Several months ago while cleaning out and purging my closet I ran across some jewelry that had belonged to my mother-in law. Amidst some vintage style costume jewelry was a pin that caught my eye. The small gold pin reads “Just Say No”. Merlyn J. Wright passed away almost twenty years ago, so this pin is at least that many years old. Wait a minute! Are you telling me that women and mothers had this problem a generation ago? I thought the dilemma of being overtaxed, overburdened and spread incredibly thin was more of a contemporary issue. Back in those days there were no super leagues, club teams, dance or gymnastic teams that make you sign a waiver relinquishing any type of personal or family life. I don’t recall competitions in other counties, let alone other states. I never had summer camps, games or tournaments that involved airline travel and chaperones.
Sometimes my kids sarcastically ask me questions about my youth wondering if we had T.V. or garage door openers. Really? Of course we did, I am not quite that ancient. However, I am sitting here wondering if PTA, room mothers or school fundraising coordinators even existed in those days? What about swimming or tennis lessons that ran for just two weeks during the summers of our youth and not the year-round lessons of today? Life was simple back then, wasn’t it? Didn’t kids just go to school, play the sport that was in season, have an after school job and do a little bit of homework after sitting around the family dinner table eating a carefully prepared tuna casserole? If our mother’s needed pins that said “Just Say No”, apparently we need something on the scale of a billboard or a flashing neon marquis mounted on our front porch that says “Hell No.” “Just Say No” seems like child’s play in comparison between the demands on women and mothers from that generation to this.
My mind wanders back to a conversation I had with a fellow volunteer for the District “Reflections” competition I was involved with during the 1990’s. “Reflections” is a school program promoting the arts in elementary schools. Children submit writing, artwork, photography, etc. and are judged on a local, district, state and even a national level. This mother and I were discussing how we had come to be volunteers in that program with otherwise very busy lives. Her comment to me was that she was taught by her parents never to turn down an opportunity. By refusing an opportunity, she believed she would be shortchanging the possibility for learning and personal growth.
On the other hand, there is some food for thought on being open to opportunities that come our way. Declining things that seem challenging, time consuming, yet potentially worthwhile because we are busy doing mundane things would not ultimately be in our best interest either. So often we are caught up in the “thick of thin things.” Due to the fact that I am a multi-tasker, it is easy for me to get over programmed where some reprioritization might be the answer. I often feel conflicted with choices like this.
There is a valuable argument for both sides of this coin. Mark Twain is quoted as saying, “I was seldom able to see an opportunity until it had ceased to be one.” William James wrote that “He who refuses to embrace a unique opportunity loses the prize as surely as if he had failed.” The notions of accepting whatever responsibilities that come to us regardless of ability, available time, or even desire are reinforced by opportunities to serve in my church. Do we allow room for God’s will for us as we wrestle with the acceptance of opportunities that come our way? Quite often I am asked to serve in a capacity where I feel inadequate or ill prepared. It is after those particular months and years of service that I experience a level of personal growth that was unimaginable at the onset.
Balance on the other hand is proactive and an exercise in boundaries, limits and discretion. We must strive for balance in our work, in relationships, in our families and with ourselves or we do nothing well. There will always be more need in the world than we have energy, resources or time to fill. Yet balance is not constant. Balance is motion. It is fluid and always changing to adapt to new circumstances, demands and people. We are the only ones that can decide how opportunity, balance and harmony can co-exist in our world. This begs the question about where I stand – to act or be acted upon. Maybe it is not that black or white; maybe there is a very wide section of gray in between. True balance does not exist in the world and we should not expect that we can always have that perfect blend ourselves.
On June 24, 2013, Nik Wallenda walked 1500 feet across the Grand Canyon on a tightrope. As crazy as it sounds, he does not consider himself a daredevil. Nik was raised on the rope and has a lifetime of practice with countless variables and situations. He achieved that monumental Grand Canyon walk not because he defies gravity or because he is careless with his life. Nik is a husband and a father of three children. He achieved that incredible balance because he made small, incremental adjustments along the way as he perceived imbalance in the wind, the rope, his movements, etc. Creating balance is our way of using our inner strength, flexibility and tenacity to make something out of imbalance.
Russell M. Ballard made an observation about balance. “Simply said Balance is acquired internally and reflected outward…it is never the other way around. The answer is simple –the balance we all seek is within ourselves. It is important to allow ourselves some time in our busy schedules to unwind and clear our minds, even if it is only five or ten minutes a day, because this is where we begin to understand what we need from ourselves to reach mental steadiness or emotional stability.”
When it is all said and done, I don’t think it matters which generation we come from or what our responsibilities consist of. We all must work on balance and harmony in our own situations as we try to achieve goals we have for ourselves while leaving the possibility for opportunities that are congruent with all we strive to accomplish. This means that we do not have to say yes because we are capable and there is a need. There will always be a need and quite frankly, there are others as capable as we are that may need an opportunity to serve and grow.
From time to time we all need to reprioritize our lives, our responsibilities and our desires as we examine our need for growth and flexibility. Our response should not be given immediately. Our answer should come after some contemplation and soulful evaluation. Any decision that is worth our effort is also worth the time it takes to examine its place in our world. Balance need not be rigid or predictable. Yet careful assessment will help us make those adjustments that will keep us on the wire as we accept or decline potential opportunities.
My hunch is that even Nik Wallenda would say that too many variables requiring too many adjustments all at once could result in a deadly fall. We too walk a tightrope, of sorts, and must follow Nik’s example of taking on only as much as we have the ability to handle. We owe ourselves and our families adequate time to assess “Just Say Yes” or “Just Say No.”