I used to like telling others how full my schedule was. “I’m so busy these days,” I’d say. “I work full time. I’m a part-time freelance writer. I edit two newsletters. I’m a wife and mother. I disciple several women.
I’m in two Bible studies, a book club, and a drama ministry. I cook. I clean. I do laundry. What about you? How are things in your life?” Then the dance would begin as my listeners and I tangoed to out-busy each other. The goal was to prove that each of us was as important, as adequate, and as stressed as the others were. One day, a friend’s response to my busy-speech shocked me. I was anticipating how I would trump her list of activities when she asked, “What if you said no to everything for a month?”
My heart raced. My palms grew sweaty. My smile faded. No way!
I thought. I couldn’t do that. “Everything?” I asked.
“Let me pray about it,” I said.
Sometimes God makes it immediately clear what He wants us to do. This was one of those times. Within two minutes, I knew God wanted me to accept my friend’s suggestion. He had some insights for me that I could only discover during a 30-day fast from saying yes.
Discovery 1:I need rest.
My goal for the month was to decline every new activity. (Clearly, I needed to fulfill the commitments I had already made.) It wasn’t long before temptations came. The first week of my fast I received three writing requests, an offer to participate in a drama, and a speaking invitation. It seemed God wanted to know if I were serious about saying no.
At first, turning down the offers felt weird. I really wanted to say yes, especially to the writing assignments. Then I remembered that an article I had previously agreed to write was due in a week—and I hadn’t even started it yet! What’s that about? I wondered. I’m usually finished with an assignment a few days ahead of deadline.
As I thought about it, I realized I hadn’t put a lot of effort into this assignment because I was exhausted. I’d been working so much that my body, mind, and spirit never had a chance to rest.
But I couldn’t see that until I took a break. I needed to get still so I could hear God whisper, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt. 11:28).
Discovery 2: I often have mixed motives.
God also spoke to me about my motives for staying busy. I was surprised to discover how attached I was to my hectic lifestyle. I claimed to dislike having so much on my plate. I said I wanted to save time, find time, and use time more wisely. But the truth was, I loved being busy. I relished pushing my overworked schedule to the brink. It made me feel wanted, needed, and useful. Busyness was a status symbol, and I took pride in keeping my calendar full. How important I thought I was!
Pride wasn’t the only reason I stayed busy. A few weeks after my fast, I attended a community theater production and watched another actress perform the part I had turned down. She was good. Very good. As the audience applauded her monologue, I couldn’t help thinking, That was my part! I wanted the attention she’d received. I liked being center stage, and I often said yes to earn applause. Like the Pharisees, I “loved praise from men more than praise from God” (Jn. 12:43). Before my fast, I would have confessed a little problem with pride and approval-seeking. But once I discovered how expendable I was and how angry I felt when someone else got the attention, I understood the depth of my sin. In filling my schedule so I could satisfy my pride and earn applause, I had failed to serve Christ.
Discovery 3: When I say no, others get to contribute.
During the third week of my fast, my friend Karen related to me a parable about carrots. “You plant carrots close together. But once they sprout, you pull some of them so that the remaining carrots have room to grow.”
I saw the “carrot principle” at work during our church’s annual women’s retreat. Because of my fast I had declined an invitation to speak at the event. The speakers who replaced me were young, but the experiences they shared ministered to me and the other women at the retreat. Which of them wouldn’t have spoken if I had accepted the offer? I thought. Allowing God to thin my schedule had given others the opportunity to develop their gifts.
In my busyness, I often wondered how things would get done if I didn’t do them. In 1 Cor. 12:18-19, Paul explains, “God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.” God would take care of everything if I got out of the way. Once I understood this, fasting from yes became an opportunity to see God work in His body. Instead of trying to be “chief carrot”—and hindering growth in myself and others—I could appreciate the ways others serve Him.
Discovery 4: I can trust God to lead me.
As a young Christian, I believed that spreading myself thin indicated my passion for God. If an opportunity to serve arose, I took it without a second thought. How could I sit by when there were books to write, cookies to bake, meetings to organize, and toilets to clean? My fast taught me to seek God’s guidance before I commit to anything. Sometimes He wants me to say no—even to things that seem good. Near the end of my fast, I received a second invitation to audition for a part in a community theatre drama. My friend gave me a copy of the script and, as director,basically guaranteed me the part. I was honored. A month earlier, I would have said yes immediately. Now I responded, “I need to pray about this. I’ll get back to you when God shows me what to do.” I was also considering pursuing a master’s degree through a distance-learning program. My employer would pay most of my tuition. The idea made sense. Why not take advantage of the opportunity to further my education with minimal expense? Again, I needed to pray about it.
Quite clearly, God led me not to take the acting part or pursue the degree. Sure, the offers seemed good, but He had other plans for me. In Feeding Your Appetites, Stephen Arterburn and Debra Cherry explain, “If we aren’t discerning, Satan may even use things we would determine to be ‘good’ things for us to be involved in to draw us away [from God’s will for our lives].”
When I said yes without seeking God’s guidance, I often allowed Satan to distract me from the things God desired for me. I was acting in my own wisdom, and I had deceived myself into believing I was on fire for the Lord. Fasting from yes helped me to recognize and resist the lie that being busy is equal to being spiritual.
After the Fast Six months after my fast, the principles I learned are still with me. I’m more intentional about what I say yes to. I don’t commit to anything—even things that seem like “no brainers”—without examining my motives and seeking God’s guidance. I’m learning to sense the Spirit’s warning before I get overwhelmed. And I deliberately spend time relaxing with the Lord.
I have a healthier perspective on receiving approval. There are things I do well, and I often receive praise for them. But instead of seeking accolades from others, I now try to work only for the Lord. I understand that I can do nothing without God and people, and I look for ways to acknowledge the contribution of others. I’m also learning to step back so that others can serve. For the first time in years, I belong to a Bible study that I don’t lead. And I love not being the chief carrot!
Today when people invite me to tango by telling me how busy they are, I remember what I learned from my month of saying no, and I resist the temptation to enter the dance.
About the author
ANGELA DION still writes books, blogs and magazine articles. She lives in Southern Maryland with her husband Marc.
Used by permission of Discipleship Journal. Copyright © 2006, Issue 153, The Navigators. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved.