strings attached

I like gifts. A gift can make you feel cared for, special. Some gifts are totally a surprise.

“You shouldn’t have,” but secretly you’re glad they did.

Then there are “gifts” which aren’t really gifts at all. They look like gifts, they were given to you in the same way. It’s just that later you noticed there were strings attached.

Oh, the strings weren’t very strong, at first. But, then you felt this tug, called obligation. Obligation causes us to do things because we feel we don’t have a choice. 

It’s like some invitations you receive,

“I really hope you can come.”

But the translation is, 

“You better be there.”

Invitations and demands are different. With invitations you are free to decline without hurting the relationship. With demands you have no choice. 

The problem is you don’t know it’s a demand until you decline. If you’re served a big helping of guilt pie with a cool glass of “after all I’ve done for you,” trust me, it was not an invitation.

In reading the book, Boundaries by Townsend and Cloud, they explain when you love someone, they are free to tell you “no.”

When I first read this, I struggled because I thought if a person loved me they would do what I want them to do. If something was important to me, then it would also be important to him/her. That is not true.

I’m smiling now as I type this, but honestly, I did think that way. 

I remember inviting someone to a family gathering. I thought for sure they would attend. First, they told me they would get back to me. That was scary. Then they  explained that they wanted to come, but would be unable.

I really tried processing that, but I kept coming up with the same thoughts. They said they wanted to come but it wouldn’t work out. I believed, If they had wanted to come they would come. It was their choice. I was sorely disappointed. Okay, I’ll change that. I was angry.

I realized that they were NOT free to say no. The truth is, I had not extended an invitation I had issued a demand. 

Fast forward about 5 years and I can say I think I’m getting better.  

Coming from a dysfunctional family, I realize I didn’t do well with disappointments. They were an area in my life I needed to work on, just like giving people the freedom to say no.  

I had it all wrong. I figured if I asked nicely, that constituted an invitation. I got good at hiding the strings.

The good news is, I’m learning. And when I see areas where I need help I expose them to God and he helps me. It’s not an overnight thing.

So, my question to you is this, are others in your life free to tell you ”no?”

I hope so. I’m not going to be able to make it next week. Sorry.

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