Thursday, November 05, 2009

Are You Running on Empty?

I remember once when I was driving my car and I looked down to see that the gas level was almost on EMPTY. As in, the car was running on fumes. That is, I didn't know if I was even going to make it to the gas station.
So I sat behind the wheel begging God to just get me a little farther. Another block. Around this corner. And just a little farther, still.
Ultimately, I did make it to the gas station. I think I promised myself I would never let the gas get below half a tank again. The thought of being stuck on the side of the road - alone and helpless - (This was years before cell phones were so common...) helped me to realize how important it is to keep your tank filled.

Fast forward to about a month ago.

I was sitting with my mentor/spiritual director talking about the excessive crying I had been doing recently. Jenni convinced me that the fact I was so prone to tears was an indication something was wrong.
Seriously. I felt as though my tears were constantly "on the ready." There was no welling up with tears for me. My well was full and ready to overflow - without even a moments notice.
So she and I talked about it.
And God was leading us.
And we came to the conclusion that I was running on empty.
I was trying so hard to meet needs, fill roles, mend holes, and do stuff that I was forgetting to fill my own tank.
That's just the way I'm wired. I love to serve. God made me this way, and so I think I need to excel at meeting needs.
But Jenni gently reminded me, I can't give what isn't there. I can't run on empty. And when I attempt to, the stress which wells up inside me tries to escape through my tear ducts.

I knew she was right.

So we came up with a plan. One day each week - starting when I get home from taking Matthew to school, until Elizabeth and Joshua get home - I am going to do what I love to do. Whatever. I am not going to feel guilty about not meeting someone else's needs. Rather, I am going to spend the day filling my tank - letting God pour His love into me and allowing it to simmer.
Because I can't run on empty. It isn't good for me, and it isn't good for anyone around me.
And do you know what I've found since doing this? On the other six days of the week, I am even more joyful in serving. Yes, having a full tank is a very good thing.

How are you doing today? Are you running on empty? What would it take to keep your tank full?

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Leah said...

Oh Karen,

I have so been there. Empty tank = miserable woman. I'm so thankful for your friend who spoke into your life the words to help you realize what was going on. It is unfortunate that we serve ourselves into the ground, never taking time to fill up so that we CAN pour out.

God bless you, dear friend.


luvmy4sons said...

Isn't it funny how we can be running on empty and not even know it! Amen sister! Glad you figured out something out.

Mary said...

This is great. I just started a full-time job (because of financial problems) and we have a boutique we run, church, life, etc. And like you, I love to serve.

But I rarely take time for myself. Whatever form that may be. I need to be better about it.

Thanks for the reminder. Here's to your 'full tank' soon! :)

Anonymous said...

So glad you found time to fill your tank! ;) It does make a world of difference, doesn't it? My designated "me day" is Friday...hey, that's tomorrow! Yay! :)

Have a great day!!
Patricia nyc

Lee the Hot Flash Queen said...

I am running on coffee this morning because I WAY overslept and barely got the kids to school on time!

Jessica said...

An uninterrupted nights sleep. Is that too much to ask? LOL
I'm actually about to take a nap.

I'm glad you found some time to refill. That's so important. Very wise. :-)

Edie said...

Oh I can seriously relate to this Karen. I'm so glad God slowed you down long enough to fill you, and that you listened.

Love you!

kreed said...

Definitely empty from time to time here! I am really bad at letting my gauge run down below "E" over and over again. I keep telling myself I will have time to fill up later but thanks for the reminder about how important it is to fill up NOW!

I am curious as to what you are doing during your "fill" is so interesting to me to see how everyone spends "me" time when they get it! God fills us up in so many different ways!

Proverbs 27:19 said...

Oh, wow, Karen, this is so not you talking in this post. It's God! Not every night, but quite a few nights for the past two weeks I've prayed, "Lord, what's wrong with me?"

I asked this because I have been feeling as if I wanted to cry just because the sound of the phone ringing sounds so sweet or something silly like that!

Whoa, Karen, I really wish I could verbally express what I'm feeling right now because of your post! Man!


Angie Muresan said...

I'm kind of running on empty myself. Thank you for this post. I hope you really do take care of yourself and focus on 'letting God pour His love into you and letting it simmer.' Such beautiful words!

Anonymous said...

What if you don't have time during the day to yourself & are home all day with real little ones who need you for absolutely everything? Then at the end of the day when loving husband comes home & tells you to you can get out & do whatever you want, you find you're still in your sweats, haven't showered & are too exhausted to make yourself presentable to go anywhere? I have been in this state since our first child was born 2 years ago & have run out of even fumes. We keep trying to come up with plans to "fill my tank" but bottom line is that motherhood drains me of everything that I have no energy to then go & fill up again. Has anyone found yourself here?

Irritable Mother said...

Dear Anonymous, Oh, how I hope you come back here to read this response to your comment!
Because I think if we're honest, each of us mothers would say, YES! we have found ourselves where you are. YES!!!
It sounds like you have a couple of little ones who are needing you for everything, and you are being sucked dry. I remember thinking it was hard having one baby, and then when my second one was born?
My world turned upside down.

It sounds like your husband understands your need and wants to help you. That's great! But at the end of the day you're too tired to do much of anything? What about kissing your husband and children, saying good-bye, and then just going to your room to be ALONE? Can you (and they!) pretend you aren't home - so you can nap, or read, or take a long shower, or whatever it is that YOU want to do? Sure, it's fun to go "out," but you don't necessarily have to go away in order to have your tank re-filled.
Another thought - Do you know another mom who needs a break? Can you swap kids? You watch hers for a while so she can get out, and then she takes yours to return the favor?
OR, do you know a mom whose kids are older and in school all day? Perhaps she would be willing to take your kids for a morning so you can do whatever YOU want to do. Chances are she will LOVE the opportunity to have little ones around. And since she's been where you are, she will also LOVE the opportunity to give you a break.

My friend, being a mother of infants and toddlers is demanding and tiring. When you're in the midst of those years, sometimes it feels like you might not survive. I know, because I've been there. But - by the grace of God - you WILL survive. I hope you find the above suggestions helpful. I also want to invite you to visit my website ( and sign up for the Irritable Mother's Survival Kit on the homepage. You may find those suggestions helpful, too.

May the peace of Christ rest upon you today.

Much love,

P.S. Feel free to email me if you would like to talk more. Click on "view my complete profile" above to find the email link.

Anonymous said...


Thank you so much for responding! Thanks for your other suggestions. I have tried some, but not all. I would love to write more via e-mail, I have more I'd like to ask you. Thanks for being willing to "talk" more.

By the way, I have two little ones: one just over 2 yrs, one 9 mos. I didn't mention how much I love them & my vocation as wife & mother, but I truly do! It sounds like you understand you can still be stretched & challenged & at times quite miserable at the same time

We had a refreshing end of Sunday as we spent it with some good friends. But it all starts again tomorrow . . .

God bless you.

km said...

Guilty of running on empty. It's not harder or easier then when they were 3, 2, and newborn. Just different. Energy is still zapped..and I have to go to HIM to have my tank filled.