Here’s the flip side to the last blog in this series: Just because something is hard for you, doesn’t mean it’s automatically the right thing to do.
This may not be news to you, but I tell you, it has been big news for me.
I went to my cousin’s thirtieth birthday party last year. He had invited all of his church friends, and all of his family. He had invited everyone. He goes to a different church to me and I knew many people there on a Facebook-friend basis, but there were not a lot of my close friends going.
The party was held in a brewery, a big barn of a place. It was meant to run all afternoon. There was an open fire, nibbles to eat, drinks you could buy. He didn’t plan many activities – just the cutting of the cake and a few speeches. The rest of the time was to be spent milling around and chatting.
Now, as an introvert, that kind of afternoon is … difficult. An afternoon of unplanned small talk with people I didn’t know well. I didn’t want to go. But this was my cousin, and it was his thirtieth, and I love him and his family. So I made plans to turn up late, and to leave early. And to try my best while I was there.
This is the thing that shocked me: When my cousin got up to make his speech he said that he had planned the afternoon to be what it was because it contained all of the things that he loved.
Can you hear me? He planned an afternoon of pain and suffering because this is what he loved.
For him, the party was pure joy from start to finish.
For me, not so much. Although, I am exaggerating about the pain and suffering.
Still, that was a bit of a breakthrough moment for me.
Somewhere down in the depths of my being I believed that there were types of events that no-one loved. That everyone went to these events because they loved the person for whom the event was held and they wanted to show their affection to that person.
Some parties I really enjoy, and some not so much. I think it’s something to do with the ratio of people I know well to people I don’t, or the amount of small talk required, or maybe even the activities we’re doing.
In the past, there were parties that I only attended out of a sense of love and duty. They were a socially acceptable method of showing my affection and regard to a special person. They were not events to be enjoyed.
Once I realised that people actually go to these events because they enjoy them, I felt released to not attend them if I didn’t want to. Or at least to only turn up for a short time.
I understand this is an introvert issue, but I have put myself through discomfort and exhaustion time after time out of a misplaced sense of duty. There have been many parties and occasions that I just should have missed.
Now, if I feel like I need to show my appreciation for someone, I might find a different way of doing it. I might send a card or a present. I might invite them for one-on-one coffee at another time.
I am learning to take a different stance.
I am learning to think about whether I would enjoy an outing. If yes, then I go. If no, then I need to think about it a bit more. There may be other reasons that I would benefit from attending, or that I would benefit others by attending. But sometimes I feel free to leave it to the people who would enjoy going. The people who actively look for these opportunities.
Learning that other people actually like parties helped me to understand that I didn’t have to like parties. It helped me to learn to say no when I am invited to a party that I don’t want to go to. Other people will be there and will enjoy it. The same with big church activities, or school fairs, or party plan parties, or big science festivals, or the morning tea roster. There are some things I am not going to force myself to attend anymore. And I’m not going to feel guilty about it.
There are things that suit me to do, that don’t suit others and vice versa.
An example is the way that I volunteer at church.
The other day I was having a coffee with a friend and I said to her that I had been asked to provide dessert for a particular course our church is running.
She looked at me and said, “Food isn’t really your thing though, is it?”
“No,” I said, “but anyone can help with the serving and clearing up.”
She just shook her head at me.
We chatted a bit more, and I wrote back to say that no, I wouldn’t be helping out with this particular task, and suggested someone else to ask that might enjoy it.
I have volunteered in a few different capacities. I have cleaned the toilets. I have worked the computer to put the words on the screen. I have handed out news sheets and taken up offerings. I understand that serving takes many forms and that being part of an organisation like a church involves serving the organisation.
I know that we should be willing to serve the Lord in whatever capacity he calls us to. That cleaning the toilets is no less of a service than leading the services.
For a while I thought that meant that I should clean toilets, or serve morning tea. Not only that I should be willing to take the most uncomfortable job, but that I should actively seek out the most uncomfortable job.
But now I think differently.
The way I volunteer at the moment is by leading services. Around once a month I stand in front of about 300 people and MC the morning worship. I give the notices, announce the kid’s spot, pray, generally link the whole thing together.
I enjoy it. It’s tiring, but it’s worthwhile, satisfying, joyful. And it’s something I find I can do. Well, I think I can, I made the same comment to someone over coffee after a service once and she said, “Who told you that?” Anyway, I find that leading the service is something I am well suited to. It is more within my abilities to lead once a month than to serve tea and coffee afterwards.
There is nothing inherently holy or worthy or wonderful about forcing yourself to perform activities that you don’t enjoy. I don’t believe that we are meant to be miserable and exhausted all the time. If you are not enjoying an activity, it may be a sign that you should stop doing it. Let someone else take the reigns – it might be just what they are looking for. Some people absolutely love being on the cleaning roster – it fills a part of their love for order and cleanliness and gives them joy. Others love serving morning tea, saying good morning to every single person that attended church that day. Still others get a kick out of running the technology for the service.
It is good to be willing to serve in any capacity but it surely is better to serve in a way that suits your personality and talents. To take that load that others don’t want and to give them the chance to do something that they would like to do. I am not saying that you should put off serving until you get the chance to do the one thing that you would be perfectly suited to. But I am saying that if we all work at the things we love, there’s a good chance that all the jobs would be taken care of and we would all be happier and healthier people.
I am saying no to things this year in order to spend more time on my writing. This post is part of a series I am writing about what I have learned about saying no. I’d love to have you join me on this journey. If you want to make sure you never miss a post, you can sign up on WordPress and the post will be sent to your email address every week without fail.
I am also writing a cosy mystery and it’s coming to the pointy end now. If you would like to hear more about the writing process, and see the cover reveal, drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll add you to my newsletter list. The newsletters are chatty, with a writing-focus, and only come out monthly so they won’t clog your in-box.
You’ll notice some special art in this series. If you want to see more of it you can find the artist on instagram @deteor42