I recently chatted with a teacher friend before she left for a professional development course. She had had several weeks off, yet looked utterly exhausted. I asked her,
“How has your time off been during the school break?” I asked. She sighed and said, “Way too busy.”
I asked her how, and she listed the responsible roles she plays for her church, her family, the school. I started gently urging her to take time for herself.
“Oh, that would be so wonderful,” she said wistfully. “What is your way of spending time in self-care?” I asked.
She smiled and said, “Oh, I love it when the family goes out and leaves me home. I just open a book and read.” She told me how as a child, she would hide under her mother’s bed reading magazines instead of doing her chores.
She denies herself even this simple pleasure because of her excessive responsibilities. Another friend is stretched so thin that his collection of roles is simply overwhelming, from his highly responsible job to coaching rugby and wearing at least five hats in the community.
Yes, generosity and selfless service are virtues. However, these need to be balanced with the virtues of wisdom to create balance and humility to realise others can take responsibility too.
It is easy to become an E-Type personality: “Everything to Everybody.” People find you trustworthy and reliable so they pile even more responsibilities on you.
The problem is that pillars of the community can crumble. The virtues strategy that applies here is setting clear boundaries for one’s health, sanity and self-care. If you recognise yourself here, please stop and repent (from the French ‘repenser’ which means ‘think again’):
1. Your tank of energy is running on fumes, and you feel exhausted much of the time.
2. You feel resentful, and find yourself cringing toward yet another request.
3. Guilt and over-responsibility force you to say yes anyway.
4. You don’t think anyone else can do as good a job as you.
5. As your load gets heavier, you start feeling ill.
6. Stress is your daily bread.
7. Most days you are running just to keep up with your schedule and have little time for rest, much less recreation.
8. You can’t remember your children’s names.
If you have any four of these symptoms, you are suffering from FOG Syndrome - Fatigue, Overwhelm and Guilt. It’s time to make a plan for a healthy, well balanced life, one I call a pace of Grace. Take the time to sit quietly and pray or reflect: What are my true yeses at this season of my life? What is my true calling? What is stressing me and what would bless me?
It’s not so much about learning to say no as discerning your true ‘yeses’, those that would bring you joy. If your current life is draining you, it’s time to decide what will sustain you. That way, you will be around longer to give the service you truly want to give, with plenty of space for rest, recreation, reading a good book, or just being with the ones you love in a fun and joyful way.
Sufi poet Rumi said, “Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”