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WORDS

March 20, 2012 |

On Empty

BY Jen Hatmaker

In certain ways, I’m a typical first-born overachiever. I was filling calendars with due dates and meetings back in junior high. When I figured out you could wear a bunch of tassels on your robe if you graduated with honors, it became my life mission. I calculated how many B’s I could get in college and still graduate Magna Cum Laude, and I hunted that dog down, lobbying for every 89% like some sort of freak. Impending deadlines? I am an animal. I like my life to go by the book. Which book? Whichever one everyone is yammering about.

But in other ways I am a nincompoop.

I once employed a rather consistent habit of running out of gas. I was always perplexed to feel my car sputtering, assuming I was losing my tranny or throwing a piston. As it turns out, you need fuel to keep your car moving forward. Or it will sputter. And quit moving forward. Evidently, there is a little gauge to help you determine when this moment is drawing nigh, and one must pay attention to the little gauge. The gauge is helpful. The gauge is our friend. Except when you ignore the gauge and find yourself stranded on the side of I-35. Again.

May I so truthfully confess to you that I am running out of gas? I’m beyond the sputtering stage. The car is coasting to a dead stop, and I’m stuck on the side of the road, on empty.

Empty.

The gauge has been trying to tell me I was in trouble, but I had places to go, so I kept driving. These places are important, you see, and people were counting on me to get there, to show up. They still are.

This is a terrible time to discover I am out of gas. Why, just this morning, I signed a contract to write a 9-week DVD curriculum for 7. Due in less than three months, including a week of filming. I have a live webcast in one hour and four minutes. I have events the next two weekends, where women will tell me their stories, will need me to be present and engaged, where I’ll once again have to pour my heart out teaching, which is something like running a marathon without the weight loss. And then I’ll come home and not have three seconds to recover before every person in this family needs me, because that’s what families do; they need each other.

The signs have been there, dragging the gauge toward E: The loneliness and isolation, the disconnection from my community. The arguing and nitpicking and defensiveness. The shallow well of patience. The tears coming too easily, too quickly. The sense of being utterly overwhelmed. The feeling that expectations were snaking around me, entangling, dragging me to the bottom of a murky lake where there was no oxygen, because it is debilitating to keep hearing “you’re so awesome” when I know I’m not.

I hit a wall this morning where there was just nothing left.

A black pit lodged in my stomach and I ground to a halt.

I should’ve read the gauge several miles back, when I was disconnecting from real live human people because the ones on the computer were so abundant and urgent and insistent. You’re real too, good readers, but there are so many of you and you’re everywhere. Meanwhile, I have these people right here, right in front of me, connected to me by blood and love and proximity and community, and I’ve learned I can’t multiply like I thought; I mostly divide.

I should’ve read the gauge several miles back, when this feeling of impending doom would overtake me before an event, assuring me that I will never, never live up to the expectations people have of me. When I would read on Twitter: “Jen Hatmaker is up next! She is going to kill it!” and I wanted to dissolve, because maybe I won’t kill it at all; I don’t always kill it. That my life is way more ordinary than you think it is, and I feel like a caricature because the parts of me that you see are the parts I’ve let you see, and the picture is incomplete. This is heavy knowledge.

My marriage needs me. My kids need me. My friends need me. (You know what all my friends say to me these days: “I miss you.”) I need time with Jesus, without thinking about how I’m going to teach His life-giving words to others.

I want to loan every one of you my influence for your good causes, for your passions and adoptions and fundraisers and mission work, but I just can’t. I want to partner with all of you and help do it all, all the good work, all the important work that we care about so much, but I just can’t. I want to say yes to every conference you invite me to, I really do because I know you love your people so much and you want to see God’s kingdom come in your faith community, but I just can’t.

I wish I could Skype into all your 7 Book Clubs. I wish I could record a personal message for the launch of your Spring Bible Studies. I wish I could endorse every one of your books, because I’m so proud of you and know exactly how thrilling this is. I wish I could write a blog for all your important things. I wish I could move the needle forward on all your adoption questions. I wish I could have coffee with every one of you visiting Austin. I wish I could call you and talk about how to get your book published. I wish I could speak the exact, healing words you need as your marriage is crumbling in Michigan. I wish I could adequately express – with all the words and space necessary – how much every single kind, encouraging, inspiring email moves me and lifts me.

But I’m on empty, dear ones.

I’m reminded of (the most moving, amazing, brave, remarkable) blog series by Beth Moore’s sister, Gay, who charted her course from full-blown alcohol addiction to freedom. Oh, it’s so moving. So extraordinary and beautiful. But this one thing she wrote stuck with me:

“When God jerked me up off that concrete in mid-April 2009, He dropped me in AA, not in church…I had to do something different which was ANYTHING but sitting around waiting for Him to heal me and DOING nothing…He has required a lot of work from me, a lot of action, one day at a time, whatever He put in front of me that day.”
I so appreciate this brave statement. God isn’t going to magically restore healthy rhythms and boundaries in my life without my cooperation. He never asked me to spread too thin or nurture unhealthy habits or try to live up to some reputation. He didn’t say, “Do more. Do everything.” Those are on me. I did that. That’s my pride and selfishness and ego and ambition rising up, trampling down the beloved things, the necessary things.

I, too, need to do something different.

Some things that will take work and commitment, restraint and discipline. I don’t even know what they are yet. I need to remember what is “best” and refuse to let the “good” steal it away, because I could spend my last living breath on the good; it’s plentiful. These are going to be hard, because I’ve burrowed down into something of a dark place, and the very things needed to pull out are the same ones I’ve lost energy for, kind of like wanting to lose weight without dieting or working out.

Lastly, God has me thinking of you, as He so often does. It occurs to me that some of you are in the exact.same.place. Which comforts me, readers, but it also makes me sad for us. If you are on empty today, having expended all you have to give and sitting stranded on the side of the highway, may I suggest that perhaps this is not the very worst place to be, that sometimes the car running out of gas is a gift, because otherwise you’d never stop?

This very morning, as I was writing the third paragraph of this blog, my Lifeway event leader sent an email to the speaking team for our Abundance event in Houston this weekend from 2 Kings 3, when God led his people into the desert:

I wanted to pass along the devotion I shared with our team here this morning before we prayed over you, our attendees, and all aspects of the Abundance event this weekend.
I had this devo from Streams in the Desert back in December but saved it because it impacted me so.  And as we prayed God impressed upon us that He is allowing us to come EMPTY that we may be FILLED. 
“This is what the LORD says: I will fill this valley with pools of water. For this is what the LORD says: You will see neither wind nor rain, yet this valley will be filled with water, and you, your cattle and your other animals will drink. This is an easy thing in the eyes of the LORD…The next morning, about the time for offering the sacrifice, there it was—water flowing from the direction of Edom! And the land was filled with water.”

First of all, who prays for her SPEAKING TEAM to show up for an event empty? I guess someone who has been chatting with the Holy Spirit and knows that a handful of us are, indeed, coming dry. I could barely read the email through my tears.

Second, we serve a God who fills the desert with water, even if we didn’t see the rain. He accomplished this while the Israelites slept, while they rested. They woke up to water in the desert.

For me, maybe for you, dear one, we need a short season of rest, even though a battle is impending and we are surrounded by sand, parched. Maybe we need to trust God just enough to close our eyes and believe Him for water in the morning. After all, “this is an easy thing” for the One who has already redeemed humanity.

The night is upon us; our hands are spent from work. The only sane thing to do is rest. God sometimes does His best work while we entrust ourselves to his overnight keeping. Our responsibility is laying down the tasks, setting aside the duties, which is much harder than it sounds. There is never an end to the work; just an end to the day. Sometimes the very hardest obedience involves stopping for the night.

Somehow, God managed to fill the pools with water “about the time for offering the sacrifice.” This is so dear to me. I know how many people need you. I know that so many things depend on you showing up, same as me. But if we are obedient in this, God will renew us in time…in time for the kids, in time for our spouses, in time for our community, in time for our ministries. He will not restore us too late. He will renew us just in time.

His mercies are new every morning. Great is His faithfulness.

Thank you for letting me confess this to you. Are you on empty? Count on my prayers.