I’ve always had a problem establishing healthy boundaries in my life.
It’s part of my personality, that perfect blend of wanting to do it all right punctuated with a performance complex. There are personalities that aren’t affected by this, like my sister Christina and my dad. They live their life totally free from concern about what people think and what they expect of them and I’ve always been a little envious.
This post is for the rest of us.
Everywhere I turn in my life, there’s some source that, if it isn’t directly preaching with words, it’s demonstrating with actions, why I should have it all, do it all. I owe it to myself. Work hard, and you can play harder. Take that promotion and you’ll get a fatter check every two weeks. Get up early to work out. For a small price you can look and dress just like [insert itty bitty celebrity lady who has a flock of personal assistants and a team of photoshop professionals at her beck and call].
The church can be just as guilty of this. We idolize the families who “have it all together” (according to our estimation of their personal lives), but still manage to make it to every church function with a smile on their face. We worship those who sacrifice health and time with family because they’re busy serving in the church, and even secretly resent them because we feel like we’re not giving enough–all the while we preach about the value and importance of a Sabbath and rest.
As long as there are people that make up a society, there will always be some sort of level that we’re supposed to reach and we’re always going to feel like we owe it to ourselves to get there.
In college, I said yes to literally everything: pseudo-relationships, working on film sets, late nights, more credit hours, work-loads, etc. If a boy was nice and wanted to “talk” with me, I would… even when I didn’t feel interested in anything more than friendship with them. It was just the sort of thing I somehow felt you were supposed to do. I would commit to work on film sets during most of the hours I should have been sleeping because it was good experience and you should never say no to upperclassmen taking an interest in the “new meat” transfer students. When an opportunity to lead a mission trip was presented to me from someone I considered a spiritual superior, I said yes, even though I’d never been on a mission trip and didn’t have any peace about going. I never wanted anyone to have their feelings hurt or to let anyone down, and I especially didn’t want to feel like I was missing any opportunities because we all know that regret is the demon that gets to sit at the foot of our bed in our later years because “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”.
In theory, it sounds really great. We all know that we need to take chances and try new things because that’s the stuff that life and adventure is made of and we don’t want to die slowly while we’re still alive because we’re being inhibited.
But what happens when your answer is ‘yes’, when the answer should really be ‘for your sanity and mine, no’?
You have a string of nice guys who could have been decent friends but instead have to be held at arms reach because your fear of “missing out” pushed you into starting relationships that you had no business starting and now it’s messy and awkward and your stomach hurts when you you see their pictures on social media.
You have a ton of experience from being on so many sets, and you probably regret that choice the least because it was really fun, but it also made you tired. So tired that you snap at your mom on the phone whenever you talk to her and stop tasting your coffee because you’re too busy throwing it down your throat before you run off to another set.
You feel guilty and pressured for weeks and like you’re less of a person, less of a Christian because you can’t see what everyone else conveniently sees without knowing you at all or trusting your relationship with Jesus and ultimately end up saying no and feeling like Satan walking around your Christian campus amid all the mission booths.
But you can’t feel bad. Didn’t you want to have it all?
You don’t want to be that person filled with regret at 42, with a slew of Siamese cats, wistfully looking at your Pinterest boards wondering what Morocco would have looked like and whether or not it’s possible to utilize Mason Jars that much or even more seriously, miss out on a loving relationship because you were too busy calculating the pros and cons of your choices.
Here’s the thing: no matter how it’s presented or who is selling it to us, whether it’s society at large, the church or even a political movement (come on, ladies, you don’t want to stay at home with your kids! You should be a mother and a career woman! This is 2015! Don’t settle for being less like the 50’s housewives of yore [/side rant]): you don’t need to do it all and you shouldn’t do it all.
Saying yes to everything ultimately means saying no to everything because you’re can’t do everything well. We’re all leaving these legacies of half-lived lives because we fear regret more than we esteem time with family, a job well done, being well rested or making time for the little joys in life.
I know the traditional interpretation of this verse is about how we don’t need to do everything that we have the freedom to do, but I really like how the Message throws in that “the point is not just to get by”.
If I am living as a slave to fear, by saying yes all the time, what is my life demonstrating to others who know that people who know Jesus claim to live in freedom?
I’m not superwoman.
Sometimes I can’t do things, even though I could do things because I technically have a day off. Every time I say no to an extra obligation, I’m as brave as Gladiator, because I just bested the closest thing to lions that I’ve ever faced: people’s expectations. Sometimes I say no to nice guys because I know I’m not interested in them the same way they’re interested in me, and I’m as brave because now I’m strong enough to live my life without forcing things to work because I already missed the deadline to get engaged at my college graduation. Sometimes I turn down chances to play around on guitar because I decided to go to dance lessons instead and that’s the thing that I said yes to today.
Sometimes we say no, so we can say yes to something else and actually mean it.
Evaluate your activities: what brings you joy and what is helping you reach your goals? Prioritize your relationships: who are you spending yourself on and who is poisonous for you? Set boundaries, emotionally, spiritually, physically, mentally. No one is going to do it for you. Beware the fear that makes us say ‘yes’. It’s just as dangerous as the fear that makes us say ‘no’.