I’m very busy. I don’t say this to gain your approval or applause. I just want you to know that I’m very busy. How busy, you ask? Here…I’ll show you…
- I’m the freshman theology teacher to 134 students and assist with campus ministry at the only Catholic high school in Lake Charles.
- I’m the youth director to a parish of over 1,500 families, with direct responsibility of high school youth group & religious education.
- I’m a speaker that travels two to three times a month on the weekends to places as far away as Anaheim and Halifax and as close as Lafayette just down the interstate, in addition to helping out with a lot of ministry throughout my home diocese.
- I’m the author of a book about to be released by Ave Maria Press, the majority of which was written over the course of the busiest 5 months of my life to date.
- I’m a graduate student responsible for 10+ hours of studying, reading, & writing each week.
And those are just my “professional” and “career oriented” responsibilities. I should also mention that I am of course, a person. I’m a daughter and granddaughter, a big sister, a friend to many, and girlfriend to the greatest guy on earth. I’m a big fan of binge-watching sitcoms without laugh tracks on Netflix, I like to listen to hardcore mid to late 90’s hip-hop and rap, and I really enjoy lifting weights and boxing.
At least three or four times a week, some one will look at me and say something along the lines of, “I just don’t know how you juggle everything.” People frequently me, “How do you balance all your different responsibilities?” My mom and dad consistently remind me that I’m not going to be able to keep up this pace forever (a shoulder injury in April made the physical limits I was choosing to ignore abundantly clear). With the dawn of a new stage in the relationship with my long-distance (soon to be in town boyfriend), Tommy, more and more people make comments about how they just don’t see how my calendar is going to remain so full.
And, to be quite honest, as I typed all this out and looked at the list of what I “have to do” and “who I have to be,” I began to have a mild panic attack. It probably doesn’t help that I’m currently sitting on a tiny airplane with a screaming child sitting two rows behind me… Just yesterday, the diocesan director for youth ministry in my diocese handed me the master calendar of diocesan youth events for the year with highlights of what she wanted me to speak at and help run. I almost threw it out the window of my car on the drive home because I was scared to look at what was in there.
There are a lot of spinning plates in my life, and I’ve learned that it takes a specific, time-consuming skill-set to keep each plate spinning at the proper speed so what’s on the plate doesn’t fly off and splat all over the walls.
I am not unique in any of this. For every grad school assignment I have to complete, there are a dozen youth ministers out there with a paper to complete or a Skype session with their professor to attend. For every speaking gig I fly off to, there are people on the other end dealing with the countless items to get that event ready, including picking me up from the airport. For each student that comes into my classroom whose name I have to remember, there is a teacher who has double the tests to grade and lesson plans to turn in.
See, I’ve noticed a distinct trend in the lives of those of us who commit our lives to the noble calling of evangelization: we don’t know how to say “no.”
It’s hard to say that two-letter word, because whatever is presented to us (read “me”) as a new task is always deemed “essential.” This teen really needs to discuss her problems and a two-hour chat and a cup of coffee with her is the best setting to break down barriers and help her feel valued and loved by both you and Jesus. The parish really does need a better bulletin, because people are clearly not reading the clip-art-ridden crap that’s being made now. What are another few hours in the office on a Tuesday afternoon to get that done for the pastor, who requested you help them out? Oh, I can go speak at such-and-such even with so-and-so speaker and make what dollar amount in a stipend? Yes. I’m there. Forget the fact that I’ll have to leave home for three days, check my dog into the vet (which he hates), and cross two time zones to do it.
Here’s why I have a problem saying “no.” It’s a negative word. It is denying someone something that they could very well need. I am crippled by the fear of disappointing everybody else if I say “no” to them and their “most essential task.” But, in choosing to not say “no” to someone else and some other task in whatever professional setting it may be in, I am instead saying “no” to myself. I end up saying “no” to my own sanity, my own relationships, my own friendships, my own health, and my own spirituality.
I get home tired and cranky. I don’t want to cook or clean house. I just want to plop down on the couch and veg out. That boxing and weight lifting I enjoy? Sadly it’s been a thing of the past lately… Those Netflix shows without laugh tracks that I like to watch? My Queue is dusty and full of my sister’s most recently watched shows. That mom and dad and sister that I so dearly love? I go spend quality time with them when there’s food involved, because then I kill two birds with one stone: eating and seeing the most important people in my life. The boyfriend who is about to move to Lake Charles? I am legitimately fearful of not being able to every do anything but “ministry” and “work” together, because it’s the thing that will dominate both of our calendars.
But, even in knowing all of this, and writing it down and seeing it right in front of my face, I still don’t say “no” to the myriad of tasks and events and opportunities piling up. Because it’s all good stuff. It is good to do more ministry. It is good to write. It is good to travel. It is good to teach. It is good.
But, and this is the only thing I want you to really remember from this blog:
Just because it is good, doesn’t mean I should.
For every good thing that fills up my calendar, there is a little bit of my sanity, balance, and peace that gets lost. So, instead of saying “no” to opportunities, I am going to start saying “yes” to the things that I discern are most essential and necessary, both for my ministry and for myself.
The only way any of us in the work of evangelization will accomplish anything is if we are spiritually sound, mentally healthy, surrounded by loved ones we dedicate quality time to and with, and in constant communication with the Creator who gave us the chance to evangelize in the first place.
So I’m going to start saying “yes” to what is most important. I’m going to say “yes” to the things should be (and will be from now on) more important than anything else: My family. My boyfriend. My prayer life. My dog. My workouts. My social life. My relationship with the Lord.
I am going to judge what is essential, what can wait, and what doesn’t actually need me, but will be perfectly fine with the skills of others. And as I discern what is essential and necessary and what I am called to do, then I will then be able to say, “yes” to doing what I must to strike the necessary balance to be effective in the work of the Lord. I am going to say “yes” to going away with the Lord for a while. I am going to say “yes” to relationships with others rather than tasks on a list. I am going to say “yes” and not “no.”
In fact, the word “no” is going to be eliminated from my vocabulary. I won’t turn people down. Instead, I will tell them that I’ve already said “yes” to something else. That something else could be another ministry responsibility. It could be grading the tests or organizing the bible study or preparing the talk for the conference. I imagine a lot of times the “yes” I say will be about one of those aspects. But, more and more now, that something else I say “yes” to could be a date night with Tommy, mini-golf with my family, an hour at the gym, daily Mass and Adoration by myself, or a nap on the couch with Parks and Rec on in the background. Either way, I’m going to start saying “yes” a lot more, so that I can more effectively say “yes” to the call of the Lord to work to build His Kingdom.