Running on empty

Written by Eileen VandenBerg
Published on November 24, 2023

I sighed and looked at the gas gauge in my vehicle—ten miles to empty. Oh gas gauge, I thought, I can relate.

Why is it always like this? So much to juggle, manage, and navigate, and yet everything is running on empty.

My patience.

My children.

My husband.

Even my gas tank.

It was the day after the last family reunion guests had left our home, and I was on a writing deadline—self-imposed, but important, nevertheless. We had enjoyed a wonderful week with family from both far and near, but now I felt anxious to get back to our normal routine.

I had intended to take my laptop to an exceptionally quiet, nearby coffee shop after dropping off my oldest daughter at work. Certainly, there I could gather my thoughts and move forward productively on an article I had been playing with for a month.

Yet nothing that morning went right. My husband was exasperated and, in his rush to get out the door, he expressed disdain for our moody printer—along with his frustration for barely functioning wireless technology. While he vented, I heard my children in the kitchen fighting over bagels and cream cheese—accusing each other of making faces across the table.

I stood there at eight o’clock in the morning, feeling utterly drained.

I had hired a sitter for the day, but my pride required that I at least pretend to have it together before she arrived, so I was busily scurrying around the house trying to put things in order and navigate children who were having their own struggles.

I was at my wit’s end, longing for an empty house where I could sit on the floor and cry—ideally with a blank to-do list and a little order in my chaotic life. I thought I knew what I needed.

I just need a BREAK!

A Break

Many years ago, our children memorized Matthew 11:28 for Sunday school. Our preschool-aged son practiced it over and over that week, yet when he proudly stood Sunday morning to say it, he goofed it up.

“Come unto me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you a break,” he said, grinning. His incorrect recitation of that precious promise from the Lord generated smiles and low chuckles around the room. Our son’s young mind equated rest with “a break,” as many of us do.

Yes, I want “a break”—I want the rest that the Lord promises. I read my Bible daily. I check my reading off the list, confident that, if I have done my duty, the day will run more smoothly. Most days I treat reading the Word like firing up a computer program that can run in the background while I go about my day doing the heavy lifting.

The false confidence I have in my abilities coupled with my disdain for the appearance of weakness and failure often leaves little room for anyone to help me. I scurry around before the sitter comes, wanting everything done before she gets there. I don’t reach out to a friend, even to ask for prayer—because I’ve got this!

When I lean on my own self-sufficiency, I am rejecting an important truth that the Lord declares in 2 Corinthians 12:9 (KJV), “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” Further down in 12:10, Paul gives us the summary, “When I am weak, then am I strong.” 

If I’m operating under my own power, then I don’t allow myself to be weak and vulnerable while I sit at his feet and learn from him, as Matthew 11:29 says, “learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (NKJV).

Rather than skimming through God’s Word, I need to dig deeper into it. Instead of offering up halfhearted prayers paired with confidence that I can do this on my own, I need to acknowledge my weakness and open my heart to his strength. Only in Christ can I find deep rest. Not in self-care, but in “soul care.”

Deeper Rest

Many times when I’ve felt overwhelmed, I have taken a break. I’ve done all the things the world deems “self-care.” I’ve sipped coffee with friends, gotten my nails done, had a massage, enjoyed a carefree day of shopping, and even taken a trip away from my family and responsibilities. While there is nothing inherently wrong with any of these things, when I am completely honest, they don’t fill me up.

What fuels my empty tank is to go deeper with the Lord. Admitting I’m not self-sufficient—ready to conquer the day and its spontaneous hiccups all on my own. Christ is the one I need to direct my steps (Proverbs 16:9) and fuel my days. I need to regularly draw from his deep well of aid. Paul exhorts the body of Christ to “Bear ye one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2 KJV). This is a rich—and underused—resource available to me!

That morning when my gas tank—and soul tank—were empty, I did something I don’t often do: I reached out to friends and asked for prayer. Soon after my request, before any responses came from my friends, an entirely new thought for an article came to me. By revealing my needs to others and knowing that I was surrounded by friends interceding on my behalf, I was able to have a very productive time at the coffee shop. Not only was it successful in crossing something off my list, but it was also soul-filling as well.

After a few hours of writing (surrounded in prayer) and a quick trip to the gas station (putting more gallons in than ever before), both of my tanks were filled.

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Eileen VandenBerg

Eileen VandenBerg lives in Ravenna, MI with her husband and seven children, three of whom are adopted. She is passionate about foster care, adoption, special needs kids and is a fierce advocate for children with medical complexities. She writes about looking for gifts in everyday life with a bustling family, as well as lessons learned through trials along the way.

Read more about Eileen

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