Thank you, I will not commit to doing that.
That makes me uncomfortable.
I wouldn’t have time to do that well and still meet my other obligations in a satisfactory manner.
I don’t have the skills necessary to do that job.
I’m pretty sure I’m just not going to do that, so you’d be better off asking someone else.
We, sweet, eager to please, eager to accept authority people that we are, we need to learn to say “no.” If it helps, we can explain why we are saying no, so long as we are clear that it is not an invitation for the other person to attempt to persuade us.
I was talking with a lovely relief society president last week who said that one of the things she has learned is to say is “No. I cannot do what you are asking. But this is what I can do.” And then she gives options to the supplicant, things that she can do that would be helpful. It may be “No, I cannot go buy groceries for you, but I can help you with a food order form.” Or it may be “No, I cannot give you a ride right now, but I could help you after my husband gets home from work with the car.” (Once I did say this to a woman who called asking for a ride home from the mall a mile and a half away. She got pretty angry at me, perhaps because I also recommended a good walking route home, the one which I had just walked earlier that day with all of my children. She hasn’t called me for a ride since.)
We have got to learn to say no in a church setting without fear that we will be damned for being unwilling to serve. If you don’t know how to play the piano, and you know that there are other people who do play the piano, I think you can say “no” to that calling. Sure, there may be exceptions, like if you are in a branch where no one plays, and you are called to learn. But the option to decline must be real.
If you accept an obligation, you should do so with at least the intent to fulfill it and with a reasonable expectation that it is possible for you to do so. You wouldn’t volunteer to take meals to someone during the week that your family is out of town on vacation, would you?
And I absolutely hated it when, as a primary president, I had cub leaders or teachers who were flaky about doing their callings. I can understand that you don’t find a substitute if you suddenly come down with food poisoning, but when you don’t bother to let anyone know that you’ll be out of town for a planned trip? When you don’t make any effort to see that the children in your class will have a teacher, the same children you have accepted a stewardship over for just two hours a week, I get frustrated. And if you do it habitually, I get annoyed in a pretty unChristlike manner. I would worry and pray for you and the children you were supposed to teach, but often my hands were tied. I had to trust you to do your calling, and sometimes, even when I knew you needed out, I was prevented from releasing you immediately by the slowness of finding new people willing to accept your calling.
Perhaps you’re just trying to get released in a passive aggressive way. I hate that there is something in our culture that makes people feel that is the only way out of a calling they find intolerable. Please tell your leaders unambiguously when you are struggling with a calling. If they can’t give you the support and help you need, ask directly to be released. But continue do your job as well as you can as long as you have it or state clearly that you have no intention of doing it at all so they know definitely that they need to make other arrangements. Don’t be vaguely unreliable.
It’s not just the primary that has problems with people failing to fulfill their callings. The calling of visiting teaching supervisor can seem like a bit of inconsequential busywork, but it is possible to do a great amount of quiet good in that little calling through the real work of being sure that the sisters within your district are being cared for and receive the help they need, and on the other hand, there is also the bureaucratic hassle of getting reports turned in on time that can cause others a great deal of frustration and worry when you fail to keep your part of the system running smoothly.
I don’t think we should only accept the callings that we want to have. There is great opportunity for us to grow beyond ourselves, to learn through loving and serving people in ways that we had not previously envisioned for ourselves. Callings may be hard and frustrating and still entirely worthwhile. We should endeavor to serve. But if we know we can’t, or won’t, it’s much better to be honest with ourselves and others about that than it is to set ourselves up for failure that will result in feelings of guilt for us and disappointment for them. Sometimes, the best thing we can do is to say “No. I can’t do what you asking, but this is what I can do.”