Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”
Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else — to the nearby villages — so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”
Mark 1:35-38 (NIV)
I wash the rice robotically as my mind zigzags between every worry and concern and my increasing to-do list. The braised beef ribs stew in the Dutch oven on the stove, and the aroma of soy sauce, garlic, onions, and ginger fills the kitchen with the smells of home.
I taste the sauce for the beef ribs, and though I’ve made this dish a dozen times before, I still get nervous when I’m making it for a new mama. I want it to be perfect — for her to experience a mother’s love when her own is far away. I was a new mom once with no family close by, so now I want to show up whenever I’m able and provide what I never had. And though my life was overflowing with obligations, I signed up for the meal train anyway.
I pour the rice into the rice cooker, use my index finger to measure the correct amount of water, and I’m amused that somehow it’s accurate every single time. I press the cook button to get it going, and as I turn my attention to the next dish I’ve promised to make, my phone buzzes. I miss the call just as I reach for it and see that a friend has called me twice already.
It must be an emergency. Why else would she be calling me so many times?
I dial her number, and every possible scenario flashes through my head while I wait for her to answer.
Her chipper greeting dispels all worries, but before I can tell her that I’m busy, she chatters on about her day, how it’s been at work lately, her complaints about this and that person, and how exhausted she’s been. I watch the minutes pass as I try to stir and juggle the phone and make sure I’m on schedule to get the meal delivered to the new mama on time. I don’t know how to get off the phone without seeming rude, so I say nothing but the occasional “yeah” to let her know I’m still listening.
By the time dinner is dropped off and I’m driving home in the quiet of my car, I realize how spent I am. I can feel the whining coming up through my heart to my mind, annoyed at no one specific but taking it out on the slow driver in front of me and . . . myself.
I’ve passed my limit of pouring out, and I knew it was coming. I probably even knew it when I first signed up to provide a meal, but I have such a hard time saying no. I don’t want to be thought of as unfriendly or as someone who doesn’t show up. I want people to know that I’m trustworthy and dependable, that I see them and can carry their burdens with them. The problem is that I want to do that for everyone. It seems like the thing Jesus would’ve done — isn’t He the one who sacrificed it all for us?
But when I look closely at His life, I see that He didn’t do everything for everyone. He wasn’t always available. He made choices, saying yes to some and no to many. In Mark 1:35-38, Jesus’s disciples find Him and exclaim, “Everyone is looking for you!” People are clamoring for Him to heal them and to cast demons out of their loved ones. Everyone needs and wants something from Jesus.
But Jesus responds by saying, “Let’s go somewhere else.” He knows not only His purpose but also His capacity.
He demonstrates this so many times in His life, establishing boundaries with unhealthy people, setting new standards for unsustainable patterns, and upending unjust practices. He retreats to solitary places to pray (Mark 1:35-38). He takes His time and rests when needed, even in the midst of a storm (Mark 4:35-41). He overturns tables in the temple — a hard no to those exploiting the poor (John 2:13-16).
Saying no actually is being like Jesus. He knew the wisdom of setting boundaries, and He empowers us to do the same. When we are being pulled in every direction, we can say yes to His purpose within our capacity.
Lord, You don’t require us to do all the things all the time. Help me not to get the needs of others confused with what You’re asking me to do. Give me the courage and ability to say no, to establish boundaries with those who often cross them, and to see my limitedness as a good thing and not a selfish thing. Amen.
- In what areas of your life do you need to build healthy boundaries?
- What’s one no you’re going to say today?
This article was written by Grace P. Cho, as published in Empowered: More of Him for All of You.
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