Teachers have big hearts.
We love to serve others.
We love to jump in and help.
That’s why we are teachers. But what happens when that desire to serve almost crushes us under the weight of many obligations that we have voluntarily put ourselves under? Extra activities and responsibilities at school, church ministry opportunities, and family obligations can threaten to topple us over.
It might be time to learn how to say “no.”
This is a skill that I am currently working on learning 🙂 It’s such a small word but soooo hard to say! When a request comes your way, learn to not answer right away. It’s okay to say, “can I get back to you on that?” . That will give you time to think through it, pray about it, and seek counsel. As you look at the opportunity, here are a few principles to keep in mind.
Check your motives
When I am approached with a request, what is my motivation in accepting (or rejecting) it? Many times my motivation lies in my pride. I am naturally a people pleaser. I love for everyone around me to be happy, and especially for them to be happy with me. Saying “yes” to something makes people smile at me – they thank me. They think that I am wonderful. And I feel wonderful…until I realize what I just got myself into.
True confession – I have recently been looking at the many different things that I am involved in and was feeling overwhelmed. There just wasn’t enough time to do everything and to do it well. I began working on how to let the leader of our public school Bible club know that I would need to step down for next year. That very day, as I was thinking about how best to talk to her and explain my reasons…a few of us (including the leader) were discussing the idea of having some of our high schoolers create some wordless books for the kids, and before I could fully grasp what was happening, I was volunteering to take on that new project including getting permission from administration and parents. I climbed into my car, shell-shocked at how I had planned on giving something up – only to take on an additional responsibility! Yet, I had no one to blame but myself – I wanted everyone to be happy so I said “yes”.
If the only reason you are not saying “no” is because you don’t want to displease someone, that should at least make you stop and take some time to think through your decision!
Another thing to check is your view of God. Sometimes I say “yes” to new ministries because I have a wrong view of God. I should be serving Him out of gratitude for what He has done for me – yet sometimes I find myself slipping into the thoughts of trying to impress God or earn His love and approval. But just as I was saved by grace and not by good works (Eph. 2:8-9), I also live by grace. God loves me the same no matter what I do!
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)
Check your priorities
So maybe you have checked your motives and they are honestly good – you really just want to serve God or others in this way. Does that mean you should say “yes”? Well, not necessarily!
There are many genuine needs that I feel burdened to help out with…but I can’t do them all. How do I decide what to say “yes” to and what to politely decline? It can help to sit down and decide your priorities.
- Your relationship with the Lord – this must be first. It can be easy to get so busy serving God that we neglect to build our relationship with Him through quiet time in prayer and His Word. If I say “yes”, will this new responsibility hinder my time and energy to spend with Lord? Martha learned this – she was working so hard for the Lord, yet her service became a distraction.
And she [Martha] had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. (Luke 10:39-40A).
- Your Family – I grew up as a missionary kid, and I am so thankful that I got to see the way my parents lived this out. Your family is your first ministry – not your students. If you say “yes”, how will that affect your family?
After those two priorities, you will have to finish the list on your own 😉 ! Involvement in your local church should be high on the list (Hebrew 10:25), taking care of yourself by having the time to eat right and exercise (I Cor. 6:19), and your students should also be somewhere on that list. Ask yourself – if you say “yes” to this new opportunity, what will you have to say “no” to in order to make it work? At this point of my life, my students are my main ministry. For me, I ultimately had to make the decision to say “no” to the Bible club ministry because I saw that it was draining time and energy away from my own students. Also, in doing everything, I was not doing anything really well – just keeping my head above water.
Also a quick note here on priorities – you need to have some time to take care of yourself and recharge. Just because there are 24 hours in the day and 7 days in a week, you don’t have you use up every single one! Now, we have to be careful here – there is a balance between hoarding our time for pleasure and realizing that we honestly do need to take time to recharge. God did not design us to run continuously – even Jesus had several times on earth where He went away from the crowds to rest and recharge. If the Son of God needed to rest during His time here on earth, so do we!
Keep a Servant’s Heart
It is okay to say “no”. But it is not okay to do it without a willing heart. Here’s what I mean – a servant’s heart is not quick to say “no” – it hears the person out and gives thoughtful consideration to what they are asking. A servant’s heart does not keep score of its service and smugly review it while looking down on others’ lack of service. A servant’s heart does not complain about all that it already has to do. A servant’s heart is not defensive. It is a heart that is willing to serve however God calls, but it humbly realizes that it can’t do everything.
If you have prayed through the decision and feel that it is not something that you can undertake right now, be honest with the person who asked you. Kindly explain to them, “You know what, I really appreciate your asking me to volunteer, but right now I am really focusing on my ministry to my students. I feel that if I helped out here, I wouldn’t have the time/energy/etc. that I really need to give to them. Thanks so much for thinking of me!”
If you really feel burdened to help – get creative! Perhaps there is another less time-consuming way that that you could help (i.e. instead of teaching AWANAS every week, you can make cookies once a month or once every other month for it.) For me, with the Bible club ministry, I offered to substitute occasionally.
Finally, remember this: if you have prayed through this decision, you do not need to feel guilty. Live for an audience of One – if your decision is what you believe will best glorify God, then you don’t need to worry about the approval of others!
Alright, everyone, let’s practice saying it together -“Noooo….”