When we were in high school we used to pass notes in class. Remember those? That was well before texting took over.
Sometimes we made it interesting by doing origami-stunts with our notes, writing in the backs of novels we traded back and forth, or once in awhile, we made it our goal to fill in every white space on a piece of notebook paper. We’d write from top to bottom, all the way left to right ignoring the red vertical line down the side of the page. We’d write around the three holes punched and we’d fill it all in with our fifteen-year-old thoughts.
I always think about these notes when I begin to feel like I’m over-committed. I feel like my life (a little like it is right now) is like that side-to-side notebook paper. I’ve filled in all available spaces with things to do, things to write and things to complete.
The fact is that everyone needs clear, free margins in their lives. My problem is that I’m a work-at-home mother, and so there are no clear boundaries between work and rest or between responsibility and play. I gladly fill in all my margins with stuff and when I run out of room, I try to cram more stuff in.
School volunteering, driving for the field trips, volunteering for the potluck at church, organizing the fundraiser, exercising, leading a table at the mom’s group, helping drive carpool, writing blog posts for other people’s blogs, and not to mention, doing the work that we do have that really does pay money. Fill in your own blanks; many of us over-commit ourselves.
When we fill in our margins, we have no time to relax, to think, to be creative or to dream. All we do is DO and we don’t have any time to BE. And we certainly don’t have any time to just rest.
Here are five questions to ask yourself to begin to evaluate if you are over-committed. Chances are, if you are obligated to too much, you already know it.
1. Do I have any time built in to my life to rest?
Ask yourself, do I have any weekly or daily time built into my schedule to break away from commitments and let my brain, body and heart rest? Is my life so filled in that there is no time for that at all?
2. When I am resting am I thinking about other things?
Sometimes when I’m taking a break my mind is racing about all the things I have to do when I’m done “resting.” My nap is interrupted by my own brain. When I can’t really take a break and be present in my Sabbath, I know I’m doing too much.
3. Do I have trouble saying “no” when someone asks me to do that one extra thing?
Sometimes we are women who can’t say “no.” And if we are people-pleasers then it’s even worse for us. We don’t like to disappoint others and say “no.” If you are a “yes” girl, you might be doing too much.
4. Does being a part of things make me feel valuable?
This is me. When someone asks me to do something or when I see a need, sometimes the basest part of me wants to be a part just so I can feel valued. It makes me feel better when I’m on leadership for something or I have access to All The Things because I was at the meeting.
5. Do I know myself well enough to make accurate evaluations about my time?
I admit, I struggle here. I want to help and do and be a part so much that I think, “I can do this. I have time.” But I really don’t. At times it takes my husband or my kids to notice that I’m too busy because I don’t have an accurate gauge myself.
If you do find yourself in a place of over-commitment, first think about beginning to practice the word “No” to any new commitments. Then evaluate what you have said “yes” to and see if there is anything you can gracefully and humbly step away from. Consider your emotional and spiritual health in this and prayerfully consider if there are any other people that can step up and fill the void you might be leaving.
Keep white space in your life. Keep your margins clear if you can. And by all means, try to schedule in time for Sabbath.
What about you? Are you over-committed? Do you have trouble saying no?Leave a Comment
Bev Duncan @ Walking Well With God says
I am a recovering “do-aholic”. What you described was me to a tee! All the margins were crammed with things to do or complete. I am now 52 and have realized that a lot of the things I said “yes” to were to fill my sagging self esteem. Instead of being content in the woman that God had fearfully and wonderfully made, I felt like I had to gain my worth through doing and accomplishing things well. Even the most righteous acts can be as filthy rags. Hard words to hear, but even all our “kingdom” work can be fruitless if we aren’t spending time with the King. I am more content now in just being because I am learning to wrap my tiny brain around the fact that my Lord loves me to the moon and back and He loves me when I sit and rest at His feet. He will lavish His love on us if we will just let Him. Knowing my gracious God better has given me the freedom to say “No” more often and be okay with it. It’s not only okay, but it’s good to Be Still.
Sarah Markley says
yes. i love that Bev! i think so many of us are “do-aholics”
Getting better at not jumping into things too quickly. In the past I would check off needs in the church bulletin for different events without first checking with God to see if He wanted me to partake of the event. Now I sit back, take it home and ask Him. Much better all the way around!
Sarah Markley says
great way to think of it Janet! thank you for your comment!
God has been reminding me this past year that my over-committed cannot be compared to anyone else’s over-committed. I am called to the life, personality and responsibilities he has given ME. If outwardly that looks like dramatically less than other people are gracefully handling every day, it makes no difference. God has called and equipped them to other things, and that is none of my business! Would that we all might have the grace to see and revel in the value of work God has given us individually and to soak in the gifts and blessings that come with putting pearls of high price first and letting other things go.
Sarah Markley says
that’s a great point. sometimes i wonder if my busy is different than someone elses busy. and why i can’t do more. hahaha!
Missy June says
It is so easy for me to become task-focused instead of relationship focused and then my best people suffer or get my leftovers. It is a worthwhile challenge to create strong boundaries around my personal time. Just this morning my husband asked me not to paint a hallway this evening, but to just be with him. I’m blessed that is his desire and it reminds me of what people truly value in me.
Sarah Markley says
After we wrote our notes, we’d fold them up tightly into a little triangle, like a football that you could flick so it would sail across the room to your intended recipient. 🙂
Yeah. I have been terribly over-committed, though not presently due to a major change in my life. Last winter, I wrote down all the things I had obligations to: my husband, girls, a Sunday school class, community volunteer, adjunct professor of journalism, the book I was under contract to finish, freelance work. I had to make some hard choices. I loved all of my commitments. But there really can be too much of a good thing. Because too many good things? Is not a good thing at all.
I looked at all those obligations written down on paper on my kitchen table. And I made the hard decision to stop teaching journalism at the college. I loved teaching, but something had to go. I was missing out on sleep, on study, on being still, on exercise. I feel far more balanced now than I have in a long time. But I can also see how other “opportunities” are creeping back in, asking for a yes. I’m really guarded about my time, now that I’ve gotten it back. It takes discipline, and I am such a discipline-amateur… And I’m so tempted to over-yes myself once again.
Sarah Markley says
i love the way you put that, things creep in and ask for a yes. hmm. so true!
Sarah, those margins in our lives are so necessary! I find that I mother better, think better, love more fully when I make the conscious choice to clear some margin space. But that #5? Getting to the point where I understand myself well enough to know how to evaluate my time – that’s the one I’m still working on – and probably will be for a sweet forever.
Sarah Markley says
yes!! me too =)
Actually the LORD is speaking to me just about this very subject. I’ve had a minor op and just got so tired and slept slept and just slept and the LORD showed me I need rest time and happy time just doing nothing so that I could be more productive in the things I’m doing. More quality doing rather than quantity. Sound familiar. 🙁 So, I’ve slowed down this week and intend to slow down a lot and only do the things that I’m committed to. I feel a lot better and have had time to hear God’s voice even clearer …. 🙂 This article is for me. As well.
Sarah Markley says
i’m so glad karyn =)
Kelley J Leigh says
Thanks for this practical post Sarah. Margins and rest in the white space. Yes. Well said.
“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”
― Augustine of Hippo,
The Confessions of Saint Augustine
Sarah Markley says
i love that augustine quote. so good, kelley! thank you for your comment!
Daniel C White says
BOOM Does being a part of things make me feel valuable? – you nailed it right here on #4 Sarah. I’m always ready to fill a void when someone needs something, but we can’t all be Superman or Superwoman, huh?
Great post and great reminders friend! I needed this right now.
Sarah Markley says
boom. that one was for me too. =)
and i love it when a guy comments here! yay! thanks for being brave!
Kendra Burrows says
The corollary to #2: When you do remove all other things from your mind, do you promptly doze off? My son teases that Family Movie Night should be renamed Movie & Nap Time because one of us (ahem) never makes it through the movie. Thanks for this nice article, Sarah!
Sarah Markley says
yes! right? i love that, kendra. i never make it through movies either. =)
It is really easy to become over committed. I have said to my husband on numerous occasions that I just need to ‘BE’. He doesn’t understand what I am getting at. This is a really great post for spelling that out.
Sarah Markley says
yes. being over doing. that’s something i’m learning right now. it may take me my whole life, i think.
Patty Muich says
I could not believe my eyes when I opened my email. Over committed. I had just been thinking that and wondering what I could ‘drop’. And the sad thing is? I am disabled and have 24 hours of freedom a day to do as I wish. And yet… I am a glutton. I want to do it all. I want to run with the big dogs.
I have an addicted personality. If one is good then 5 would be so much better. And then I lay on my bed not knowing what to do first, getting depressed and not doing anything at all. I noticed yesterday that I was laying on my bed… feeling a bit ill…. and it was just because I did not know what to do first. Isn’t that ridiculous? (Then when I do accomplish something I feel that it is not good enough which is an entirely different post LOL!)
I just want to be good and help people. I have got to get it through my brain that I cannot DO everything and that I am not cramming for God’s final exam. He loves me as I am…. so I need to sit down and rest on the porch and watch let the big dogs go on ahead. They will come back and tell me all about it.
Thank you for touching my heart and brain today!
Pam Manners says
This post is me all over. I’ve been a people pleaser extraordinaire my entire life.
Growing up, I was the geek, the nerd, the brainiac, the ugly girl in school/neighborhood that nobody noticed except to maybe get beat up on, physically or verbally, when someone needed to vent.
So when I realized that being able to DO THINGS made people look at me in a different, better and more acceptable light, or made them smile and seemed to make a difference in their lives (and thereby making ME feel like I was somebody special), it became like oxygen to me who always felt as though I were walking through life suffocating.
Fast forward to YEARS down the road when I made that life-changing decision to follow Jesus: sadly and strangely enough, that People Pleaser erroneously morphed into a Jesus Pleaser. The Purpose Driven Me. If there was a job that needed doing, a ministry that needed a worker bee, a committee that needed an empty chair filled, a Bible study that wasn’t completely full, a meal that needed to be cooked and delivered with a smile and some prayers — girl, I was ON IT! Over-commitment was my specialty. Volunteering became like crack to this approval addicted Jesus Girl.
Because by juggling all the balls and keeping all the plates spinning, I was pleasing to God, making my Jesus happy and certainly NOT grieving the Holy Spirit, R-I-G-H-T?
In 2008, after receiving a LOUD AND CLEAR message from the Lord to Cease and Desist all volunteering/helping/ministry activities and group studies, (which I continued to swat away like a pesky mosquito with one hand while I was signing up for more things with the other one), I opened my eyes on April 2 to find myself laying flat out on a gurney in our local hospital’s ER. Couldn’t speak, couldn’t remember how I got there. Still thought we were in the month of March (to this day, an entire three weeks out of my life are still gone from memory). Doctors said it MIGHT have been a stroke or maybe something called TGA (Trans Global Amnesia), but all tests came back inconclusive.
My thoughts? It was a total WWF Smackdown from God. Where Jacob pretty much won his wrestling match with the Angel of the Lord (albeit victory with the bonus limp), I did not. If I refused to temporarily retire on my own from holding the recurring title of Miss Over-Committed Christian, then the Lord saw fit to offer some ‘help’ of His own.
It was a very, very long time before I was able — physically, mentally and emotionally — to step back up to volunteer for anything. I learned the hard way about resting, about allowing other people to be someone else’s blessing, and that serving WAS NOT supposed to be all about me and what only I could do (because, you know, nobody can do things as well as I can. Yeah, right).
Almost killing myself is not pleasing to God, doesn’t make Jesus happy and most certainly DOES grieve the Holy Spirit. However, there are times….like right now in my life….where I find myself foolishly headed back down that road. Why?
Maybe it’s just my church, Sarah, but I found after a while, people at church stopped relating to me. Backing off. Because I stopped being The Always-On-Call Helper, I found myself more like The Pariah. Ostracized, forgotten. As if, in order to be part of that churchy In Crowd, I had to be involved in everything that came down the pike, be it volunteering or parking my keister in a Life Group/Bible study. And when approached to do so and I said ‘No, thanks,’ I would receive That Look, as if there was something wrong with me, as if I’d suddenly sprouted horns and turned heathen or something.
Sometimes, I hear that ugly, cackling whisper in my head, that a servant of Christ SERVES…so why am I not serving more? Currently, I volunteer one night a week at a tiny, local church’s soup kitchen, and do intake once a month at the same church’s Food Pantry and Clothing Closet….but the voice asks why am I not volunteering for the Christmas outreach, VBS, the homeless outreach, or the other 999 things in which my own church is involved? Such a disappointment I must be to Jesus, Who helped everyone who ran after Him and latched onto the hem of His cloak.
Perhaps, it is these things…these out and out demonic LIES….are what many other women are hearing and believing, causing them to sign on the dotted line and over-commit.
I know this was so long-winded (understatement of the year). Thanks for allowing me to share it all on your blog. It all just seemed to tumble out so easily and quickly today.
Beth Williams says
God loves you as you are. Don’t worry about what other people think or say. Just know that He created you and loves you immeasurably more than you could ever know!
He created a Sabbath for a reason. Why even Jesus took time out to be alone and rest. In Genesis it states He made day and night –for sleeping/resting.
Do what you think is best for you and your family!
We all love you God bless!
Oh how easy it is to erase until we have margin, but we don’t do it. I just decided I’m not “that” mom a few years ago. First of all I can’t be with this disability, but if I could I would totally loathe PTO boards and field trips with the entire fifth grade. (Or first, or sixth) I don’t bake I buy for class functions. I don’t volunteer because I volunteer in the community elsewhere. I don’t drive carpool, and I’m not a soccer, insert sport or other hobby here, Mom. These are things I will not substitute margin for in my life nor my children’s. I can say “No.”
No space for margin in these next few weeks due to one thing – my new job. I find it so easy to balance life when its just about saying yes or no to one more small task or invitation. However, when it’s just one very busy, almost all-encompassing thing that you can’t minimize in size it’s hard to find the margin. Here’s to grabbing rest while I can and limiting the busy like driving in the car with no music.
WOW – does this seem to resonate with SO many of us! I, too, struggle with the challenge of just BEING and not constantly DOING. God created us as a human beings, not a human doings!
Sarah-you’ve shared and summed it up SO well and put it directly by reminding us that, “Chances are, if you are obligated to too much, you already know it.” If we’re really discerning, the Holy Spirit will keep us in tune when we’re heading down the wrong path again!
There are ebbs and flows for many of us BUT it is way too easy for us ‘do-aholics’ (thank you, Bev, for this VERY apt term) to slowly add on and add on and add on until we are again overwhelmed! Phew, I am very grateful for my beloved husband who often speaks softly and reminds me to prayerfully consider the big picture before committing to anything else.
Thank you all for your insightful comments and timely sharing. SO grateful that God directed me to your words today! May He continue to guide, grant discernment to, encourage, strengthen and bless you mightily!
At our mid-week youth program at church, we’ve been equipping the kids for their lives. We recently reviewed the 10 Commandments, which, after telling us how to honor God, the Sabbath and our parents, we are given a list of “do nots.” This week we reviewed the Beatitudes, which I like to break down into “Be Attitudes”. Jesus tells us how blessed we are if we will simply be…poor in spirit, meek, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers. Thanks for this affirmation today! Instead of being an out of control Do-Bee, I want to be a Be-Bee.
Beth Williams says
I used to be a people pleaser and have an insatiable need to be doing something always! As I age, have a different/busier job, worry about aging parent and friends I find myself needing–almost begging for rest & quiet.
It’s not just enough to rest–I’m craving absolute quiet. A friend put it like this: “I have a Nature Deficit Disorder”. Craving the mountains and solitude with hubby and God!
He desires our time and quiet more than all this doing, going, constant rushing around!
Crazy b/c I wrote about these very things a few weeks ago,as they apply to establishing a more successful homeschooling routine …you nailed it…these are my big areas too. Thanks for the practical encouragement, Sarah.
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Bonnie Jo Shiever-Moore says
Wow !!! I raised 4 kids and 4 grandbabies I then helped take care of an Uncle who had a stroke as well as helping my Dad and Mom when my Dad was diagnosed with Alzheimers disease my Dad passed in may this year. I was volunteer with a ministry thru our church that cares for the neighborhood and a homeless group in our community when the director left I agreed to step in as director ( thinking he was coming back ) its been 2 years I struggle constantly on knowing my place and not allowing others problems to be come mine. Your guidelines are so welcome Thank you for sharing I’m going to pass this on
Thank you so much for this post! That was truly me a year ago- just had to do this & that! But, thanks to the Heavenly Father, I’ve learned to slow down and to say, “No” and not feel terrible about it. I have truly enjoyed the posts that everyone share -such an inspiration for me! Thank you.
4. Does being a part of things make me feel valuable? Is the point that most spoke to me. I definitely think that being part of things makes me feel valuable. I don’t know how to find that value without doing, but I’m open to suggestions. I know that doing too much is not good for me but I have a very hard time figuring out how to feel ok when I am not doing.
How have other people overcome this?
Lolu Hassan says
It seems this over-committed thing is synonymous to the name “woman”. Lol…The truth is it can be hard to strike a balance between using my talents for God in various sections of ministry, being available for my youths at church and knowing when I’m doing too much.
I am now learning to do what I can and leave time to BE with my Father and spend sometime with me too. Yes and also cherish holidays and Sundays as God given opportunities to rest.