Learning to say no

When it comes to volunteering for things, I’ve always been “the girl who cain’t say no,” as the song goes.

The world rewards my enthusiasm. I have a lot of friends, many of whom I’ve met through various volunteer projects. I get a lot of praise for my efforts. People tend to respect me, because I back up my words of support with practical action. I am learning, however, that “yes” is not always the right answer.

A friend of mine talks about the difference between “Mary work” and “Martha work.” This is a reference to the biblical story of Martha and Mary. My friend asserts — correctly, I think — that most of us are great at looking busy (“Martha work,” or what Mary Baker Eddy refers to as “rushing around smartly”), but not so great at the kind of prayer and study that make us truly productive (“Mary work”).

I thought of that this weekend as I made a difficult decision.

For two years, I served as an officer in a nonprofit organization I support. It was a responsibility I enjoyed, but a few weeks ago — with my term coming to an end — I began to feel a strong pull to let go of the position and let someone else take over.

I was a little concerned about what would happen if I stepped down. There had been some controversy within the organization, and the outcome of certain decisions could affect a friend who works for the organization. I wasn’t sure how those decisions would shake out without my leadership. I was also concerned about finding someone to replace me. Historically, we’ve had trouble getting people to fill vacancies on our board, and I couldn’t think of anyone to take over my responsibilities.

As I tossed various scenarios back and forth in my mind, two ideas surfaced:

1. “Rushing around smartly” is not necessary. While I have poured thousands of hours into “Martha work” for this organization, my best accomplishments have come as a direct result of “Mary work” I’ve done concerning our cause. In light of that, might my time not be better spent doing prayerful work on behalf of the organization?

2. I am not the source of my friend’s blessings. Did I not understand that God was fully capable of protecting and supporting and blessing her without my help? And was I really helping her by playing politics on her behalf? What if I inadvertently “protected” her from some unseen blessing that neither of us had considered?

By the time I got to the meeting, I was absolutely certain that stepping down was the right decision. I wasn’t sure where that left my friend, and I wasn’t sure where that left the board, but I knew it was time to put the matter in God’s hands and see what would unfold.

As I took my seat at the table, it suddenly came to me that one of our at-large board members would be an ideal choice to fill my position. I nominated her, she accepted (and was unanimously elected), and her advancement opened up another position on the board, which was quickly filled by another longtime supporter of our organization.

I don’t know what will happen concerning my friend. But I know that our new board members are honest, hard-working, enthusiastic, wise, and loving individuals who will strive, as I have, to make good decisions that bless everyone involved. I also know that, as Mrs. Eddy says, “Divine Love always has met and always will meet every human need,” so I am absolutely certain that wonderful blessings are in store for everyone concerned.

I am grateful to have been able to play a small role in bringing those blessings to fruition, and I am looking forward to finding out what Love will lead me to do next.


Signs of spring


After I bought my big pile of seeds and bulbs and garden decorations and dog food bowls and birdseed and what-have-you at the Country Store the other day, Bill and Kathey gave me a goodbye present: a forced hyacinth bulb and a pretty little vase designed to hold it. You put water in the vase, set the bulb into the mouth of it, and let it grow. As you can see from the picture, the roots are already taking off, and I’ve only had it for a few days.

The snow is melting outside. January is over. Tomorrow is the Super Bowl. The groundhog didn’t see his shadow. It’s 11 days to pitchers’ and catchers’ camp. It’s three months, one week, and five days to planting day.

In other words … spring is on the way!


Giving by receiving

The rich in spirit help the poor in one grand brotherhood, all having the same Principle, or Father; and blessed is that man who seeth his brother’s need and supplieth it, seeking his own in another’s good.
— Mary Baker Eddy

I used to hate accepting help with anything, from anybody, for any reason. To my way of thinking, that was a sign of weakness, and I didn’t want anybody to think I was weak.

The funny thing is that I don’t think other people are weak when they accept a favor from me. And I really enjoy doing favors for other people, because it’s fun, and because — as one of God’s beloved children — I am a reflection of divine Love itself, and as such, I am happiest when I am expressing love to others.

If nobody ever let me help with anything, I would be absolutely miserable. But for some reason, it hadn’t occurred to me that I might be making someone else miserable with my independent (some would say “stubborn”) streak.

I think this realization started to dawn on me a little over a year ago, when I met my friend Brad.

Brad has the most charming manners of anybody I’ve ever met. After any given church service, you’ll find him helping women into their coats, opening doors for them, or escorting them over rough or slippery spots in the parking lot. He is the consummate gentleman.

There was a time, not so very long ago, when I would have bristled at such behavior. As far as I was concerned, chivalry was dead, and I was all too happy to dance on its grave, because I was of the opinion that it represented some outdated, condescending notion that women have to be handled with kid gloves. But it was immediately obvious to me that Brad’s actions were not motivated by condescension, disrespect, or anachronistic politics. Rather, he was simply expressing grace; affection; thoughtfulness; and respect for his mama, who taught him how a gentleman is supposed to behave.

It was also obvious to me that I would seem extremely rude, unkind, and unloving (not to mention very silly!) if I shrugged off these little kindnesses just to prove I could. Why would I want to go out of my way to deny this dear man a chance to make a gracious gesture — especially when such gestures are as natural to him as breathing?

I was reminded of this lesson one Sunday morning a couple of months ago on the church parking lot, where I discovered that my rear passenger’s side tire had gone flat.

Before I had time to clear the junk out of the cargo space and pull out my spare, a three-man pit crew had gathered around me, ready and willing to help.

I was tempted to dismiss my would-be rescuers with a friendly “Thanks, guys, but I can handle it” out of fear that they might mistake me for a weak, stupid girl who couldn’t take care of herself. But just at that instant, I happened to glance up and see Brad talking to someone on the other side of the parking lot, and I realized that this situation was no different than his habit of catching my arm to steady me when he saw me attempting to negotiate a curb in heels. With that gesture, he wasn’t saying that he thought I was clumsy or couldn’t take care of myself. He was just trying to make life a little easier for me at that moment. Similarly, these guys weren’t rushing to help me because they thought I was stupid or weak. They were rushing to help me because they wanted to make life a little easier for me at that moment — the same reason I would have rushed to help any of them if the situation had been reversed.

With that realization, I happily relinquished the wrench and let them loosen the lugnuts so I could swap out the tire and get back on the road.

If I had resisted their help, I might have proven I was capable of changing a tire by myself. But I also would have hurt their feelings and deprived them of an opportunity to express kindness by helping me out of an inconvenient situation, and I would have spent three times as long fooling with that tire in the process.

That really would have been stupid and weak.