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Knowing When To Say When  June 21, 2005

Mari — June 21 @ 3:38pm

At baptism, we covenant to bear each other’s burdens, and in the temple we pledge to give our all to help build the kingdom of God. If we follow Christ’s example, there is never too much we can give or do for someone else. Believing all this, is there a way to set healthy limits on service?

This weekend is the wedding of one of the graduates of my Young Women class. I’ve been asked by her to make her wedding cake. I enjoy decorating cakes, but I don’t do this as a business, so I didn’t feel I could ask her to pay for it. While I’m glad that she thought of me to do this for her, I have to admit it’s stressing me out. “Building a cake” as Pedro would say, is a lot more time-consuming than it looks, especially a fairly complicated cake for a wedding. I’ve been busy at work, I’ve got a lot going on with my extended family, which is another post for another day, and my Young Women’s calling is keeping me very busy through all of this.

This isn’t the first time my talents have been appropriated by others in a way that I’m not quite comfortable with. There have often been times I’ve been asked to teach informal cookie and cake decorating classes on a stake or ward level, and while I like to do this occasionally, it sometimes seems like people assume I’ll do it without asking me first. I sometimes even get the feeling they assume I have nothing better to do since I don’t have any kids yet. I admit I start to resent it after a while, but feel guilty for doing so, since I’ve promised to use the time and modest talents I’ve been given to serve others, especially in the church.

So I’m interested to hear others’ thoughts on this question. When, if ever, is it “enough?” Should I listen to my own feelings and cut down on what I do for others, or should I be praying to be more grateful for all the opportunities I have to bless? I’m sure there are many of you who face these questions all the time, whether it’s with your callings, or volunteer work, or needy friends and family members. What are your experiences? Is it ever Christlike to “just say no?”


  1. I think it’s important to draw a distinction between ward requests and personal requests. I am really bothered by people who use ward members to get free services for themselves, like your cake lady. My mother does great calligraphy work and did so for various ward projects. Then people started asking her to do their wedding invitations for them (free of charge, of course). We consecrate our efforts toward building the kingdom, not each other’s personal fiefdoms.

    Also, if the request is for the ward as a whole, I think it is a lot easier to turn down without hurting people’s feelings. There is a fine line between exploitation and service.

    NFlanders — June 21, 2005 @ 4:52pm
  2. A couple in our old ward had “family ‘no’ month,” in which they would say no to any request that came from a ward member, for personal or church activities. They’d hold it about twice a year. Their philosophy was that if they put as much effort into being accomodating and helpful 10 months out of the year, then they didn’t have to feel guilty about saying no during family no month. Pretty soon everyone in the ward knew when these months were being held, and they just stopped asking (and hence, didn’t have to get the response, “Sorry. It’s family no month.”

    Note that I’m not advocating this as a solution to the problem.

    Jarom — June 21, 2005 @ 5:45pm
  3. When you don’t want to do it or don’t have the time, just say no. People will understand. I see no value in overextending yourself.

    When I was growing up, my mom was the type to always say yes. Her life was way more stressful than it had to be. She regrets now that she didn’t learn earlier to say no.

    Laura — June 21, 2005 @ 8:17pm
  4. I used to say yes to everything, Mari, and I burned myself out big time. I am positive God doesn’t expect you to give more than you have to give. You know that scripture.

    I wouldn’t consider asking you to make the cake for my daughter’s wedding without paying them. It is an imposition.

    Now I “just say no” :) or I say, “let me think about it” and I really do. It bothers people when you say no.

    In AA we have a saying about resentment “It’s better to give one than to have one.” Resentment will eat a hole in you and detract from the spirit. Give somebody else one and say no once in awhile.

    annegb — June 22, 2005 @ 8:48am
  5. Mari, I think I’ve told you this before, but you are completely, 100% different than my mom. In fact, I don’t really know the kind of woman you’re describing, except that I’m sure you are one. I’m an only child–and I was a mistake, too–so my mom doesn’t have kids to keep her busy. My dad earns obscene amounts of money, so she doesn’t have a job to keep her busy. She believes in the gospel of consumerism, so she doesn’t have a church to keep her busy. But even without these reasons, she finds a way to say no. Maybe I can help you out by giving you some of her explanations:
    (1) Making sandwiches for the homeless? Oh you know what, that’s my spa day.
    (2) I’d love to take you to the doctor’s, but I’ve got Junior League just then.
    (3) You’re right, feeding your dogs really wouldn’t be that big an imposition, but I’m having guests that weekend and there’s a million things to get ready for.
    And on. And my mom is a nice lady, Mari. Her friends all really like her. What I’m saying is that you can be a lot more bitchy before you need to start worrying about being a bad person.

    Greg Fox — June 22, 2005 @ 9:05am
  6. I find it nearly impossible to say no to anything. (I’m forever surprised that my kids haven’t caught onto to this, but they haven’t.)

    I think what I do is probably a bit passive agressive, but it works. I say “Maybe.” Or, “I’m not sure, let me get back to you on that.” Then that initial pressure of feeling like I need to say yes is taken care of, and I can consider whether it’s something I’ll really have time/energy/resources for.

    And if I take long enough in getting back to them, they’ll have forgotten about it or asked someone else. ;)

    Susan M — June 22, 2005 @ 9:43am
  7. There’s a guy in the IT department where I work that takes what I call the “go to hell” approach to customer service. If he senses that someone is about to ask him or is in the process of asking him a question about their computer or their network connection or their monitor, he interrupts them, says, “Go to hell,” and walks away. He does a great job, and it occured to me that something like this might just work for you. And though Jesus doesn’t mention anything like this in the Sermon on the Mount, he does say quite a lot of “Oh ye brood of vipers” type stuff at other times. So yes, it can be Christ-like to be assertive or even rude.

    DKL — June 22, 2005 @ 5:23pm
  8. Read: “Raising Up a Family to the Lord” by Gene R. Cook. Even as a G.A., he and his family said no to a lot of ward functions and requests. His bishop even called him on it, but was soundly taught into humility. Free agency means just what it says….Free to choose.

    Always express gratitude for the request when you say “no”. And you don’t have to use the actual word “no”.

    Also, keep a PRIVATE calendar and cross out huge sections for personal time. Then don’t let people violate that sacred time.

    Try, “It really means a lot to me that you would trust me to make your wedding cake, but my schedule is full this week.”

    Straight Talk — June 22, 2005 @ 6:04pm
  9. Yeah, that’s good, the next time I get called to do the cancer drive, I’ll say, “go to hell.” It’d be worth it just to see their face.

    annegb — June 22, 2005 @ 7:23pm
  10. I’m not sure how to read this. When we got married, one of my wife’s friends made our cake. Another of her friends took the pictures. Still another videotaped the reception. On the other hand, I have also done the music for the receptions of several friends and family members. Should we have paid them? Should they have paid me? I dunno–I just considered each of these things to have been the wedding present.

    As to the “when to say when” question. My general rule is that I will gladly help somebody, like with the frequent moves the church helps with, but I will not do it for them, unless they cannot do it for themselves (I’m not going to make the 80-year old widow carry a couch out to the moving van).

    Speaking of helping with moves, one ward we were in in Las Vegas had a checklist for members who asked for our help. Once they had completed everything on the list, we would come and help. Did it work? Well, on one move I got there about 5-10 minutes after it started, and I was too late.

    alamojag — June 23, 2005 @ 3:18pm
  11. LOL, annegb. That’s a good one.

    DKL — June 23, 2005 @ 6:03pm
  12. Mari,

    1. I don’t understand why your extended family and your work become less important than “building a cake”, or why you feel guilty for taking care of the more important things first (even if that important thing is “only” you).

    The idea that we must be outside of our comfortzone in order to give “meaningful” service has probably less to do with Christ’s teachings and more to do with Kantian ethics, if you ask me. I will always think that family comes first, and I will not feel guilty about it.

    2. More importantly, why is our idea of “service” limited to helping our neighbors move and cleaning up people’s yards ? Why isn’t there more of a fundamental emphasis to help those that are truly in need, i.e., the orphaned, the abused, the sick. I mean, are we so concerned about feeling guilty about not making a cake that we lose sight that some people don’t even have enough to eat? Just my 2 cents :)

    Robot — June 23, 2005 @ 6:42pm
  13. Everything should be done in wisdom and moderation, and there are surely times when one ought to say no. But in every ward there are a few families who are always willing to give everything–show up to every activity, comply with every request, participate in every way then can–and they’re the lifeblood of a successful ward. I’d like mine to be that sort of family, but I admit that I quail at the thought of years of girls camp chaperoning and cub scout dens. Consecration doesn’t mean much until it hurts a little, though.

    Rosalynde — June 23, 2005 @ 8:31pm
  14. Alamojag–You must have found El Dorado. Why did you ever leave??? :-)

    Justin H — June 23, 2005 @ 9:24pm
  15. Justin–I was in the military at the time. They made me leave. I wish I had kept that checklist.

    alamojag — June 24, 2005 @ 11:11am
  16. Thank you for your very thought provoking post, I really enjoyed it.
    Keep smiling
    Felicity 8-)

    Felicity — July 13, 2005 @ 6:47am

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