Running on Empty
by Melanie Stevenson
To say my life was full would be an understatement. I could have packed in little else. I was homeschooling three young children, running them to various activities, helping to grow our business, training for a marathon, and heading up the church drama team. When I look back to that time, I grow exhausted just thinking about it.
I was worn out then too but didn’t recognize the signs. My mother repeatedly cautioned me to slow down, but that breakneck speed of life had become a way of life. I had too much to do and too many people counting on me to stop. In any case, I couldn’t fathom how to. I was getting things done, serving others, and striving to reach my goals. I was also forgetting things—a lot—and growing impatient and rushing everywhere only to arrive late.
If only I had transferred my knowledge of pacing from years of long-distance running to my pace of life, I might have been okay. You can only get away with busyness, stress, striving, and tiredness so long…until you can’t. The can’t is the painful part. It’s the part where your body stops warning you and begins a full-on protest. Mine came in the form of depression.
Our lives can be packed full while desperately empty. We fill every second with innumerable things: stuff, money, people, activities, accolades, food, drink, the list goes on, but in our constant consumption we fail to be satisfied. We may appear shiny and robust on the outside, but inside we are dull and shriveling. Busyness-burnout has many faces and wears many masks.
But there is hope for those tired of the empty striving and vain pursuits. Being thoughtful about our time and energy helps us to be careful about how we spend it. If we treat time and energy as invaluable resources that can never be regained once used up, it becomes easier to prioritize the most worthwhile pursuits. Instead of filling our lives with temporary things that carry only fleeting fixes, we need to satiate ourselves with things that are eternal—that satisfy the deep needs of our souls.
Time spent with Jesus is never wasted. When we fill up with Jesus, all the other pieces of our lives are affected. Our decisions, our attitude and behaviour, our joy and contentment are all positively impacted by regularly being in the presence of God: reading His Word, praying, meditating, worship, and listening to the prompting of His Holy Spirit. We cannot pour out from an empty vessel.
Anything we pack into our lives to replace Jesus is filler. It’s like eating candy instead of veggies—we are filled but not nourished. We get a sugar-rush but come crashing down. Eat only junk food long enough and we become malnourished and sick—in this case soul-sick. But why do we do it? Because it tastes good.
We may agree to too many things out of a deep need for acceptance and fear of rejection. We may say yes out of pride, believing we are the best one for the job, and then staying on past our due date under the false assumption that we are irreplaceable. We may work tirelessly for the praise of others or pack our lives to overflowing from a lack of vision, priorities, or a realistic understanding of our time and energy. Without spending time with God and asking what He would have us do, we risk running on a treadmill of exhaustion and straining our relationships.
Time with God heals and clarifies our motivations, satisfies our need for purpose and identity, and helps us to find rest in Him. Matthew 11:29 says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” And isn’t that what we most need—soul rest? It’s what we needed all along while we were grabbing junk food on the run, filling up on things that failed to satisfy, and exhausting ourselves.
When we cease striving out of lack and begin living out of the overflow of God’s provision, everything changes. We think, act, speak, and serve from the never-ending well of God’s power and love. We move in faith instead of fear and trust God for those things we cannot yet see or understand. When faced with difficulty, we don’t give up or rush for other fixes but hang onto Jesus and trust that even this hardship is working to perfect our faith, so that we may lack nothing (James 1:3-5).
To find balance, there may be some letting go, pairing off the excess, and multiple nos. Going forward, when faced with options on how to spend our time, we reserve our yes until we consult God. In spending time with God, we gain His perspective and are more apt to choose wisely and decline fruitless fillers. When we do, we will find ourselves caught up in soul-nourishing work prepared by Him, with plenty of time for refueling and fun.
Melanie Stevenson lives in Southern Ontario surrounded by her husband and four children. An avid prayer journaler, she has been writing devotionals for over a decade. Her second book, Trials, a 31-day devotional journal, is the first of the Soul Focus series. You can find more information at melaniestevenson.com
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