My friend sighed as she read the text message that had just come in on her phone. She read it to me: “Sorry, looks like I won’t be able to make it – sad face.”
“What do I do when people keep dropping out at the last minute from something they had committed to? Lately it feels like people are just so flaky. I know we are supposed to be gracious, but this doesn’t feel right,” she said.
I agree. I don’t think it is right. It is hard to be stood up by a friend, and it is hard to be a leader of something and have people flake on their commitments (as was the case here). Sadly, this happens all the more when you’re working in a church environment where everyone is a volunteer. Sometimes the grace abounds verse seems to be understood as “you can walk all over me”.
So what do you do?
Some years ago I read “He’s Just Not That Into You” by Greg Behrendt. Now, I am not recommending the book, given its Sex in the City morals – BUT it did make this one, very excellent point: if people want to do something, they find a way to do it. If a guy is interested in dating a girl, he will find a way to meet her. I took this message to heart and tested whether it would work in another setting: a college girl wanted to meet with me to talk, but she (and her friends) told me repeatedly that she was very flaky and that I would need to remind her of our appointment.
Much as I wanted to meet with this young woman, and much as I was able to remind her and willing to help her in her spiritual journey – in this instance I refused. My response to her was this: “I want to meet with you, and I believe that if you want to meet with me and it is important to you – you will find a way to remember. You are smart and an adult: you manage to make your way to class each day and to get to your finals on time without others reminding you. When it matters, you have figured out ways to not be flaky; and I trust that if meeting with me matters to you, you will do the same in this situation.”
She turned up. Every time.
Here’s the thing: she had been holding up the ditzy-college-girl bravado and giving herself permission to flake…. when it suited her. But part of my job as a mentor and friend was not just to invest in her spiritual development, but her holistic growth as a person – which included learning to honor her commitments to others. Jesus was very clear that we should let our ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and our ‘no’ be ‘no’. I wanted to find a way to encourage her to respect her own ‘yes’, so that others would be able to do so too.
Now, I confess that I have stood people up before. A few years back we realized late on Christmas Eve that we had, in fact, said we would have dinner with friends that night – but at 11pm, after hours with a colicky 6 week old, we realized we had completely forgotten and they had spent the evening alone in front of cold dinner plates. We felt HORRIBLE and begged their forgiveness. I have also had urgent things come up which have meant I would be unable to honor a prior commitment… and in those situations, I have badly needed the grace of others.
However, there is a difference between someone saying: “Oh! I’m so sorry! I know I committed to your thing, but this other thing has come up and I feel torn. Is there a way I can make it up to you/catch up on the work/meet with you at a different time as I would like to try and honor both obligations?”, and sending a text which says “sorry, it looks like I won’t be able to make it :-(” The former respects both my own initial “yes” as well as the other party. The latter is just flaky – and as someone who has led a lot of volunteer groups, I can tell the difference.
Things come up. People make mistakes and forget. Grace abounds in these things.
However, we also need to be people whose words are reliable. If someone says “yes”, to the best of our ability it should be a “yes”. And if, for some reason, something comes up and we find ourselves unable to honor that obligation, we should be willing to accept the consequences. If you can’t remember our meeting time, I will let it go the first time, but if you do it again – then perhaps I will change our meeting time to being at my office during my office hours rather than going out of my way to meet you on your turf. If you can’t make it to the mandatory team training, then perhaps you don’t get to participate in the team project. Not because I’m mean, nor because I’m ungracious – but because I respect our team, I value the training, and I want you to be a fully-equipped participant.
Those are my thoughts.
What do you think, readers? How should we handle situations where someone flakes? How do you respond as the flaker? Or the flakee? I’d appreciate your comments.
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