Not long ago, when I had a harder time saying no to people, I spent so much time at the beck and call of others that the people I loved the most felt neglected and unloved. I had a bad habit of dropping everything to help anyone, so much so that I have been given the following nicknames throughout my life: 911 Girl, Clutch, OPJ (Olivia Pope Jr.).
At first, I thought my husband’s concern was selfish; after all, we are meant to love and serve others, expecting nothing in return. I later realized, after taking some personal inventory, that his concern was from a place of love and protection for me, his wife, and the mother of his children. I had no idea how over involved I had become. With this realization, I came to understand the importance of boundaries. Even Jesus had firm, yet loving boundaries. I realized I was not being a good steward of my time nor taking care of my first ministry, my family, the way they deserved.
Inadvertently, I allowed people to assume that if they needed help or something needed to get done, they could rely on me every time. I made myself Superwoman at the cost of my physical, mental, relational, and spiritual health. I didn’t see it then, but I had so much of my worth tied into what I could do and offer others.
I have an issue seeing a void and not filling it, of seeing a problem and not fixing it. I later learned from a therapist that these “good intentions” were bad habits born in the pain of childhood trauma. I made myself the Olivia Pope of everyone else’s problems, always reaching in to help because, as a child, I felt that the people I needed most weren’t reaching in for me.
For several years, how I spent my time was a tensious topic in our home. One night, after a particularly heated conversation with my husband, I was forced to admit something I already knew deep down - I was my worst when I was giving everyone else my best. I lived on edge and was constantly tired, overstimulated, and unavailable to those I love most. In my attempt to save everyone else from their problems, I was sinking into my own.
At first, I thought my husband’s concern was selfish; after all, we are meant to love and serve others, expecting nothing in return. I later realized, after taking some personal inventory, that his concern was from a place of love and protection for me, his wife, and the mother of his children. I had no idea how overinvolved I had become. With this realization, I came to understand the importance of boundaries. Even Jesus had firm, yet loving boundaries. I realized I was not being a good steward of my time nor taking care of my first ministry, my family, the way they deserved.
The priority revealing exercise that changed everything
A few days later, after our initial argument about how I was overextending myself, my husband suggested I try an exercise to help me refocus my time and attention. This exercise was life-altering. I often revisit this exercise to apply it to other areas of life, like my business and community involvement.
He asked me to get out a piece of paper and draw a target with three rings. Then, he explained what each ring represented and told me to write names according to these standards in each section.
The bull’s eye: This is your innermost circle of people. These are the few people that you can drop everything for and be “inconvenienced” for. These are the people that you are here for no matter what. These people also tend to be who you count on the most. This ring should have the fewest names. These should be, if you have them, your spouse and children. It might be your parents, siblings, or best friend.
Ring 2: These are important people in your life that you love and want to be available for when you can. You are willing to be mildly inconvenienced for this group of people, and in emergency circumstances, you will always be present if able. These might be siblings, distant relatives, your boss, or your inner circle of friends.
Ring 3: These people are not keystones in your life. They are loved and valued, but they are not directly impacted by the decisions you make. These might be co-workers, distant relatives, people from a club or ministry, or good friends.
Before reading any further, please take a minute to try this exercise.
Upon finishing this exercise, several things became very apparent:
1. I lacked priorities and boundaries
2. I devalued myself greatly
3. I wasn’t a good steward of my time or relationships
4. I have taken the people I love most, for granted.
After completing this agonizing yet life-giving exercise, I made the hardest realization - I didn’t include myself on my target. I didn’t see myself as deserving of my time. I quickly realized how my husband and I got to the place we were in within our marriage. I had taken him and many others for granted. I think we all do this on some level. We assume that certain people in our lives must love us and will always be there for us. We assume they will “understand” when we can’t make things happen. I realized that the people I love the most I inadvertently serve the least. They usually get the short end of the stick.
Completing this exercise allowed me to see where my priorities were versus where I thought they were. The first time I completed this, I had 12 names/families in my bullseye. How could I adequately serve 12 people/families at the drop of a hat? I couldn’t. I had to ask God to help me reprioritize the people in my life. Not everyone could be in my bullseye, no matter how much I loved and cared for them. I had to re-evaluate and reposition many names. In doing so I considered the following:
Their level of vulnerability
Whether they were directly impacted by my decision making
Their level of dependence on me or my husband
Their local resources and connections that would help in a time of need
It was painstakingly difficult to remove our siblings and their families from my bullseye. I agonized erasing their names, but God reminded me, “Better is a friend nearby than a brother far away” (Proverbs 27:10). You may realize, like me, that you need to reposition some names. I have recreated it numerous times.
I made myself a “savior”. I unknowingly created an atmosphere that invited people to have faith in me rather than in what God could do for them and how He would provide for them. I made it my business, without His prompting, to save the day. It added stress to my life that wasn’t mine to carry and it added burdens to my life that God didn’t ask me to shoulder. Jesus poured into 12 disciples, only three were in His “bullseye”: Peter, James, and John. Who is in yours?