Pressing Concerns

The theme of this past few days seems to be a balance between “doing all the things” and “generally slacking off.” I reworked a flower bed Sable destroyed, but did not mow. I’ve read a client submission, but also finished reading a Louis L’Amour novel. It seems I measure life in terms of checklists.

I drove to the hardware store Saturday and ended up spending a lot for 2 projects. I needed to fix a succulent flower bed in the back that Sable had started digging out. I also have a front path that is overgrown with grass, and I wanted to trade it out for large pavers.

So far, I’ve only done that back garden. I filled half the bed with large Terra Cotta pots, anchored to the ground by 8 inch bolts. She immediately tried to tip one and gave up. Victory! I also covered her favorite wallows with anti-dig mats. So far, she’s leaving them alone, too.

Pots filled with sedum, grass, and hens and chicks
These pots all have several anchors holding them down.
More pots fill of sedum and hens and chicks
Sable in front of the flower bed
Sable says, “What are you doing to me, Lady?”

I brightened up a high window sill in my front room with some pretty cobalt blue blown glass I got for 50 cents a piece at an estate sale.

Backlit row of blue glass vases in a windowsill
I got all but the light colored pieces of glass at a nearby estate sale this weekend.

I topped that off with a Monday night bout of productivity. I scrubbed almost all of the vintage pyrex I picked up at that estate sale, cleaned out the fridge, tried my hand at making Asian fried rice (not too bad for a beginner), and wrapped it up with proofreading 5 pages of a client’s manuscript.

Sable kept glaring at me for keeping her up.

So on one of my driving trips over the weekend, I was thinking about why I was doing all of this. I push myself hard, until, unfortunately, my health suffers. I’m a bit more fragile than I used to be, and I forget. This morning I woke up with the pains to prove it.

The fact is, I’ve heard lots of sermons that argue well that we are made to work and be satisfied with our work. On the other hand, I’ve heard good sermons about how we need to rest. Clearly God wants us to find a balance! I’m not sure I’ve found it yet.

Looking into myself, I realized I’m trying to achieve peace by doing all this stuff. It’s not that I’ve failed at that–several visitors before Covid kept remarking on how peaceful it felt in my house. However, I think the striving can become a destructive thing if it takes up too much of my focus.

I wanted peace from looking at that mess Sable was making in my flower bed, so I spent a bunch to buy pots and potting soil, anchors, mesh, replacement plants for the dead ones, and fill gravel. I wanted peace from looking at my weedy walk, so I bought pavers and sand galore.

But this is only a temporary peace. I will find something else to stress about next week. The projects may never be done. I may spend a fortune on fixing my house, but I’ll never hit the end of the checklists!

If I want real peace, I need to go talk to the giver of peace. I realized in my devotional this morning that David’s son, who built the temple, was named peace. Solomon is a derivative of the Hebrew word for peace! Somehow I had always missed that! And David’s greater “Son” Jesus built a spiritual temple in the legacy of the family, and He did it to bring a permanent peace.

If we want peace, especially in these times, we need to pray and read our Bibles, so we can draw nearer to the Prince of Peace. There’s a lot of peace to be had in His presence.

Saying “No”

noOver the past two days, multiple sources (blog articles on LinkedIn, memes, customers at my workplace) have told me that one of the biggest keys to success is the habit of saying “no.”

This gives me pause.

I have spent most of my life saying “yes” to just about everyone and everything, with mixed results. When you need money, you will say “yes” to just about any legitimate-sounding offer of work. When you are lonely, you will go along with someone else’s ideas of fun. In my experience, these “yes” moves have mostly introduced me to things I never would have tried and brought good things into my life. I’m glad I said “yes.”

But, what about saying “no”? I look back at some of the biggest moments I have said “no,” and see those might have had an even more profound effect on my life than the times I have said “yes.” There was the time I decided not to go to my parents’ alma mater for college, or the time I ended a very serious relationship that had been headed toward marriage. Those “no’s” were dramatic, but I wouldn’t be the person I am if I hadn’t said them.

While saying “yes” has brought hope and possibilities into my life, saying “no” has closed doors and burned bridges, which helped me identify what I really wanted out of life. Saying “no” helped me move forward by taking away the anxiety of having too many choices to make.

I’ve always been reluctant to say “no,” except on the topics I consider “unquestionable,” such as my faith and what I believe God has told me to do. Lately, I’ve been seeing that I need more and better boundaries. A lack of good boundaries have left me feeling off-balance, and parts of my life have been brought to a standstill by indecision in these moments. Maybe, (and it is even hard to write this) I should be saying “no” a little more often.

I recently read Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, and Unashamed by Christine Caine. Both books reinforce this concept in their own ways, and called some areas of my life into question.

I decided to push back, and start saying “no” when I was justified. This has turned out to be a harder project than I realized.

I started small, by donating a lot of belongings I owned because of guilt or “making do” or “because someone else insisted” (I may blog about this soon).  I signed up for a dance class, started learning FreeCAD software, and checked out books on grant writing and e-publishing because I had let habit and lack of experience take the place of real decision making.  I have started to redraw some life boundaries and say “no” to some things when I had been putting that off. I’ve started very, very small, but I’ve started.

Even though I’m not the expert on “no,” and I’ve got a long way to go, I thought I’d share some questions I’ve been asking myself when trying to decide whether to say “yes” or “no.”

  1. Am I saying “yes” just to please other people? God has called us to be kind and accommodating to our fellow man, but He didn’t tell us that we cannot say “no.” Let me say it again! “No” is not an unchristian word! Being afraid to displease others can be a kind of bondage that ties us to their whims and sets us against our own consciences sometimes. God has given us free will, but He did it so we could trust and obey Him, and achieve the things He prepared in advance for us to do.
  2. What will I lose when I say “no”? It’s biblical to count the costs, but I have a problem with exaggerating them in my mind. This question is good for giving yourself some reality therapy. A decision to ignore some well-meant but misguided advice on a trivial matter should not (in normal events) end a relationship.
  3. What will I gain if I say “no”? If, in the last example, saying “no” ended that relationship, perhaps you gained some freedom from a toxic relationship. Most of the time, the benefit is seen more in free time to do other things or clearer goal-setting, and these are very valuable in my efforts to reach my full God-given potential.
  4. Why am I afraid to say “no”? This question has helped me figure out what was holding me back in relationships, in career choices, and even in small lifestyle decisions like sorting clothing to wear or to give away. “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7 NIV).
  5. Have I said “yes” to avoid something else? I’ll admit to having said “yes” to things, simply because they would be nice distractions from the task at hand, which I didn’t want to face. This question is to help me refocus on the goal and deal with why I am actively avoiding it.

I think there is truth in this statement that “no” is the key to success, but I’m still working on it.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this, including any revealing questions you’d like to add to my list. Leave me a comment!