Margins and The Art of Saying No

say-no-1310251-1279x772I’m not great at leadership, but I would say that my leadership is growing. And one of the things that has helped me to grow the most are two concepts: margin, and saying no. And both of these are intertwined.

The truth is that many of us live without margin. And this lack of margin can appear in our finances, in our work time, in our family life time, and relationships. So often we are just so busy and so full we live at full-speed all the time without breaks, Sabbath, or rest.

The true thing at least for me is this: my best decisions don’t happen in stress, and busyness can overwhelm importance.

What I mean by this is sometimes we have so little margin that we just need to get things done, that then we don’t have time or space for the non-urgent but really important things of our lives. I also know stress doesn’t bring out my best, and decisions made in a hurry or without space are never going to be my best decisions.

So what I’m been learning is the importance of keeping margin in my life and in my week. Here are some the practical things I do:

  • I try to plan my week only 80% full. This practice has been incredibly helpful. First, it allows me to have space to say yes to the things that may spontaneously happen, or crisis that need to be mananged withtout pushing me “into stress”. Secondly, if the week doesn’t fill up I have 20% of my time to now dedicate to non-urgent but important tasks (like leadership, visioning, or strategic planning). It allows me to move past the day to day to larger items.
  • I have one weekend a month off. What this means for me is that each month I have one weekend where we don’t go out, don’t plan anything, and it’s free. As an introvert I need this. Our lives can become so jammed packed with all sorts of things, that I don’t have the downtime I need. By planning out and booking out one weekend a month where we don’t have any engagements it gives me breathing space.
  • I limit my nights out. What I realized early on in my life ministry is that if I got busy, I just added another night out. And soon that became a habit where I was out more than I was at home. The trouble is that messes up not only my work/life balance, makes my family a lack of priority, but then became expected by those I met with. Almost every issue then became urgent that could be met within a couple of days. In the end the lack of margin wasn’t helpful.

But those are just a few examples, but I mention this because my bet is you need this too. My bet is that you function best with some margin, some breathing room, some space in your life. The trouble is that if we aren’t intentional it doesn’t happen. Events, work, and other pressures will crowd out our space and in the end we aren’t living, just surviving.

So here comes the second thing: learning to say no. I say yes (even now) probably to too many things. To nice things, to good things, but to non-necessary things. And you can define “non-necessary” however you want but my guess is you might know what I’m talking about. Saying yes to that event, that outing, that pressure that isn’t really helping.

What I’ve learned is that to keep margin, to keep healthy, to keep leading well – I need to say no to more things than I say yes to. I need to make sure that I’m saying yes to the best and no, to the good, because rarely do semi-good leaders say yes to the bad. But our schedules and our lives get filled with okay, good, or not bad things that crowd out our space to do the best things.

So all of this is to say one thing: my bet is your life would be better with more margin, and that starts by maybe saying no to some things.

So why not take some time and think that through. How can you structure some space or margin in your life (i.e. plan a week 80% full, or a weekend off, or night off once a week etc)? What do you know you should say no to that you haven’t? How can you free yourself to give yourself to the best things around you?

I think part of the goal of leadership is also to last, and to not burn out. So these are two practices that are helping with that: margin and saying no.

Frantic Living

Here’s a quote that’s worth sitting and pondering. And if you don’t have time to sit and reflect on it, well maybe that tell’s you something…

Our frantic living does not produce life. Robert Farrar Capon

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What does it look like to be human? Truly Human?

1417639_83774630Today I want to talk about being human. And the truth is we don’t like being human. We want to be super-human. We want to push forward. We want to accomplish great things. We want to overcome our weaknesses and show the strength of our character, leadership, and endurance. We want to cover over our limitations and be self-made people.

The trouble is – this isn’t being human. This isn’t how we were meant to live.

How do I know that? Because Jesus is the true human. Jesus reveals how humanity truly is to look. Jesus often calls himself the “Son of Man”, which some scholars translate as the “Truly Human One”.

And if we look to Jesus we see someone embracing limitations. This might be shocking but it’s true. He sleeps, he says no, he goes off for quiet, and he doesn’t do everything or heal every single person in Israel. He has limitations.

Jesus also doesn’t cover up his weaknesses or struggles. And that too might sound shocking but it isn’t because he must have shared them with his disciples – because we read of them. We read of Jesus saying, Father if there is anyway out of this, please let me know. We read of Jesus being “hit in the gut” with grief when Lazarus dies. We read of real temptations from the devil.

We read of Jesus – being real. 

But we don’t want to be real. We want to be strong, limitless people, with it all together. But this honestly isn’t the way Jesus demonstrates to be human. Jesus doesn’t know everything, but trusts in God in everything. Jesus doesn’t pretend he doesn’t have limits, but embraces them. Jesus doesn’t pretend to be strong at every single moment – he has temptations, struggles in the garden and says “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”?

The point I’m trying to make is that being human is our calling, and our culture’s view of being human is just wrong.

Michael Gungor writes:

Burnout is what happens when you try to avoid being human for too long.

And that’s true.

So is there any area of your life where you need to say no? Is there any area of your life, where you need to embrace your limits? Is there any area of your life that you need to say – help please!? Is there any area of your life where you just need to embrace being human.

Because learning to be human is actually learning to be like Jesus.

Leadership Limits: The Art of Knowing When You’re Done

877270_52065388 Here is the truth: God created us all with limits.

This is just a simple fact, but one that so many of us don’t realize or accept. In fact, if you read through the creation accounts in early Genesis you’ll start to see that God created Adam and Eve with limits too. Limits remind us of something – that we need each other. We can’t do it alone.

And here is how this relates to leadership.

Leaders are often reluctant to embrace their limits. They push harder, they work longer, and dig deeper. None of this is bad in the short-term, but in the long-term it’s disastrous. To pretend that you can lead and push through and not acknowledge your limits will kill your leadership. It might not today, and it might not tomorrow, but it will happen.

When you refuse to admit you’re tapped out, you are actually denying part of the essence of leadership: relying on and empowering others. Pretending you don’t need anyone or don’t have any limits doesn’t help you, and it certainly doesn’t help your organization, business, or team. Limits are inherent to who we are, and knowing them helps us to lead better and longer.

Of course self-discipline, drive, and a strong work ethic are crucial to leadership. But so too is knowing when you start to run dry.

So here are two questions I ask myself at least once a month. And I think they are good questions for anyone in leadership to ask. It’s this:

  • Have I not asked for help this month when I needed it? 
  • Have I embraced both my limitation and my responsibilities?

These two question help me stay on track and I hope they help you too.

The God of Limits

limitsUsually we think of God as unlimited in everything. And in a traditional sense I think this is true and good. That his love is limitless, that his power is vast, and his forgiveness faithful and overflowing.

The trouble is that we forget that Jesus had limits, so we forget or pretend that we don’t have limits. The point is that if the Son of God had limits and created healthy boundaries on earth so should we as his followers. I know that it might seem weird to think of Jesus having limits, but that’s what the Gospels seem to point to. Jesus didn’t heal everyone there was. Jesus didn’t convince and save everyone around him. Jesus wasn’t able to change everyone. Jesus got tired. Jesus retreated. Jesus got frustrated with the disciples. Jesus had limits and he knew it.

The problem is that Christians, and pastors especially, forget that we have natural limits. We forget that we can’t save everyone, and having healthy boundaries isn’t a bad thing, it’s a necessary thing. The problem is that we believe it is our “mission” to change the world and save as many as possible, even at the expense of our families, friends, and personal health. The problem with that is twofold: first it’s not our mission, it’s God’s; second not respecting our natural limits and boundaries doesn’t follow Jesus’ example. Jesus got tired and retreated. Jesus provided for his family. Jesus as a human being had limits because all of humanity has limits. This is not a bad thing, in fact it is a wonderful thing. The limitless God above, wants to use us even with our limits, but we must recognize that we each have limits. I can’t meet with everyone. I can’t save everyone. I can’t give to everyone. Sometimes I have to say no. Sometimes I need to not check my emails. Sometimes I need to trust that God can handle things without me for a while.

Parker Palmer writes, “Self-care is never a selfish act – it is simply stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others. Anytime we can listen to our true self and give it the care it requires, we do so not only for ourselves, but for the many others who lives we touch.”

I think he’s right, because that truth flows from the life of Jesus. Jesus didn’t run himself ragged, burnout, and falter because he took care of himself so he could accomplish something greater than himself. That’s our calling too. To take care of ourselves so we can accomplish something greater than ourselves.

So today take care of yourself, in ways that make sense for you: rest, pray, play, take a walk, read, cook a good meal, say no to something. Become aware of limits, and don’t worry about overcoming them, trust in God to work within them.