Grace and the Flake

flaking

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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19 thoughts on “Grace and the Flake

  1. Great post Bronwyn. I blogged on something similar several years ago: Common Courtesy and the Christian. http://lightenough.wordpress.com/2011/08/25/common-courtesy-and-the-christian/ Commitment and reliability seem rarer qualities now-a-days. I find this particularly frustrating because, somehow, following through on things is just “natural” for me. I follow through on what I say – even at great hardship to myself. If I said I would do it, I WILL do it, come hell or high water! It is hard to know how to best respond to flakiness. I think your response to the young woman was a good one. You set the expectation with her at the start, and she held to it. Maybe that is a key – setting expectations from the beginning with volunteers and other relationships. Good differentiation as well between true flakiness and a legitimate thing coming up.

  2. very good as people seem so unware how rude they are but I dislike -people waiting till 99th minute to respond in case they get a cooler invite! or book on lastminute.com

  3. My high school band teacher – after we told him we didn’t have time to practice – would say, “You always have time to do the things you want to do.” True words. Works for other commitments too. When I apply them to my own decisions I can more easily sift out what I want to do form those things I really just want to avoid doing.

    • I think there’s such truth there. And figuring out how to say “no” helps a lot – it avoids situations where you say “yes” out of guilt but then land up looking for an excuse not to go/to flake…

      • I have a talent for being able to say no all the time.*

        Tim

        *“It’s a gift … and a curse.” (Thank you Mr. Monk.)

  4. All my life I’ve struggled with organization, time management, and follow through. I’ve learned to commit less and follow through on that which I commit to. Having been diagnosed with ADHD a year ago, and now finally learning about it and beginning medication trials, I realize that in some ways the deck is stacked against me. So, I’ve learned to not commit to that which I know I will severely struggle to complete. At the moment, I’m focusing (or trying to) on my top three priorities: 1) God 2) Husband 3) Children

    Honestly, ADHD sucks. I look normal, so people expect normal behavior. But I flounder at maintaining basic, normal living, so people are often disappointed in me. Hence, I don’t commit so that I won’t disappoint.

    • Ellen, I think that continued flakiness is a sign of immaturity – but knowing ourselves with our weaknesses (like ADHD) and strengths and figuring out how to manage our lives so that we are not flaky is, IMO, a sign of great maturity and responsibility.

      I don’t have the deck stacked against me in the same way, but I found myself flaking on things in the past because I said yes to people I wanted to please rather than yes to things I wanted to/needed to/felt called to do – so I’ve had to learn how to say better “no’s” and deal with their disappointment at that stage rather than later if I flaked.

      • Well, there you go! Finally something I can say ADHD helped me learn and live: don’t be a people pleaser; be a God pleaser.

        It is really weird being so different from most of the women I know. In Bible studies it comes up time and again: the problem of over committing and doing too much. I’ve *never* had that problem. I have the reverse problem: feeling like I always do too little.

        It’s also strange that as I start to study the problem of ADHD–with the goal of managing it and improving our lives, learning how badly it has effected me and those close to me has got me going through a major grief response. Very un-fun at the moment. But I still trust the One who knit me together in my mother’s womb for the big picture.

        Thank you for your encouraging words. You are right that saying “no” when first asked is the best time to say it when that’s the right thing to do.

  5. I’ve thought about this so much lately, as I feel like I’ve been “flaked” on more than usual. But I also look back to a time when I was the flakey one and was given so. much. grace.

    I think my policy now is to extend gracious understanding to the flaker until it happens more than a couple times. Then, I’d want to graciously speak truth about how the flaking affects our friendship. Hopefully, it would be an honest and helpful conversation. Hopefully, I’d not be afraid to have it :).

    • Thanks for this, Jenn. I think dealing with flakiness in friends is harder than dealing with it when you are a group leader, as was the case in this situation. Much. More. Tact. required.

  6. I dunno. I may be the loan voice of dissent, but I also may just not be getting the total picture of what you’re saying (isn’t it terrible that people assume you feel a certain way because you fail to touch on it in what you write? As if ALL bases could possibly be covered in 1000 words or less. But I digress). Anyway, I am not a flake. I’m totally organized, I love leading, have great time management, etc. BUT, my life over the last 2 to 3 years has caused me to flake on a lot of things: being chair of my moms’ group (still chair, but less active than a chair should be, for sure), being chair of a Junior League Committee, then having to leave JL altogether, constantly rescheduling/canceling lunches, bowing out of my leadership position with CBS… and I have only taken on these things when I’ve felt, “OK, that season is behind me and now I can commit.” But without fail (over these last years), so much just keeps happening! And it’s gotten to the point where I may just send the flip text saying I’m flaking because it’s too much to go into Aaron’s RSV, or our whooping cough, or our move, or Andy’s job change, or my job change, or various other things. I’m a firm believer in “do what you say you’re going to do” (I’d say that’s in my top three life rules), but sometimes life is just too much! So there’s no forgetting, and there’s lots of guilt. I think, in an abundance of caution, I will not take on any leadership roles until Collin is out of college and the little ones are in school. Lesson learned for me? I guess. Makes me sad, though!

    • Jamie, I would not call you flaky. I would call you over-committed, and I would call you a Mom. I have had to cancel on things at the last minute so many times because I have sick kids/hubby has to work late/baby sitter fell through… but I don’t feel like that is flakiness. Being the primary care-giver to a young family is a different thing altogether – not the same as “oh, I just found out my friend is going to be in town this weekend and so now I won’t go on the leadership retreat I committed to 6 months ago”.
      Also, I think that handing over responsibility (as with Junior League) because your circumstances become overwhelming is not the same as flaking. The former acknowledges the importance of your contribution and your respect for others dependence on you. The latter is disrespectful.
      Does that make more sense?

  7. I absolutely hate it when people flake on me and I feel very bad when I flake on them. I don’t know what to do about it, honestly. It just seems like people should think more carefully about saying ‘yes’ to things they think they will likely not be able to fulfill. I’m not perfect at this but I am getting older and, with age, find myself saying ‘no’ to things more often simply because I don’t want to say yes and then flake. Of course, we all need grace every single day. Sigh…

  8. I confess that my usual way to handle it is to stop trying to get together. Then again my default mode is to spend time in my own company anyway. Yesh, I’m the life of the party.

    • Increasingly, that’s my default reaction too. But when I was working in college ministry it was a little harder to do. Pursuing people was literally part of the job.

  9. Yes, yes, yes. In all ways, yes. In my personal, professional and PTA life, this is a constant challenge. I love your kind but clear counsel to the college student.

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