“One day the trees went out to anoint a king over themselves. So they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us.’ But the olive tree answered them, ‘Must I give up my rich oil, whereby gods and human beings are honored, and go off to hold sway over the trees?'” Judges 9:8-9
Over the summer, I tutored an eighth grade boy in writing. We were working together to get him ready for High School.
Last week, when his parents asked me to continue with him through the school year, I was honored. But although I wanted to say “yes,” something inside of me said “no.” I couldn’t figure myself out. I told them I had to think about it.
It wasn’t that I didn’t like the student. In fact, he’s a great kid. He’s eager to learn, bright, full of personality, and sweet.
It wasn’t that I didn’t like the money. Actually, my husband and I earmarked it for date nights out. It was so fun going to outdoor restaurants and bars on summer nights to reconnect.
It wasn’t that the work wasn’t satisfying. Of course we hit a few bumps along the way; but once I tailored everything to his learning style, he grew by leaps and bounds. It was incredibly rewarding to be a part of that growth.
I finally figured things out when I read this Scripture passage. In it, the olive tree is asked to become the leader of all the trees. I’m sure it felt honored to be asked. But the tree knew that if it said yes, it would have to give up its rich oil. That rich oil served an important role in honoring gods and people. Once he recognized that creating that oil was its true purpose, it had to say no.
We all possess multiple gifts and talents. We want to use them all to make the world a better place. But it can be extremely challenging to determine which area we should focus on most. Consequently, a lot of us end up spreading ourselves too thin. Despite our best intentions, our positive impact gets diluted. Even worse, we end up burnt out and resentful.
Yes, it is a compliment to be asked to do something. But we need to discern where our time will be best spent to achieve our true purpose. As hard as it is to implement, there are times when we have to use the grace-filled no.
Although we’d love to volunteer for the PTA, or be the classroom mom, those things take time and energy. If we don’t have a surplus of both, we need to say the grace-filled no.
Although we’d love to take on an optional project at work, or sit on the board of a non-profit, if there isn’t any white space on our calendar and to-do list, we need to say the grace-filled no.
Although we’d love to attend a fun social event, if we’ve just had a baby, or one of our kids is going through a rough patch, it may be that we need to stay home, either to go to bed early for some much needed rest, or to be there and available for our struggling child.
Looking through this lens, my answer became clear. Tutoring is not my true purpose. It was great for the summer when I had a little more time on my hands. But the school year is a completely different ballgame. There isn’t a free second between September and June.
It took years for me to come to terms with the fact that I can’t do it all. In doing so, I finally stepped away from several branches of my ministry this past spring. I want to be able to focus more time and energy on my kids, and my writing: what I believe to be my true callings. To then add more back onto my plate not related to my true purpose would be illogical and counterproductive.
It may be a completely different story next summer; but for now, I need to focus on what I am called to do, not on what I’m not.
Questions For Reflection:
* Is there something I am currently involved in that is taking me away from my family and true purpose?
* If so, can I transition away from that so I can focus on what I’m really called to do?
* Am I being asked to take on more right now?
* If so, do I have the time and space to add one more thing to my plate? Or should I say the grace-filled “no?”