If you can’t do it every time

Do something

Can you relate to this?

An acquaintance asked me to not only pick up a meal for her, but then deliver it to her apartment. I was torn. Sure, it would be a nice thing to do. And it would hardly be out of my way.

But if I did it this time, would she expect me to do it again and again?

Wouldn’t it be better to just say no now, and cut off this problem from the start?

It’s logic I’ve heard all my life:

If I do it now, I’ll have to do it always.
I can’t do it always.
So I won’t do it now.

Or maybe this:

If I do it for you, I’ll have to do it for everybody.
I can’t do it for everybody.
So I won’t do it for you.

Is this good practice?

I heard Andy Stanley counter it with this,

Let go of the fallacy of “If you can’t do for everybody, do for no one.”

Instead, “Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.”

He said quit trying to be fair. Life isn’t fair.

I’ll add, grace isn’t fair either.

Aren’t we glad?

Even though Jesus died for everyone, he knew not all would believe in him. What if he had reasoned, “But if everybody won’t believe, I won’t die for anybody.” There goes our salvation.

Or if he’d reasoned, “If I change the laws of nature this time, she’ll expect it every time.” There goes every miracle.

If grace were fair, there’d be no grace.

So instead of being fair, can we just be loving?

Maybe we can’t do it every time, but can we still do it this time?
Will we do what we can for whom we can, even though we can’t do it for all?

  • Water the next-door-neighbor’s flowers, even though we can’t water the whole neighborhood
  • Send the sympathy card to the widow we know, even though the obituary page is overflowing
  • Buy the Thin Mint cookies from the Girl Scout who asks, even though we can’t buy them from the whole troop

And take the meal to my friend at her apartment. This time. Well, actually, next time (because I didn’t do it the first time after all, just so you know. Someone else volunteered and I said ok.)

We don’t have to do everything.

Let’s just do something.

* * *

Have you used this logic, too? How do you break free from it? Please share in the comments.

revised from the archives

50 thoughts on “If you can’t do it every time

  1. Bill (cycelguy)

    This happened to me/my wife over the weekend. A family where the husband has been fighting a bad addiction to meth and heroin but is struggling to stay clean is going to a doctor for help. His meds cost $300 each visit (not covered by insurance). They were $200 short. He has worked so hard to stay clean. His wife has stood by him when many would have given up. he has three beautiful young children. We gave them $200 we don’t really have. I confess to wondering “will there be more of this?” The church has bent over backwards (over $1500 just in April alone) to help them stay afloat. But Jo & I love this family and knew he needed his meds to stay clean. Will it happen again? Possibly. Will we be able to help again? At this point: No. But who knows what God will do in the meantime? I’d rather err on the side of helping than err on the side of watching him flounder again.

      1. Bill (cycelguy)

        Thank you Susan for your kind words. To add a bit more: he was also let go from his job this past Friday. He had been there about a month. Jo & I felt we had no other recourse but to reach out and trust for our own needs to be met.

      2. LisaNotes Post author

        Susan, I’ll have to look up the “dirty faith” post because it sounds intriguing! I love when God puts people together for reasons beyond our human understanding. Those encounters are often the ones that change us the most.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thanks, Mari-Anna. Sometimes I think my default answer is “no” when it should be “yes” so these kind of lessons are important for me to often remind myself of.

  2. Ceil

    Hi Lisa! I have struggled with this before, I have to admit. I love the quote from Andy Stanley. It makes so much sense, and it’s said so simply. Doing what we can is important, and I shouldn’t let my fears get in the way. After all, who says I’m suddenly going to be deluged with requests? That just might be my own mind racing in fear.
    This was a great post for me today. Thank you for sharing your experience 🙂

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Exactly, Ceil. Why do we think someone is actually going to continue asking for that same thing over and over if we say yes anyway? ha. We can always say no at any point. But I don’t want that fear of having to say no later, keep me from saying yes now. Much room for growth still….

  3. Cheryl Smith

    What a wonderful, edifying post! So very true. It is so true how the enemy tricks us into believing such lies in order to keep us paralyzed from helping others and being Jesus’ hands and feet. Even if we are taken advantage of from time to time and even if we are despitefully used, we know that He went through it first. And to follow Him into those places brings such a deep sense of peace. He will show us when it is time to say “no” and to walk away when a situation is only enabling bad choices, etc. I so appreciate you sharing what He laid upon your heart today!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Beautiful commentary, Cheryl. Yes to all you said! We don’t need to fall for lies or overly protect our assets or fear we won’t be wise enough to say no when it should be said. Thanks for sharing this.

  4. Pamela

    This was so challenging to me, Lisa. I love how you used Jesus as our example. Sometimes I think in my learning to say “no” I may have learned it to good because I’m afraid I’ll get back into the frantic lifestyle of saying “yes” to everything. I’m posting “Do it for one” somewhere I can see it!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I hear you, Pamela. I went through a year of intentionally saying “no” to many things because it was where God had me in a particular season. I thought then and still feel now that it was appropriate for that season. But you’re right that we don’t need to stay there. There is a place of balance that the Lord wants us to live in. Thanks for sharing this.

  5. Beth

    I’ve often struggled with this dilemma, Lisa. So it’s interesting that you should talk about this because I was studying the Bible passage where Jesus went to Peter’s house and healed his mother-in-law. Then later in the day it says that many demon-possessed people came to Jesus for help and he was eager to perform even more miracles. He didn’t say, “Hey, look at the time! I think I’ve done enough today, so I’m closing up shop!” I know that even Jesus refueled himself, so that’s always a part of the equation for us as human beings. But maybe we should be giving more than we should be concerned about withholding. After all, Christ is able to multiply our time and energy, right?! Hugs to you!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      It’s always hard to find that balance, isn’t it? I laughed out loud at thinking of Jesus saying that, maybe with a quick glance at his watch. 🙂 I want more faith that he’ll always give me the right amount of time and resources to appropriately share with others. Hugs back to you, friend!

  6. Kamea Hope

    Hi Lisa!

    Did you hear Andy Stanley preach that message at Catalyst a few years ago? I was there!! I remember how powerfully that spoke to my heart. That we are free from the pressure to have to be everything for every person, but rather it is only our responsibility to walk in obedience as the Father lays certain individuals or circumstances on our hearts. Thank you for reminding me of this beautiful truth!


    1. LisaNotes Post author

      No, I wasn’t there in person, Kamea. I’m sure it was very powerful to be. I listened to it online later. That’s great that you got to experience it first-hand, and that you still remember it. I’m glad when things like that make a lasting impression on us.

  7. June

    Great lesson, Lisa! It’s always nice when we’re prompted by the Holy Spirit to give, rather than confronted {asked} directly, isn’t it? Prayers for discernment here are key.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, I definitely need wisdom and discernment to make better decisions. My flesh often says one thing when the Spirit wants me to go a different direction. I want to hear the Spirit louder than I hear myself.

  8. ~ linda

    Eeeewwww…WOW! Lisa, you have really hit a nail on the head and made me sit up to ponder this. Those “what ifs” can really get in the way of being the person God wants us to be.
    Praising God that Jesus died for ALL!
    Caring through Christ, ~ linda

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I know all about those “what ifs.” Unfortunately, I’ve got a great imagination in that department. 😉 I want to learn more and more how to let God override them. Praising God with you today, Linda.

  9. floyd

    Brilliant logic, Lisa. That’ll preach, sister. I appreciate your honesty and heart. Being real gives a boost to all of us that have failed at the same thing at one time or another. This one will stick… even if I don’t want it to!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thanks, Floyd. It’s always good to know we’re not alone in the struggle. I suppose even Jesus struggled with this too, since he was tempted in all things like we are.

  10. Sharon

    Yes, I have used that logic before, too. And, truthfully, there have been a few times when I did get *caught up* in doing more, and more often, than I wanted to. But, I sincerely doubt that Jesus ever said to Himself, “Boy, if I help these people, they’re just gonna want more.” He gave His all, and keeps doing it, now and forever! I guess it’s best to follow His example!!


    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, me, too, Sharon—I think getting caught up in the “doing more” is what makes me reluctant to say “yes” to something else, for fear of the same thing happening. 🙁 I think if I’ll just have more confidence that I can really say “no” the 2nd or 3rd time, I wouldn’t mind saying “yes” the 1st time. The Lord has mercy on us, doesn’t he? Because sometimes we can be such a mess. ha.

  11. Alecia Simersky

    Guilty. And I used the excuse as just that, an excuse to get out of doing something. Last year I was asked to do something that went way above my job requirements at my job. Pick up someone’s mom from her beauty shop appointment and take her back to her nursing home. Was it inconvenient, yes. Was it uncomfortable, you betcha! Was I worried that it would become a habit and I was being taken advantage of? Absolutely. But I did it anyways. My prayer for that morning was Lord use me, show me how I can love on someone that needs it. And then this opportunity presented itself. When you pray the ‘Lord use me prayer’, you can bet HE WILL! 🙂

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      What a beautiful example of this in action, Alecia! Yes, we do worry that we’ll be taken advantage of when we do crazy things that are sometimes asked of us. And sometimes those worries come true. But your prayer is the right one every time: “Lord use me.” Let us love on people he puts in front of us through the opportunities he gives us. Thanks for sharing this, friend!

  12. Kelly Chripczuk

    “Instead of fair, can we just be loving.” We’re getting to that age with our kids where their needs and interests are so different, there’s no such thing as fair anymore. I love putting it this way. Thanks, Lisa.

  13. Tiffany

    So glad His ways are higher and that He always chose the excellent way – imagine if He thought the way we do. I shutter to think. Such wonderful encouragement here to think of what we can do, rather than what we can’t. Even those small things can make a big difference in somebody’s life.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, it is awful to wonder how life would be if God thought the way we did. Yikes. ha. I’m with you in rejoicing that his ways and thoughts are higher! Thanks, Tiffany.

  14. Betty Draper

    Let go of the fallacy of “If you can’t do for everybody, do for no one.”
    Instead, “Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.”
    it’s the second line i need to live in, rest in, believe in, act on…thanks for this good post Lisa.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I love what you’re doing at your blog right now for celebrating Mother’s Day and helping women around the world at the same time. That is definitely doing at LEAST for one, if not for many! Thanks, Dolly.

  15. Anita Ojeda

    I think I’ve always bought into the “I can’t change the world, but I can help make a change for one person,” mentality more than the other one. Of course, this can be limiting, too–because I get to thinking that just doing one little thing is enough–I don’t have to do anything bold or brave, I can just do my one little thing, pat myself on the back and think, “There, I helped change the world for one person.” Thank you for making me think tonight!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thanks for sharing a different perspective, Anita. You seem to be on the right track to me, even though you may feel you take it too far at times. I guess balance is needed in most everything.

  16. Laura

    This is a great perspective to have! We might assume that someone will keep expecting the same things from us, but I bet this actually is not the case. I’m busy, but so is everyone else. Thank you for encouraging me to do a little more for others! Even the smallest gesture is doing SOMETHING!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      You’re likely right, Laura—people may not want to ask us to do the same thing repeatedly anyway. ha. Fear can take some twisted turns…. Thanks for adding this angle.

  17. Kristi

    I have those thoughts, like yours, swirling often in my head. There’s an obvious need for change. Yes, just do something. Good call to action, Lisa. Thank you! Visiting via #coffeeforyourheart.

  18. Jean Wise

    What a neat way of reframing something. You inspire me to listen to my self talk this week and challenge myself to open up or reverse its momentum and see where it leads me. I find for example if I keep telling myself how tired I am, I am tired BUT if I say no I have energy enough to complete this project – I can and often feel even left over energy. We certainly due limit ourselves by our thoughts don’t we.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, I know I do the same thing, Jean, letting my own self-talk take me places I don’t want to go. It seems like it’d be such an easy thing to fix. ha.

  19. Amber @ Beautiful Rubbish

    Wow, yes. It’s so easy (and convenient, no?) for us to hide behind these thoughts. I’ve gradually been trying to practice this myself, especially with homeless people who cross my path throughout the day. I may not be able to do much, or for many people, but what if I could help relieve the suffering – in even a small way – of one or two people in the course of a day? I confess this is not even close to being a consistent, present mindset in me. But it’s where I’m wanting to move, you know? As you are.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      It’s great that you are continuing to move in that direction, Amber. The way I see it, as long as our feet our pointing the right way, we’re on the right path. 🙂 We may not all take many or big steps, but God honors our intentions. I’m grateful for that.

  20. Sarah Donegan

    I think like that too. No one wants to feel like a push over, and that is what we call it. Yes, we have a negative term for when someone is nice! Sad world we live in, which makes me all the more grateful for Jesus!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      We do have some ugly terms, don’t we? I don’t like “pushover” either. Our labels can turn something good into something negative. But also vice-versa. Yes, I’m grateful too for Jesus and his upside-down ways. Thanks, Sarah.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *