But I have learned (at least a little and with much initial pain but ultimately great joy) that saying "no" is often a kindness to all involved. A gift not freely given is really not a gift. If I "help you" but carp the entire time about what a horrible imposition it is and how stupid you are to need help and make it clear that you now "owe me big time" then is a poor and sad counterfeit gift. If I only help you because I am afraid I will loose your love or good will or business, that is a bad deal rather than a gift. If I am demanding from you often and giving to you rarely then that is not love or friendship or mutual kindness. It is abuse. But is hard to change those terms of interaction and the longer that has been the norm, the harder is. But, baby, it is SOOOO worth it.
I've been thinking about how my transactions began to change and I believe it started when I was an adult and my mother encouraged conversations about this and recommended books about this as she began to do work in this area. Al-Anon meetings and materials helped. Christian friends who had evaluated prayerfully these issues in their own life modeled such peace and power operating from a base of security and love that it was rare for them to react in fear or thoughtlessly.
And a counselor once told a weepy me that I needed to be more pro-active than re-active. I sobbed, "I don't know what the means!" She replied, "I realize that, but you are a smart and able woman, and once you start thinking about this you will get the hang of it pretty quickly!" I don't remember her name and I'm not sure it was "pretty quick" since I'm pretty stubborn. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I did not want my children to grow up thinking they only had to be a responsible person if I was riding them. And I began to find the grace to be calmer (at least some of the time) when asking for what I needed, even when it made other people uncomfortable.
So when I read the book I have been musing about this week (Boundaries: When to Say YES and When to Say NO To Take Control of Your Life ) I found many things that were old friends and some excellent theology and some interesting new things to think about, and a thing or two I'm not so sure is that on-target. It has been a little hard on my family, neighbors and friends as we have had some challenges this week and they have found me confidently loving but standing solidly on my own values and working hard to stay consistent to my own understanding of God's Will in my life. I'm so grateful because, as Andy Stanley once noted, I don't think my kids, family, neighbors and friends really do not want me to change my values and purpose because they are a little stuck where I'm pretty sure they don't want to live.
It is not a fast fix -- this boundaries thing. But in the end I am the only person I have 100%, life-long responsibility over and, frankly that is a 24-7 challenge that frees me to love without expectation, embrace hope and joy, and grow more deeply in love with God and with the work God has provided for me. It is worth trying!