be available to serve the Lord. But sometimes we think that we are the only ones who can help. We get into a pattern of prioritizing everything else over our relationships.

How can we avoid overcommitment? Here are some practical steps we can take:

Do not answer immediately. Pray about it, check your calendar, and seek godly counsel if necessary. You may also try screening your calls to avoid feeling pressured into giving an immediate response.

Count the cost. Ask yourself: Is committing to this activity/performing this favor going to cut into my time with God, my family, or my partner? Will I be making a one-time commitment, or will this become an on-going responsibility?

Pray. God doesn’t intend for you to do everything. In his book, Freedom from Tyranny of the Urgent, Charles Hummel points out that “As Christians, we feel an obligation to be a good Samaritan. Yet we must realize that the need itself, however urgent, is not necessarily a call for us to meet it. The need may be an occasion to do what the railroad signs command: ‘stop, look, and listen’—and to be open to changing our plans if necessary. But the call for us to act must come from the Lord, who knows our limitations Psalms 103:13-14.”  

If you do accept, communicate your limitations. Instead of just saying, “Yes, I will babysit your kids,” be more specific. For example, you might say, “I’m excited to watch your kids. But, I get off of work at five o’clock, so I can’t get to your place any earlier than six. And, because I have an early morning appointment, I need to leave no later than eleven.” Don’t assume that people know your limitations. Make them known up front to avoid being overstretched and volunteering more time than you have to give.

If you don’t accept, give them a lead. If you decline an opportunity to serve, perhaps you can still assist by suggesting someone else who might be able to help. Don’t limit your suggestions to people who have already helped out in similar situations. God wants all of His children to know the blessing of serving others. Give others a chance to experience this blessing by drawing attention to their potential, which may be unknown or hidden from the person looking for an assistant.

Don’t feel guilty about your well-considered decision. You don’t have to justify or explain why you can’t do it. Just say no graciously and trust that God will provide the right person to fill the role. For example, “I really would love to help out with the church pot-luck, but I can’t make it this time. Please let me know when the next one is.”

Learning to say “no” can be hard, but this it is worth it! Learn to say this little two-letter word now, and reap the benefits in your relationships for the rest of your life.

Felicia Alvarez lives in Southern California and loves avocados, sunshine, and serving her Savior. Currently, she teaches dance to over one hundred students and is working on her second book. Connect with Felicia on her blog or Facebook—she would love to hear from you.

Publication date: May 16, 2013