A question I should be asking myself: Are all my activities in line with what matters?
My sister gave me some excellent advice a few years ago, which echoes in my ears each time I am asked to take on a new commitment. “Every time you say ‘no’ to a new request for your time, you are saying ‘yes’ to your family.”
This holds true as well in our faith lives. For as we say no to what is not important, we create room in our lives to follow the Virgin Mary’s example and say yes to God.
However, in the midst of our busy buzz, we need to pay close attention to what we are saying yes to. To do this it is helpful to pause. In a world where we feel inclined toward rushing all the time, multitasking on several projects at once, it seems awkward to pause. It’s as if we think that by stopping for bit we might miss something.
Our capacity to discern, however, requires time. Retreats can offer space for a needed pause, for a moment to consider how we are using our time. The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola include a helpful framework for discernment.
In his rules for discernment, St. Ignatius explained the different motives, which influence our decisions as a movement of spirits. He classified these as consolations and desolations. Consolations move us toward deepening our relationship with God, while desolations pull us away. “Our one choice,” he said, “should be this: I want and choose what better leads to God’s deepening life in me.”
In the secular world, Stephen Covey, author of the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” suggests writing a personal mission statement. He also offers a time management matrix for organizing priorities. It includes a quadrant for what is 1. Urgent and important; 2. Not urgent but important; 3. Urgent but not important; and 4. Not urgent and not important.
As we focus on our priorities, understanding our goals and objectives, we learn it’s okay to say
no. When we say “no” it helps us consider our capacity for what we can add to our hours. More importantly, Saying no helps us say yes to what matters.
Throughout our day, we are saying no to a host of things before us – to new tasks, to temptations the modern world offers such materialism, greed, gluttony; to emotions which are harmful – negativity, anger, rage; to all that keeps us from saying yes to living more fruitful and grace-filled days.
Just as we must measure and watch what we eat and try to exercise our bodies to stay fit, it’s helpful to take a step back from all our activities not only to recharge ourselves, but also to get some perspective. I know firsthand that saying yes too often can lead to overextending myself.
We have to ask ourselves, are we addicted to busy or to being tethered, always connected to our mobile devices and social media notifications?
When it comes to saying no, I draw inspiration from my sister Leslie who said no to her profession as a stockbroker and later as a teacher so she could focus on her family. Also, from my friend Zulema, who despite a fulltime job and raising a six-year-old, found time to train for her first half Ironman race in May. She did this by saying no to new projects and to television and saying yes to exercise. I think, too, of all the priests and the religious men and women in our diocese who have said yes to God’s call and said no to another vocation.
As we evaluate where we are and the direction, we recognize God may be trying to get our attention and alter our course. We can’t say yes to everything. What can you say no to that would help you say yes to something that truly needs your attention?
(Originally published in July 2017 edition of The Valley Catholic newspaper)