How To Love Others Well When You're Running on Empty: 5 Easy Steps
Insert laughter here. Like, rolling on the floor laughing, kinda laughter.
Ya'll, there are NO 5 EASY STEPS to loving others WELL when you're EMPTY. Sure, you can make ends meet, but you can't love others well when you're exhausted--physically, emotionally, spiritually, etc.
I WILL share 5 Steps Towards Running on Full, but they will certainly not be easy.
I will say it here, as I do everywhere on my blog: I don't have it all together. I am simply a woman seeking out God and sharing with others what He has done for me. Read a little about two of my current life struggles--trying to do it all and parenting two crazy, but wonderful, boys.
Real Talk ahead.
This morning was a little crazy.
If I'm being honest, the last few weeks have been a little crazy. I had the opportunity to speak at MOPS three weeks ago and it went really well. I will share the content from that talk on my blog in a few weeks. I left MOPS on this spiritual high, feeling like I was entering into a season of God using my gifts, for His glory, and enabling me to encourage others.
In the following days, I put together my book proposal for my first book and sent it to my editor. Insert the praise hands emoji and a little happy dance! I spent a lot of time with friends, and was feeling extremely encouraged. My family and I went to Disneyland for 3 days. We had a blast and were able to enjoy some much-needed quality time together.
And then we got sick.
It started with my oldest son, who got a fever on the last night of our trip. He was tired on our last day in the park, but kept wanting to go on rides. Against my husband's better judgment, I convinced him to stay that full day in the park.
When we got home, my youngest got sick. My sweet cuddly boy became clingy, cried all the time, and was constantly rubbing is runny nose all over me.
Just when I thought my husband and I were going to escape it, we got sick too.
We spent the last few days of my husband's vacation in quarantine.
I was feeling better and I had the opportunity to attend my women's accountability group, then spoke at our church's local chapter of If:Gathering. I was again on a spiritual high. I was excited for all the things God was teaching me: to obey Him, love Him, and love others.
But I wasn't back to 100% health... I felt like I had to keep going despite being sick. I had things to do, groceries to buy, and laundry to fold. Life wasn't just going to stop because Mama got sick. In fact, it seemed like things just got busier. I will be the first to admit that I added more things to my to-do list than I should have, and I am truly the only one to blame.
I have this self-imposed idea that I need to do it all, that I need to do everything with perfection, and that I need to make everyone happy while doing it. I live for the emotional and spiritual high. But when the high subsides, I get really, really tired... I then turn to sweets or people's words of affirmation to fill the gap when I feel like I haven't met that goal of perfection. Then I feel guilty, less than perfect, and look to fill the gap again... and the cycle continues. Can anyone relate? I have struggled with this unhealthy cycle my entire life.
So when this morning came around, I had a lot of things on my to-do list and was feeling flat out sick and physically tired. My sons couldn't wait for me to cut their eggs. They were yelling for "more cow milk." They banged their forks on their plates and kicked the leaflet of the dining table, causing it to slam shut over and over and over. Then my son started screaming as I tried to put on his bib.
I lost it.
I had to retreat.
My first thought? I hadn't read my Bible this morning.
I told my husband that I needed five minutes to myself before he left for work and that I needed to recenter before being around the kids again. I sat in my closet praying that the Holy Spirit would fill me and that He would give me His joy, despite my fatigue, frustration, and weakness.
And He did.
How Do You Love Others Well When You're Running on Empty?
The short and easy answer? You can't!
I will say it again; you can't!
As I sat in my closet praying, I felt the overwhelming calm of the Holy Spirit rush over my body. I want to clarify something. My immediate, literal, gut reaction would have been to reach into my fridge and shove my face full with the chocolate chip banana bread that I baked yesterday. I normally would have sought to fill the hole in my heart by filling the hole in my stomach.
But today was different.
My husband and I decided that, for Lent, we would be giving up sweets together. This isn't for health reasons or to lose weight. We simply had realized that we had both used food as a filler and that, sweets specifically, had become a replacement for being filled with the Holy Spirit. In that moment this morning, I had to make a choice: eat that tasty banana bread and instantly feel physical comfort or spend time in God's presence, reflecting on His Word, and feel satiated spiritually. I chose the second, even though it was hard.
I reflected on my memory verses for Lent:
Acts 4:31--"After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the Word of God boldly."
Acts 13:52--"And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit."
Merriam-Webster defines Lenten as: "of, relating to, or suitable for Lent; especially meager."
Meager means: "lacking desirable qualities, such as richness; deficient in quality or quantity."
But that is precisely what Lent does for us. It gives us 40 days to remove something that has become an idol or an obstacle between us and God. By removing food or experiences that are rich in quality or quantity, we open ourselves up to experience spiritual richness. By choosing to be meager with what we fill our bodies with, we allow God to fill us richly with the Holy Spirit and with joy!
5 Steps Towards Running on Full:
Based off of Acts 4:31; 13:52
1. Be Ready.
Because I had spent intentional time in God's Word over the last few months and spent time memorizing these two verses over the last week, God gave me His Holy Spirit when I needed it. I have heard it said many times in sermons that we can treat God like a holy vending machine--only seeking Him out when we need something. I am totally guilty of this and I have recognized the error in my ways. I am not saying that God doesn't want us to call out to Him in desperation or that He won't hear our cries if we are not spending time in His Word regularly--He desires us to call out to Him and He is faithful, even when we are not.
BUT there is something so beautiful and exciting about the experience I had in my closet this morning. Because I have been spending time in God's presence and studying His Word, when I needed to enter into His presence, it was much easier. I had been training for this moment, had been preparing my heart to have that intimacy with God in a way that felt easy, comfortable, sweet, and encouraging, instead of forced, desperate, or distant (these are all okay places to be in your walk with God, but not where God wants you to live forever). It was so exciting for me to be able to sit down and immediately feel like I was in God's presence and that He was speaking His truth over me through these two verses. Because I had spent time with God, He had become like a close friend and immediately was the one whom I could rely on, talk to, and receive comfort and encouragement from. Even though I have been a Christian for most of my life, this is a new thing for me. It's exciting feeling like I was ready to seek Him out, like calling a close friend rather than frantically pushing buttons on my holy vending machine.
2. Pray for God to Meet You in Difficult Circumstances.
If you study the context of Acts 4:31, Peter and John heal a man who could not walk, then proceed to share the gospel. For these crimes, they are put in jail for the night. They are filled with the Holy Spirit and speak the gospel boldly to the Jewish leaders, who threaten Peter and John if they continue to speak the name of Jesus. But the leaders have no standing to punish Peter and John so they are released. When Peter and John return to the other believers, they pray together, asking God for boldness in the midst of threats and danger to their very lives. They ask that God would do healings and perform miracles in the name of Jesus! Then the place where they were gathered was shaken and they were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
They were in a really scary situation. Their lives were in danger. They faced opposition everywhere they went. Yet they asked God for help and healing and the power of the Holy Spirit, and they were FILLED with it, overflowing with boldness. They were in the most trying of circumstances and God met them there, not just meeting their basic needs, but FILLING them to the very full with His Spirit. I know what it feels like to run on empty and it hurts. I also know what it likes to live fully and, friends, it is so exciting and wonderful and FULL! I believe God wants us to ask these bold things of Him and I wholeheartedly believe that He will richly fill us with His Spirit. I have seen Him do it in my life and, friend, I know He wants to do it in yours, too!
3. Speak the Word of God Boldly.
If you look at the context of Acts 13:52, Paul and his teaching companions were in Pisidian Antioch to share the gospel in the synagogue. The Jewish religious leaders incited the leading men and women, who stirred up persecution and kicked them out of the city. Paul and Barnabas shook the dust off their feet (an ancient way of cursing someone or cutting ties with them). Then Paul and the disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit. They moved on to Iconium, where they continued boldly sharing the gospel at the synagogue there.
There's something important here. I'm not saying that you shouldn't spend time with people who are difficult--that's precisely what Paul and Barnabas were doing. They were sharing the gospel in the synagogues--going to the highly-religious Jewish leaders who were the most likely to reject the gospel message. What I am saying is that it is important to share the gospel, but be sensitive to if someone is ready to hear it. The Jewish leaders of Pisidian Antioch heard the gospel and were not open to its truth. Paul and Barnabas were sensitive to God's leading and moved on.
BUT Paul and Barnabas did not allow this situation to dictate their spiritual health or put a halt on their calling. When they got kicked out of a city, they moved on to the next one and kept preaching. They acknowledged that they were no longer welcome in Pisidian Antioch, moved on to Iconium, where the gospel still needed to be preached. They didn't go home, they pushed on and kept sharing the gospel.
4. Be filled with Joy and the Holy Spirit.
There is something strange about how this works... Boldly sharing the gospel can be scary. But when we are actively living out our calling to be Jesus' "witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8), there is joy and more of the Holy Spirit there. As we step out in boldness, seeking God's strength and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, He gives us what we need to share the gospel--and He blesses us through it! When we are living in our calling, we will find joy! This is not a superficial joy or a momentary happiness, but a fulfilling JOY that gives our life purpose and endurance and passion! I know when I'm living out my calling, especially mentoring women or speaking, I get excited. I feel that joy. I feel connected with the Holy Spirit.
I would encourage you to pray about what God is calling you to during this season! Whether it is sharing the hope of the gospel with your kids, with your neighbors, or your extended family. Whether it is writing a book, sharing your testimony, or launching an organization to share the gospel on a global scale--God has a plan to use you! When you live in that plan and that calling, there is JOY and the Holy Spirit there. What a blessing to be used by God and give Him the glory!
5. Surround yourself with people who promote the Holy Spirit.
If you look at the context of both verses--Peter and John in Acts 4:31 and Paul and Barnabas in Acts 13:52--they didn't go it alone. When they faced persecution, were put in jail, received beatings, etc., they gathered together, renewed their strength together, prayed together, and received the Holy Spirit, joy, and boldness together. Our individualistic, American culture tells us to aspire for the American dream, hide our flaws, and find earthly success, measured by money, comfort, or power, even at the expense of others. The culture of the early church was completely contradictory to this--aspire to live out the Great Commission (Acts 1:8), bring our flaws to the light and work on them together, and find heavenly success, measured by the advancement of the gospel, even at the expense of our own lives.
Because these ideas are so counter-cultural, we need friends and family who can support us in these aspirations. Not everyone will agree with what I have written here, and that is okay. This is simply what God has been teaching me through His word: We are not called to a life of riches, comfort, or power, but to a life of living fully in His calling. And when we do that, we bless others and we receive God's blessing as well. When we join a community of other believers who are on fire for the gospel, we can be best used by God and we can best promote His vision for the church. Where two or more are gathered, He is there (Matthew 18:20). If Jesus says this is valuable and crucial, then I'm going to believe it. There is power in joining together to share our struggles, support one another through our trials, and pray for the Holy Spirit. When we ask for the Holy Spirit, we will be filled--FILLED! What a blessing it would be to share that experience with our closest friends!
How do you love others well when you're running on empty?
But there is a God who loves you, and desires to fill you with joy and with the Holy Spirit--this is a joy and spirit that will not run dry, that will sustain you in every moment and every trial, and will enable you to love others well and life life to the full.