A friend recently challenged me to say no in ten different aspects of my life.
That was it. No more rules than that. It should be easy, right?
I know this friend will not mind admitting that this is not an original challenge. In fact, the first time I ever really took such a challenge seriously was when I read the suggestion by Jim Collins (Good to Great) to start a ‘stop doing list’. He presents it as the healthier alternative to a ‘to do’ list.
The principle fits with so much of what God has been saying to me over the last year. ‘Pray more, do less’, he has said. ‘Find the one thing and do that and only that’ was another way he spoke to me this year. And finally, as regular readers know, I have been convicted again and again recently by the words of Jesus in John 5: ‘the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise’.
So when this friend challenged me recently, I knew I needed to listen and do something about saying some nos. And, in principle, it seemed like it should be easy enough. Until I started to think about what I would have to say no to.
Even as the words left his mouth, I knew what the first no would have to be.
I’d been offered another intern for this coming academic year. In three years, I’ve had eight one-year student placements with me and countless other short-term placements of twenty-somethings working with me as staff. I like to do it. Not because I get something out of it because often I don’t particularly. But more because I have an almost unique freedom in the way I get to do church ministry and an amazing context in which to offer training and opportunities for others. Also I want to offer to others the kind of mentoring and pastoral input that I felt I never really received myself in any significant way.
So, having been asked to do this again with another young intern, I was wanting to say yes. And the team of leaders and trustees around me had been advising that a yes this time might be unwise given my other commitments. So I was wavering. But, if I’m honest, wavering towards believing that I could probably absorb the time and emotional cost of mentoring another intern, whatever others thought.
Yet as soon as I heard the challenge to say my ten nos, I also knew that this had to be the first.
It was so hard. I had so many reasons for why doing it was a good idea.
But the thing I began to realise was that the good is always the enemy of the best. And I don’t want to live my life just doing the good. Doing 101 things that the Father is not doing is nothing compared to doing the one which he is also doing.
So, painfully, I have begun to add to that no. I have now managed to get to ten nos. Some of them were easy to implement. Some of them are going to mean repeated temptations to change my stance and start to say yes again. And one of them has created relational trouble already because someone in my life, who has become accustomed to my regular yes to their request for help, heard a polite no from me this week.
I don’t know where this will end. I know it is going to mean some serious temptation to renege on my decisions. But I believe that my Father has already told me that I need to do this. Now it is just a matter of struggling to follow through in obedience!