Why obligers need a deep interior life…and why it’s so hard for them to take time for it. 

You may have read some of my past posts about happiness author Gretchen Rubin’s theories about the four tendencies people have with regard to habit formation and meeting inner and outer expectations. As a quick review, the four types are: 

  1. Upholders (meet inner and outer expectations)
  2. Questioners (meet inner but question outer expectations)
  3. Obligers (meet outer but resist inner expectations)
  4. Rebels (resist both inner and outer expectations)

I’m an obliger, so I’m writing from my personal experience. Obligers have a keen sense of others needs, and tend to focus primarily on them. It always feels more virtuous to be doing something for someone else rather than ourselves. We have a hard time doing stuff that’s “just for me.”  


Obligers need to reflect to make good decisions about their priorities and needs, but struggle to take that time. Often they push themselves to remain in busy activities for others instead…even when that inner voice is screaming, “No!” Instead of stalling for time so they can calmly quietly decide what to, they try to silence that inner voice of resistance and force a guilt-induced “Yes, of course!” This can lead to them getting burned out and resentful–punishing those they love most with grumpiness–a bad pattern!

So if you’re someoe who falls into this, resist the temptation to say “yes” right away…make some good easy lines to use:

“Let me just check my calendar and get back to you.”
“Sounds interesting. I’ll talk about it with my spouse and let you know.”
“Thank you for the invite. I’d love to come but I’ll just have to see what my week is looking like before I commit.”

And then pray about it. Consult your calendar. Consult your gut…and listen to it! That quiet time in which to make decisions is essential. Helping your inner life to flourish can bring such strength. Taking things to prayerful refection can help you discern which things are really the most important and necessary, and also which are actually your responsibility. This is key because obligers can struggle with boundaries and often feel responsible for the perceived needs of others, even other adults. 

My Dad told me the other day something very simple but which stuck me like lightning:

“Other people’s stuff is not your responsibility.”  Really!??! Wow!!

How freeing this is! It is such a beautiful thing to just focus on the task at hand–to totally concentrate on what you’re doing, whether it’s grating carrots, writing or folding the laundry. For there is something really beautiful about just doing one thing and not thinking about anything else. Airplane mode! Just cruising without all the beeps and bells intruding from the internet. 

Alternatively, can you imagine if God was the way we are, getting so distracted by every possible thing going on all around the world? He would be completely insane because he knows everything. And yet somehow, living in the eternal present, aware of past, present and future, He is still able to simply exist. He is able to live fully and totally present in each moment. 

What a gift it is when we have a little taste of this! But to find it we have to be intentional, and block out all the noise and distractions around us,  to focus on what really matters. We need to have the humility to acknowledge that all we really need to do is take care of our tiny corner of the world. If we don’t, no one else will. And actually no one should. 

To need to be rescued is ultimately disempowering. 

Remember this. Give people the fishing rod, not the fish. Otherwise you imply they couldn’t have done it themselves, which is actually depressing. We all want to be able to take care of ourselves. And with the grace of God, and perhaps a little help (but not rescuing!) from friends, we can. 

So, Obligers, it’s so awesome that you are sensitive to the needs of others, but pack up your super-hero capes and martyr badges and stop being so afraid to say no. The world will not fall apart if you set a few much needed boundaries and focus on taking care of your own needs and duties, your own personal mission, before deciding how much you can help others with theirs. Perhaps in what the women from the podcast Project Love call  this “brave act of self-love” you will give others the freedom to do the same, and more people can find the peace that comes from simply doing what they need to do, without getting tangled in guilty knots when they can’t do everything else! 😉

PS This rare sighting of the ‘creatura materna’ without countless offspring was captured by my friend Rachel Lalonde on an awesome 4 hour moms only coffee date and walk! Also… I highly recommend the podcast on boundaries mentioned above! So awesome…especially for women who tend to feel the need to always put others first, even to the point of neglecting themselves:

 The art of saying No and setting healthy boundaries

Pale Sky Breakfast Blues

It is early.

The sky stretches above the mountains

–pale, white, untouched–

a question unanswered:

What will we make of today?

It is too early for thoughts.

The sun itself has barely opened its eyes.

Only the toddler is noisy and cheerful

as he munches the insisted-upon breakfast:

peanut butter sandwiches at the break of dawn.

“Num!”

Confidence Comes From a Place of Quiet


We live in a society filled with experts. There are specialists who are eager and willing to tell you how to do just about everything. Want to clean out your closet? Feed your kids well? Wear the right colour for your hair? Thrive in the workplace? There are likely dozens of e-courses, books and podcasts to teach you how. Let’s just hope they all agree…lest the conflicting “experts” cause more confusion and give you even less clarity. 

While the abundance of information is potentially enriching, I wonder what it does to our confidence to feel we need to consult an expert or extensively research every decision. Who are we, after all, to decide for ourselves? And are we actually doing anything right??

This kind of insecurity can rob us of peace. It’s impossible to follow everyone’s advice, in the same way it’s impossible to wash your hair with every kind of shampoo that claims to be best. It would make you crazy to try. So we have to calmly make choices and stand by them.  Nobody else knows how to be you. Remember this, and don’t go against your gut because something is currently trendy or thought to be essential. These things change all the time anyway. 

But to shut out these clamouring voices, we need to seek a place of quiet. To turn off all our many devices and remember what it’s like to hang out with ourselves. With no add breaks. No interruptions. Just our own thoughts, and if we listen carefully enough, that still, small voice that guides our heart. The company of the one true Expert, the One who made us and knows every fibre of our being…who knows what challenges, graces, and gifts we need to be truly happy. In this place, we can remember who we are and what’s really important. 


So as the busy fall season approaches with all its potential activities, try to ask yourself quietly: “Which of these will actually contribute to the well-being of my family?” “What do we actually feel called to do?” “Which of these would maybe look good on a resumé, but lead us to being overbooked, overstressed, and short on time to enjoy being together with those we love?” 

If you ask such things quietly, peacefully, and in an attitude of listening, chances are your heart will guide you. And acting from a place of quiet, you’ll have the confidence to stand by your decisions, despite the storm of “expert” opinions ever swirling around you. In that inner quiet, you’ll find the freedom to be you. 

Smoky City


Every day

time stands still

stupefied by heat and smog–

this strange oppressive greyness 

that crouches over the city 

obscuring the view.

Every morning the sun sends ruddy orange beams

through my glass porch door

like a joke played by someone

with a giant coloured flashlight

pretending we’ve woken up on Mars.

The mountains have disappeared in smoke,

the interior forest fires making 

an imaginary conquest of the coast.

Even the rooftops three blocks away

have been engulfed by this grey Nothing.

My kids don’t care.

They play outside oblivious to all change

except the burning orb of the sun in the evening–

a giant fireball glowing red

a perfect sphere glaring at us

like the eye of Mordor.

“Take a picture, take a picture!” they cry,

but for once my iPad mini camera doesn’t do it justice 

and we are forced to just stare long enough

to imprint the image in our memories 

next to distant recollections of clear blue sky.

Selfishness, Responsibilty and a Blue Couch 


Selfishness is so easy. It’s so easy to focus on yourself and blame all your troubles on others. Doing so allows us to stay in a state of inaction: there is “nothing” we can do about our problems because they are “not our fault.” Someone else is to blame. But this attitude dooms us to shadow-boxing all our lives–flailing out our arms uselessly to hit the imaginary causers of our own difficulties. 

If we are honest with ourselves, we discover that the source of our brokenness is within. Even if we were isolated from all others in a tiny hermitage, we would still struggle. This is a sobering thought. It means we have to rise from our stupor and take responsibility for our lives. Only we can change them for the better. 

But while we can take positive steps towards small changes for the better, healing our brokenness is not something we can do alone. We can’t make ourselves never grumpy, annoyed, snappy, imprudent, lazy or selfish etc by our willpower alone. We are like broken light bulbs whose wires are not connected, so the electricity can’t flow through them. We need to reconnect those wires by joining our hands in prayer, so the grace of God can flow through us and help us to shine. 

In the bustle of daily life, it can be easy to forget this. We get wrapped up in our troubles and forget to ask for help. We forget to pray for our needs, and for the grace to bear hardships cheerfully. But God is just waiting to show us signs of His affection, if we open our hearts to receive it. Sometimes His generosity is very concrete. Recently my Dad and I went on a wild goose chase search for a second-hand dresser for my eldest daughter. We drove all over, even out of town, and checked three stores with no luck.  We saw a couch I liked which could replace our old beat-up red one, but I couldn’t get a-hold of my husband at work to ask his opinion. It was a hot, tiring day and nothing seemed to be quite working. 

But the next day, the reason for our fruitless search was made clear: there was something  better waiting for us. A block from our house, my Dad spotted an estate sale with gorgeous furniture. There was a beautiful maple dressed in perfect condition for $45. And even more lovely, an antique Coombs couch and matching armchair, with wooden finish and lovely blue upholstery for $250 together. I don’t know what their original price would have been, but the reupholstering alone would have cost $2000 in the ’80’s! Talk about score. Furthermore, they were willing to deliver the furniture to our house, which was another godsend, because some things are just too darn big for my double stroller (we don’t have a car). 


So this is just a little reminder, to myself as much as to anyone else, to take time to join my hands in prayer, reconnect with God and let His love flow through me. If we could all shine our little lights, instead of staying in the darkness of anger and blame, how gorgeous the world would be. Like a glowing Christmas tree, every little light sharing its warmth with the others. In a time of uncertainty and violence, I think the peacefulness of this image is one worth focusing on, hoping and praying for. God bless you all.