Planned Neglect: Saying No to Good Things So We Can Say Yes to the Best
I've recently been overwhelmed with seemingly endless opportunities to do good things. I've been weighing what to say yes to and what to say no to. Seems like every year of my life I have to say no to more good things. (Young mothers and fathers may relate to this, as those children need a lot of attention, as do your marriages, and there's no end to the things, both bad and good, that could distract you from either or both.)
Just today I backed out of two things I'd said I thought I could do, months ago when it seemed there would be time for them. I hate to do this, but it's become clear that I have to be ruthless to carve out time to do what I believe God wants me to, or it's just not going to happen.
We shouldn’t say yes to something just because it’s a good thing or even a great thing. When saying no to good things, I always remind myself what Nanci and I have learned over many years: I must say no to people concerning the vast majority of good things they invite me to, in order to be available to say yes to God concerning that small number of things He has truly called me to. Sometimes we tend to say yes to too many of the good things, leaving us exhausted and unable to bring our best to those relatively few God-things.
(Of course, some people are not saying yes to the things God calls them to, because they're saying yes instead to three hours of TV and internet surfing or video games each night. I'm talking now about those who are using their time wisely but are still feeling overwhelmed.)
Whenever we say yes to something, we’ve found that it’s not just the new thing itself, it’s the new contacts, the new networks, and all the new requests that come out of them. We love people, and we enjoy making new friends. And yet, it’s also true that while we’re grateful when God brings us new friends, we are not actively seeking them, because as the years go by we have to work harder just to stay in touch with our old ones.
Sometimes I just have to give up on email, because it's never-ending. I can't possibly stay on top of it unless I do nothing else. There are only 168 hours in the week no matter what we do (and during a third of those we should be sleeping!) If we have X number of people to make time for, they have to come out of the same small pie of available time, and pretty soon the slices of the pie get smaller and smaller. You end up having dear friends who no longer get a sliver, because it’s been divided so many times.
As with people, so it is with causes. Rather than a large number of causes that we have tiny little investments in, better to have a much smaller number that you’re wholeheartedly engaged in, giving your very best. Ask God for wisdom as to which these should be, and God will give it (James 1:3). But NEVER say yes without asking whether this is one of those exceptional things God really wants you to do. Tell Him that unless He smacks you in the side of the head and makes it clear, you will assume He DOESN’T want you to do it.
This is planned neglect. We need to neglect doing the things that countless people want us to do, so that we will be available to do what God wants. And sometimes He speaks in a still small voice, while people speak in a big LOUD voice. We have to make sure we’re listening. To do that, we need to put our ear to His Word and pray and seek His face.
Instead of exhausting ourselves doing many secondary things, may we do a few primary things well. And that begins with our daily time with God. When Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet soaking Him in, and Martha was mad because Mary wasn’t doing what she wanted, Jesus said to Martha, “only a few things are necessary, really only one; Mary has chosen the better portion, which shall not be taken from her" (Luke 10:42).
So, decide what you are going to neglect this week in order to pay attention to God. And while you do that, seek His wisdom and empowerment in doing those few things He wants you to do.
Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (Ephesians 5:15-17)