Monday, October 19, 2009

Learning to Say,"No"...and "Yes"


Just to forewarn you, this post is about neither drugs nor tacos. I just thought this sign was hilarious. In addition, it makes a point that I do want to talk about. Namely, that saying no to things we should say no to often makes it possible to say yes to good things...like tacos.

My week off from this blog taught me a lot of things, but this was, perhaps the greatest lesson I learned. Or, at least the one I most needed to hear right now. Saying, "No" can be a good thing. And, not just in the case of saying no to bad things, like drugs. It is only by saying, "No" to some things that we can say yes to other things. If we say, "Yes" to something--even something good--more than we should, if we take our "Yes" to excess, then we are inadvertently saying, "No" to many other things--sometimes even better things.

Let's consider tacos, for a moment. If tacos were my favorite food, I might be tempted to make them every night for dinner. (Incidentally, tacos are not my favorite food, but they are tasty.) If I eat tacos every night, I am saying, "No" to a vast array of diverse culinary delights--unless, of course, I plan on making several dinners and stuffing myself stupid. But, even if I make myself sick after a five-course dinner of tacos, lobster, chicken and dumplings, filet mignon, and shepherd's pie, I'm still going to have to draw the line somewhere. When dessert rolls around, I simply will not have any room left for chocolate cake, and I will have to say, "No."

So, I must ask myself, "How much do I really love tacos? Do I want to say, 'Yes' to tacos to the exclusion of everything else? Mightn't it be better to say, 'Yes' to tacos sometimes, say once a week, and to say, 'No' to tacos on the other six days so that I can enjoy a wider variety of foods? Certainly, it will be healthier for me, and it's bound to be more enjoyable in the long run, too."

But, as I said, this post is not about tacos. It's about my experience with shutting off from my blog for a week. My blog, however, can be compared to tacos. It feeds me, rather like tacos. It helps me grown, though thankfully not in quite the same way as tacos. I can share it with friends and even meet new friends over it, like a gathering featuring tacos. And, it just plain fun and enjoyable. Like eating tacos. All that said, you can still have too much of a good thing.

So, here are some guidelines I formed for myself in the last week. I know that internet use (abuse?) can be a huge stumbling block for many people in our culture, so I offer my own personal discoveries in the hopes that they will benefit others. Of course, they are still merely personal; my guidelines are unlikely to work for everyone, but feel free to sift through and chew on the ones that might work for you.

Fast. Often, I have found that fasting is the only way to thoroughly convince me that I am overusing something or taking it for granted. I look around me and see people who are on the internet far more often, who browse more sites a day than I do in a month, and I say to myself, "I'm not that bad." That's not the point. The point is, am I wisely using the resources that I have? Am I being a good steward of my time, my energy, my intellect, my family and other relationship, and yes, my internet connection? Frankly, I'm not likely to be able to give myself a thoroughly honest and knowledgeable answer without fasting.

If you think you current computer habits might be getting in the way of some more important "Yes"es in your life, even if you're "not that bad," consider an internet fast. Turn off the computer. Step away from the computer. Don't turn the computer back on. Go do something more important. That's it. Then, come back when your fast is done, and evaluate. I promise you'll gain something from the experience, and the internet will still be there when you get back.

Divide and conquer. So, my fast wasn't entirely from the internet, it was just from my blog. That said, I was using my email on a daily basis (thought a diminished basis) even during my blog break. Unfortunately, that meant I was still getting email about the blog, even though I was not on the blog, because I had my comment moderation linked through my personal email; this email address was also my contact email from The Apple Cider Mill.

But, no more! I realized that this way of doing things was destructive and inefficient. If I wanted to pop online and check to see if my mother had responded to an email or if my husband was online to chat and some Cider Mill mail showed up, I just couldn't keep from clicking on it, even though I knew that I was on a blog break. (Hence the reason that comments were still getting approved and posted during the first few days of my break.) So, I set up a second email account, which is now the holding pen for all comments and blog-related emails. I can go to it when I want, and I can still communicate with friends and family via my personal email account without being bombarded with blog mail.

For me, it was about a blog, but I have had others tell me that this strategy of dividing emails has really helped them in their own lives. One of my friends has a personal email account, an account for school, and a third account for work and professional emails. It takes about five minutes to set up another email account, and it's completely free, but the peace of mind and efficiency of time it adds to your life is priceless.

Life does not exist to benefit my blog. Sometimes, like my friend Jennifer, I make the mistake of living my life in terms of my blog, or at least thinking of life in terms of my blog. I read a book and I have to jot down a quote because it might work in a blog post someday. I have a conversation, and I slip it into a mental roladex of blog post topics. And, sometimes, writing a good post on a topic (prayer, children, etc.) actually ends up taking more of my time and energy than the far worthier object of the post!

This isn't right. Blogging is a fruitful and beneficial element of my life, but it is not my life, nor does my life exist for the benefit of my blog. My blog exists to benefit my life, and I need to keep this in perspective. My blog comes secondary to real life: real life relationships, duties, and pleasures. If I feel these priorities getting out of whack, it's time to reevaluate...and probably fast.

Be picky. We are particular and thoughtful about choosing our jobs, our friends, our homes, our food, our books, even the paint on our walls. When it comes to the internet, however, many of us are not so particular. We browse aimlessly. We "collect" websites in our blog roll. We have some standards, of course: no pornography; oh, and that one site that that lady runs always gets on my nerves, so I won't go there anymore; I prefer this recipe site to that one, but I'll still browse around a bit. Sound familiar? But, even with these standards, it's all too easy to glut ourselves with the tremendous amount of information available on the internet.
Phillipians 4:8 is golden here.
"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is
noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is
admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such
things."
If it's true in real life, it should be true for virtual life, too. Watch out not only for core site content but all the other things you are exposed to: advertisements, comments, debates, links. If these things are consistently contrary to what's spoken about in Phillipians, you may want to stop frequenting that site, anyway, even if the core content is perfectly acceptable.

And, remember, saying "No" may be a "Yes" to something better. Like tacos.

10 comments:

  1. As I stumble across more things and my reader grows, every now and then I stop and scroll through it and ask "does this really bless me?" Even if it isn't objectionable, I think about whether it helps me to grow spiritually, helps guide me in how to improve myself or my household duties, etc. I've even realized that some Christian sites don't bless me, and so I delete them. I think I'm probably due for an internet fast, though . . . and it's going to be difficult. But I guess that's the point. :>)

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  2. Thank you for reminding me into being picky on internet, like I am picky at my personal life. When I first started to blog, I was too overhelmed with so many interesting blogs to read, and so many interesting sites to visit. I am learning to be more objective, but still have a long way to go. I probably need to do some fasting. ;)

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  3. Great post. I chose to fast from internet usage last year for Lent. I take online college classes, so my fast only included entertainment, which was basically everything except school. It was a very beneficial time.

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  4. Just a thought.....that you got so immersed in your blog that you needed a break and recognized that need is admirable, because you keep things in such perspective. However, do you think that you were maybe so invested because there is actually something else lacking in your life? Yes, God fills your soul and your children and husband are your life, but very often it seems your blog shows how you push yourself to serve everyone else and then passively wait for self-fulfillment, when clearly there seem to be some other dare I say "worldly" talents you seem to have and have abandoned in your callings by Christ and you family? Just a thought as you move forward. Going off the beaten path and TRULY doing something for yourself is neither selfish nor unGodlike. It is necessary - it's perhaps dessert to the food that God and your family is. A bit like saying too many yes's or too many no's, although haven't quite worked out that similie yet.

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  5. What a beautiful and thoughtful post, Bethany. I recently had to say "no" to someone and was having some guilt about it. Circumstances were such that saying yes would have put strain on a relationship I value and on myself. It's not always easy to take the reins and say no, especially growing up in a world that views the action as ALWAYS selfish, but it's necessary. I find that the more "selfish" I am about things I know I need the more I have to GIVE in other areas of my life.

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  6. Anonymous- My answer to your heartfelt and probing question is, "No, I don't think that." I will admit, part of the reason I became so invested in my blog was the satisfaction I gleaned from the intellctual stimulation and adult conversation it offered without actually having to organize a visit with a friend or having to wait until my husband got home. That sort if thing is a very common trouble for sahm if only young children. Just as getting tired of working six days a week and never feeling like I could have a break or go on vacation was a necessary unpleasantness in my work as an actress.

    Frankly, I don't consider my talents as an actress and writer more "worldly" than my talents as a cook and mother. I still use many of the same talents inmy home and elsewhere. I just don't get paid for it ;-) So I don't see myself as having abandoned them. I just realize the limitations of my time and energy in this precious stage of life. Someday I would love to go back on the stage, and my husband is fully supportive of that whenever I feel that the time is right; he trusts my judgment. But, I remember the stress of working a show--even for a Christian theater company where we got both Sunday and Monday off--when Sophia was about James' age. It was the last show I have done. Every night, though I adored my cast, loved the play I was working on, and loved the company I was working for, I just kept counting the hours until I would be home again with Sophia--even though my husband was taking perfectly good care of her; even though she was already in bed! I just missed my family, and I wanted to be home with my child. On top of that, it was hard for me to work all day at home with my daughter, then jump in the car the second my husband got home from work and jet down the freeway to the city to work another four to five hours before getting home just shy of midnight. I couldn't have pulled it off much longer. And, I know that.

    Saying, "No" to a professional career at this stage in my life is not a limitation; it is a freedom! It allows me to say, "Yes" more fully to the precious years I have with my babies. They will be gone so soon. I am so blessed that I am able to stay at home with my children. I would not trade it for a run on Broadway.

    I was a little surprised to see you said this: "it seems your blog shows how you push yourself to serve everyone else and then passively wait for self-fulfillment"
    While I do push myself to serve others--not only because Jesus Christ calls me to do this but because I am naturally selfish and I do have to PUSH myself to do it--I would not say that I "passively wait for self-fulfillment." I am honestly curious what gave you that impression.

    I have never been a passive person in any regard. Just ask my mother ;-) Or my husband :-) I FIND fulfillment in serving others, just as Christ assures us in Scripture. Moreover, I take time each day, each week, each month, each year to fulfill myself in ways that service to others cannot meet. I read books that I enjoy; I use this blog as a much-needed creative outlet; I scrapbook, cook, bake, go for walks and hikes, visit with friends, lead and participate in ministries at my church, celebrate holidays and feastdays, attend adoration and confession, go for an occassional night out with my husband, and many more things. While I believe that service DOES bring fulfillment, I agree with Aristotle that the central facet of all virtue is balance and moderation. Finding that balance will be a lifelong journey, but I'm looking forward to it.

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  7. Thank you for your response to my anonymous post! I occasionally read your blog and do enjoy your perspective, and I didn't zone in on being an actress as another "worldly" talent. I just mean that it seems that there are other things in life that - even as you say - you are putting on hold at this time. I get the impression that you miss those. I cannot pinpoint why, but I can try - if I give it some thought, perhaps it is overall flavor of things - many of your posts are about struggling (and admittedly, that's not the right word) to be fulfilled in your role as a wife and mother - or often the closed-mindedness that you feel others have toward you because you are young or religious or have such strong opinions. You are young and often apologize for the fact that you might not "know everything" (and I use that loosely)...but why? You know what is best for you and courageously try to better yourself. Your commitment to that is tangible. But again admittedly, perhaps I am getting the wrong impression. And as to "passively waiting for self-fulfillment" - I mean that you seem to push so hard in Christ and seem to try so hard to be perfect in His eyes, even while admitting that you are not, but I just never get the impression that you forgive yourself as He means you to (the post about going to mass midday in the city not too long ago is actually what leaps to mind). You just seem to work so hard and I don't get a whole lot of consistent sense that you really do enjoy yourself because you are important and an individual. I remember reading a while ago about teaching....what about that? I don't practice religion as you do - you are frankly far too evangelical for me - so please appreciate I am coming from a different corner, but do know that I do not mean to criticize. I am only trying to clarify (and will probably do a horrible job of it!) In any event, I get the message that I am off-base in my assessments, but you asked! :-) Please know I do not mean to offend!

    I don't know that I can clearly say this....I just don't know. I want to put out there that just because you are sacrificing working outside of the home or another job at this time of life does not mean that I am telling you that YOU are not self-fulfilled. And I must say, by the way, such is not even remotely what I was referring to - were you to meet me, you would know that I am the most nonjudgmental of that species as I firmly believe you need to somehow make a decision as to what is right for your family and go with it, and I do not pass judgment on either a SAHM or WOHM. Having been both, both have advantages, disadvantages and we would all be just plain silly to insist that one is better than another for someone else.

    I am not going to go any further, because I have no intention whatsoever of professing to know you and certainly do not mean to criticize, I am only responding to a "feel" that I have over the web-lines and if it's off base, then so be it.

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  8. Bethany, just to chime in - for what it's worth, though my vocation is currently split between teaching and being a wife, I have always admired your devotion to your vocation of motherhood/at home. I think when I first began reading your blog, you had said something about treating the domestic jobs of home as an art to be crafted, and that has really stuck with me. Instead of simply cleaning and wiping the baby's face, making home a loving and beautiful place. I hope to have that viewpoint when I am at home down the road :) Anyhow, that's just my thought about "worldly" vs. at home from someone who is pursuing the worldly/home at the same time...and have 60 + preteens as my "children" for now :)

    P.S. Your blog fast had similar motivations to my end of blogging...

    Prayers,
    Chloe

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  9. Dear Bethany, like you said, we don't live to blog! Blogging is not our life. I nodded at the end of every line of your post, and yes, that sign is hilarious!

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  10. I don't blog (I do other writing projects so I try to "conserve" that part of my brain) but I do read blogs. And it's so funny how sometimes, I will read a blog about homemaking instead of actually, er...taking care of my home. I'm more balanced than when I first discovered blogs.

    I also find that with some Christian blogs (not yours) there can be an ultra-conservative, Patriarchal movement theme that is unsettling to me. The homemaking tips can be great, but then I stumble about how women shouldn't vote or leave the house much or wear makeup and I realize it's not something that relates to my beliefs, so I stop checking that blog out.

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