For as long as I can remember, I have had this issue with not knowing how to say no when someone seeks help. Without consideration for my own state of well-being or my own needs, I will often answer “Sure, I can do that” before logic can supersede empathy and a driving desire not to let the people around me down. This is how I ended up “coaching” cheerleading for two years with no cheer experience and also how I ended up making wedding cakes for a while despite having sworn never to embark upon the stress of intruding into the perfection of someone else’s most important day. I’d also like to note the my movement at my current school from part time teacher who only taught two hours a day to high school division head can be marked by a series of moments where I should have said no, but opted to help instead.
However, most recently, I acquiesced to a request from a friend with the best possible outcome–I agreed to help my friend Morgan lead a book study every Wednesday night at her church. Let me start by saying, Morgan was crazy smart because she asked me to join her in this venture while it was still summer. Summer vacation for me always includes a road trip to the vacation home of the school utopia that exists only in my mind. So, this summer while in that space, I agreed to help lead this group because I firmly believed that I would easily create a peaceful and carefree school year and that would allow me time every Wednesday night to attend the class. Let’s just say that perfect world in my mind is a bit of a fairy tale that while offering hope for days to come, actually has little bearing on reality. So, as it turns out, I had to work hard to make the time every Wednesday night. And also, as it turns out, while I thought I was merely assisting my friend by showing up for this class, I was really giving myself a gift that would change my life.
This school year has been trying and taxing and at times tumultuous but one constant throughout all of it has been the goodness that emanates from this group of women and the peaceful centering I experience for being among them. It is a multi-generational group and the wisdom contained in that room is bountiful. More beautiful, however, is their willingness to be vulnerable with one another… a willingness to not know exactly how to put words to the moment but to try anyway because there is something important to say…a willingness to be brave and let others in despite everything that the world tells us about what people with easy access will do once inside. I’ve never experienced anything quite like this group–a group that is so much more than a book study. It is a group learning to find and be love in the world, to wrestle with the difficulty of that calling, to listen even when we disagree so we can understand, to be present when it is so much easier to be distracted. When I am in that space my focus is dedicated and so is my heart–they are the reason I have taken Wednesdays off from writing my blog in this year’s daily challenge. I didn’t want my mind to be stressed in that space over what I would write when I got home after class. This was one time that setting this kind of boundary felt simple. I didn’t want anything to interfere with the part of my week that more than just about any other activity is truly self care.
This past week we returned from the holiday break, prepared to start a new book and to journey into new discussions. While some new faces decorated the room, as people arrived and chairs were filled, I found myself taking a deep breath and feeling like I was at home. I found myself grateful for this circle, for the invitation to be a part of it and for the courage to join in despite really only knowing a couple of people at the outset.
I also find myself keenly aware that it isn’t simply uttering the word “no” that I need to practice. Rather, I truly need to learn to identify life giving opportunities, answer them with a resounding “yes” and rearrange the rest to make space.