by Dr. Melody Williams
Sophia is the Greek word for Wisdom, and Propel Sophia seeks out the voices of truly wise women and asks them to share worked examples of how they express faith in daily life. Pull up a chair at Sophia’s table, won’t you? There’s plenty of space.
“I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.”
This is typically me—the little engine that can—happily chugging along attempting to do every task on my daily to-do list. Yes, I have a daily list, and I often think as a woman in ministry who is proudly bi-vocational, “I really can do it all.” I have had to learn, however, that doing it all requires having healthy parameters.
A couple of years ago, I was sitting on my couch mid-afternoon, struggling to keep my eyes open because I was exhausted, feeling stressed, depleted, and slightly helpless after a grueling three months of almost daily time-consuming commitments. I barely gave myself a moment to slow-down, catch my breath, and truly check-in with loved ones. After that happened, I experienced physical illness because my body did not have the needed recharging and renewal period that a healthy, balanced schedule would provide. I had to ask myself: how did I get there? How did I fail to care for myself in a healthy way?
The short answer was: I had said ‘Yes’ too much. I failed to take care of my physical and mental health by committing to doing everything that I could possibly do, without considering if it was necessary and productive for me to do it. 1 Corinthians 6:12 says that although “Everything is permissible for me, not all things are beneficial.” As I struggled to be completely honest with myself about why I was so fatigued and overextended, I came to the realization that if I had said no to a few things, I would have been at my best to do the remaining things on the list. In other words, failing to prioritize and decline invitations and requests for help kept me busy, but less effective. Moving forward, I would have to say no even more than I said yes.
Philippians 4:13 tells us, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” —this includes saying no.
We have the power through Christ to make healthy, wise choices about how we use our time. Opting not to inundate our schedules with more responsibilities than we have energy for is a spiritually affirming decision. Today, I understand I cannot accept every virtual invite for gathering in a pandemic. I cannot be a part of every ministry initiative with an amazing outreach mission that inspires me. Just because it’s a great thing, doesn’t mean it’s the best thing for me.
Whether we are mothers, wives, professionals, students, ministers, or executives, we all face the trap that the aforementioned little engine mentality can create, working tirelessly to fulfill every duty, make every appointment, do every assignment, answer every call…The list is often endless. Yes, those that we do life with may need us to show up, ready and willing to communicate, instruct, lead, nurture, and support them in a wide range of capacities; and yes, to do so consistently is commendable. Yet, I would caution all of us to consider what really are the most important things in this list of roles and responsibilities we have, and are unfortunately consumed by at times.
Mary and Martha’s example can help us recognize when our efforts to avoid the possibility of disappointing others and doing everything are counterproductive. In Luke 10, Martha is super busy with all the responsibilities of hosting Jesus and those that traveled with him, which I am sure we all can see the merit in doing—because there is no houseguest quite like Jesus—but Jesus tells Martha in the final verses of the chapter that her sister, Mary, who opted to take a seat at his feet, actually made the best choice:
“But the Lord replied to her, “Martha, Martha, you are bothered and anxious about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part [that which is to her advantage], which will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10: 41-42, AMP
Martha was doing the absolute most, and while Mary chose to do considerably less than Martha at that moment, it was actually the right choice. This passage provides great freedom for all of us, especially those of us who struggle with resisting the urge to say yes to everything. With Christ we really are empowered to do what is best for us. We have to be deliberate about conserving our energy and preserving our time. Let us all take a lesson from Mary, be intentional about our no, and choose the good part!
Dr. Melody Williams, Ph.D., D.Min. is an assistant professor at a historically black university and a hospital chaplain. She leads The DREAMS Institute, a faith-based nonprofit that serves at-risk minority students and women of color. A lifelong resident of Hampton Roads, Virginia, and a mother of one, her world consists of teaching, speaking, writing, and lots of mommy-daughter time! Order Dr. Mel’s devotional Practicing Peace, keep in touch with her on Instagram, and join her on Facebook for weekly bible study.
For a limited time, you can download the Group Discussion Guide for FREE. It’s a communication tool developed for reflection and conversation between friends and groups reading How Did I Get Here?. You can use this to start your own book club this summer! Download the Discussion Guide.