Yesterday afternoon a woman came with her son for a thirty-minute computer-tutoring session. She listened carefully as I explained the uses of the mouse, learned how to cut and copy, took notes, and laughed while playing a typing game online.
About fifteen minutes after she left a three children came asking if I could print something for them. It turns out though each wanted me to complete a homework assignment by finding pictures online, putting them in a document, and then printing it (can you guess when the assignment was due?)
Sadly along with the people who want to truly learn there will always be those individuals trying to make you do their homework. This shouldn’t surprise us since we live in a self-centered broken world where children are taught from an early age to grab whatever they can. However as Christians we cannot allow ourselves to be used by them.
After a fairly lengthy bartering session (they wanted me to do it for $1 which is the basic price for printing something off a flash drive, we eventually decided on $2 a page). I completed the work and brought it out to them with a stern warning next time I wouldn’t complete their homework.
Now chances are they won’t remember my saying that but I can absolutely guarantee you that I will…and they will go home empty handed (I’m not totally heartless, but being approached about doing their assignment for them the night before it’s due is ridiculous).
The thing is sending them away empty-handed goes totally against my personality since I am a service-based person who loves helping those in need more than anything. But there is a big difference between printing out a document for someone who doesn’t have a printer, and creating a document for someone.
So I am preparing myself to say no
The truth is I should have refused last night because my actions shared a very clear message, “you don’t have to do your homework just go to Mr. John’s house and he will do it for you.” And now every child who comes requesting this will say “but you did it for ______).
Never before has there been a greater need for clear boundaries in our lives (what we are willing, and not willing to do) because otherwise people will just use us whenever possible. Obviously that’s not true for everybody, but that doesn’t mean the users aren’t out there.
In a deeper sense we must give ourselves permission to say no
Honestly that word sounds very unloving to me but the truth is saying yes when people are simply using me for their own purposes is the most unloving thing possible. Because now there is a learned dependence on me to continue doing that same act of mercy.
Ministry is a fine balance between grace and structure that I definitely haven’t perfected, but one lesson learned along the way is saying no isn’t nearly as hateful as it sounds.