Did I have to be broken to break away?

If I take on three jobs when I only have time to handle one, really, I cheat myself, and the people whom I’m supposedly serving. 

by Cynthia Caruso

I began to get the idea when I first moved to Texas.  I was 32 and my husband had remained in California to finish his 30th year of teaching.  I had our two sons, a tiny duplex, a teaching job, and not much extra time.  When asked to teach a Sunday school class at church, I said, “no.”  I was in a new place, learning a new way of life, and I knew my limitations.

 But it wasn’t until Jack died 13 years later that I really learned how to say “no.” I was utterly flattened.  It was all I could do to go to work.  I collapsed into bed each night, hoping I would die in my sleep, but waking each morning to another drive to work, another round of teaching reading to kids who fought me.  I dropped all my activities except work in order to survive life. At church I quit serving on Altar Guild and being a Eucharistic minister.  In time I even quit being a lector. I went to church every Sunday to be among my holy family, to give and receive love, to worship God, but I quit all those jobs.

And I did it with no guilt. I knew I was close to a breakdown.  My priest and church family knew it too. I took on one activity, and that was playing hand-bells.  Making music became a joy, especially since it was in community. I went to the diocesan women’s gatherings, too.  I took good care of myself, in order to survive.

Several years later, working in Vermont, I attended a workshop on love, presented by the clinician at the Council on Ageing, where I worked.  Cinda said many wise things that day, but the one I remember, because I had learned it accidentally, was to always say “no” if you were in doubt.  If you say “yes,” she said, and then back out, you cause a lot of grief; but if you say “no,” then later say “yes,” you’re a hero.

Another thing I learned along the way was that it is good for the world for me to care for myself. I have more to offer when I’m not stressed. I am a nicer woman when I’m well rested.  If I take on three jobs when I only have time to handle one, really, I cheat myself, and the people whom I’m supposedly serving.  If I take on only what I can handle, or even less, I do a better job.

And perhaps the most important thing I learned was that if a job really had to be done, it got done — and there were lots of jobs at church that deserved to be eliminated.  A friend said her Baptist minister-father was despairing over the number of positions that had not been filled once, when he decided to announce that all positions that did not have a volunteer would be eliminated.  He stuck to his word, and several choirs were cut, as well as some other organizations within this large church.  The church got on just fine, and no one was leading a group that he or she did not really want to lead.

Today I say “no” a lot, and the church is better off for it, because when I say “yes,” I say it with joy; and according to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, “Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.”

I invite you to choose joy.

Cynthia Caruso is a student at the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin. Reach her at cwcaruso@alumni.ucdavis.edu.

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From The Episcopal Diocese of West Texas

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