When you can’t just say no

It is the end of December 2019. I should be summing up the decade but instead I lay awake last night thinking about things I had to do this week. Isn’t that the way it is? One loses the sense of history in the face of having to get through the night or the week. I guess something must be said for living in the present.

What was snagging my attention as I was trying to fall asleep was something I had been asked to do in my capacity as chair of the Outreach team at church: organize a table representing Outreach as one of the five main ministry areas of the church, so that, for the first two Sundays of January, during coffee time, people can wander around to the various tables and learn more about each ministry area. It was suggested that tables include visuals and a snack. Of course, team leaders were not expected to do this alone but should be assisted by other members of the team.

This was to be ready for next Sunday. Recalling that made my eyes boingggg wide open at 2 a.m. I had not obtained any help planning this in response to the email I sent weeks ago to a dozen of my team members, except one volunteer who says he will “be there.” I am not surprised about the lack of response. 1. Everybody is busy. 2. It is the holidays. 3. People don’t respond to emails in the best of times. 4. No one is any more eager to do this than I am.

In fact, the very thought of it makes my stomach churn or, as last night, lie awake feeling annoyed and put upon. I especially resist thinking about “visuals and a snack.” Not my forté! Nor is calling people to ask them to do things I don’t want to do. I prefer to do that in person but I have been either too busy doing other things at church or absent altogether, so that grabbing people by the elbow and assigning them tasks hasn’t happened either.

Now here I am, in the limbo week at the end/beginning of the year, when people are even more holed up, scattered, and unresponsive, and wondering how I can slap something together all by myself at the last minute and not feel sorry for myself or hate church. Or criticize myself for not getting other people to help me.

It is so silly. And I refer not to the concept of the “ministries fair”—though I do roll my eyes a bit at that–but my attitude toward it, making a mountain out of what should be a molehill request. I am making a big fuss over an activity that will last all of 15 minutes on each of two Sundays. I even referred to this assignment in a December 2 entry–that’s how long it’s been bugging me! Yet if I ignore the request my absence of cooperation will be glaring. No Outreach table! One of the “five petals” of the church structure missing!

What do you do when you can’t say no, even though you are mightily inclined to do so?

The only helpful way I can think about this is as an investment in the Good Deeds and Favors Bank. We all do things we’d rather not do in order to perpetuate goodwill and communal cohesion. We have different ideas of what is needed. I ask people to do things I think are necessary and even fun, and they respond as they can although they may not altogether agree with my concept of what is necessary and fun. That is, we give and receive favors. We make accommodations. Grace is called for.

Sigh. Maybe I can call somebody about the snack.

LATER.  Writing this served the purpose of getting me to stop procrastinating and think this through a little. I came up with a simple concept involving effort commensurate to the occasion, i.e. not much. I sent another email, this one with specific assignments.

Having overcome my resistance I am feeling quite smug and self-satisfied. Perhaps this was also a last hurrah for my word of the year: just enough INSPIRATION to get me through the foggy year-end.

How do you handle requests that produce internal resistance, short of saying no?

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