“Is Tomas here?” The woman at the door searched my face anxiously, hugging her coat tightly around her to block the wind. I held the door open slightly, not sure if I should let her in. Her name was Sabrina. Yesterday afternoon she’d come to our Bible school in southern Germany. She’d been looking for a place to stay – “only for a few weeks.” Finding a sympathetic ear in Tomas, one of our students, she’d talked to him in the kitchen for three or four hours about her desperate situation. But it seemed that she had more problems than we could help her with.
I wanted to tell Sabrina that Tomas wasn’t home. I wanted to protect him. This was supposed to be his free day. The students had just returned from a week-long outreach in Berlin, and they were exhausted. They needed to rest. But I couldn’t lie. Reluctantly, I let her into the front hall, telling her I’d look for Tomas.
“You don’t have to see her,” I offered, when I found him reading on the couch. “I could say you’re not available.” But Tomas got up with a tired sigh and headed for the front door. He couldn’t say no. “She needs someone to listen. That’s what we’re here for, isn’t it?”
Of course, he’s right. That’s what we’re here for. We want to be available to help those in need. And yet… Is it OK to say no sometimes? Is it wrong to take time for ourselves, time to rest?
When Is It Ok to Rest?
Did Jesus ever say no? Did He ever turn people away? Mark tells us that crowds of people from all over Israel followed the famous Rabbi wherever He went. There were so many people coming to hear His teachings and be healed of their diseases that Jesus and the disciples didn’t even have time to eat! (Mark 3:19-20, 6:30-32).
I feel I can relate a little bit. Our Bible school in Germany is in the middle of a neighborhood with a lot of alcoholics, drug addicts, and homeless people. Often our staff meetings or Bible lessons are interrupted by people looking for help – a meal, a job, a place to stay. How can we turn them away?
Yet several times in the Gospels, we see that Jesus dismissed the crowds and sent the people home (Matt. 14:22-23, Mark 6:45-46). These people had real needs! How could He send them away? But Jesus knew He needed to have time alone, time with His Father, time to pray and to rest. Even Jesus had to say no sometimes.
Boundaries – When is it okay to say no?
I struggle with setting good boundaries in ministry and in my personal life. I have a hard time saying no to people who want my time. It’s difficult to know when or how to take time for myself. But Jesus says, “learn of me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt.11:29). I can follow His example. And I can ask Him to help me learn when to say yes, when to say no, and how to rest in Him.
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).