Recently, my cup ran dry. It wasn’t a single big drama that drained my resources, but a thousand small demands pricked at my life until I realized my cup was empty. I had no more to give.
By nature, I am a giver. I seem to have been built with a twisted core of both natural generosity and a deep need to be needed. There doesn’t seem to be a way to untangle these things, so I just go with it. I find it hard for to say no, to let people down, or to let needs go unattended. This proves to be both a blessing and a curse. I find great joy in building into others lives, and I am deeply connected to a wide group of folks who have both poured into my life and accepted my help in various seasons of life. The wellspring of my life is my faith, but I find that my life is best when I am both giving and receiving in meaningful ways.
Occasionally, I allow the needs around me to outpace my limited resources. In these moments, I find myself depleted to dangerously low levels. There are some signs I try to pay attention to, like the flashing gas light on my dashboard. These signs warn me that I ought to slow down, pay attention, and refill the cup. Sometimes, I notice these early and I am able to make minor course corrections and keep on trucking. Other times, like recently, I just turn up the music and ignore all the signs until I find myself withdrawn in the corner believing that I am alone in the world and no-one really cares about me. Yeah, I know. It’s a bit of an inside job. I’ve noticed these warning lights have a couple of themes running through them…
I begin to see myself as a victim… Whenever my inner narrative begins to tell a story of my powerlessness over life, I know I am in trouble. I believe that it is not what happens to me that has the most impact on my life. It is the story I tell myself (and others) about what happened, which has the most lasting impact. I have the power for good or bad to shape the story I tell myself about my life. Protecting my story is an important part of protecting and guarding my own heart.
I begin to doubt the good intentions of my people… Love, according to my Bible, believes the best about people. This isn’t a natural state for me. So, when I begin to question and doubt the motives of my people I am in deep trouble. When a friend doesn’t call, or show up or someone I love doesn’t notice that I am struggling, I begin to doubt their intentions and question their good will toward me. This is a defeating cycle, because as I question the intention of others, it makes it harder to reach out and find the connection I need to stop the leaking and begin to refill the cup.
I begin to wonder if anyone cares… Like backwash at the bottom of a soda can, my heart seems to hold on to some old debris. When my cup is full these things settle to the bottom and are rarely and issue. When I’m defeated and depleted, however, these dregs begin to pour into all of my relationships. I hear it in my heart, and sometimes slipping into words as I find myself feeling isolated and alone. I begin to pour out my need in often ugly ways. Instead of identifying my own needs and communicating them to people in healthy ways, I revert to familiar manipulations.
Because this is a well-worn pattern in my life, I eventually find the end of the cup and recognize my need to make some changes. Unfortunately, recognition alone does not bring healing and fullness. It has been a slow slog to replenish my energy over the past few weeks. Life hasn’t been kind, but there are some quiet disciplines I find to be effective ways to refill the cup.
I take control of what I can… In this case, I found that missing my daily discipline of quiet reflection and prayer in the morning could not continue. I rearranged my life to carve out an hour for quiet prayer, journaling, and spiritual reflection. For me, it always starts here. I don’t know why I ever think I can live without this. I can’t. I know I can’t. So, I go back and once again find that this quiet refuge waters my soul. This hour flows into the rest of my day, my week, my life providing perspective and power to take responsibility for both my yes and my no as I guard my heart and my time, and cut away things that drain my energy.
I watch my stories… both the stories I tell about myself and the stories I think about others. Journaling is a good place for a sanity check on these stories. I can’t be everyone to everyone, in fact, I shouldn’t be everything to anyone. I need to be allowed to be imperfect and flawed. Because, well, I am. If I need to be perfect at home, at work, or at church to be accepted I probably should just walk out now. Instead, I need to know I am safe to learn and grow. My mistakes and weaknesses are evident. As much as I try to tuck them away, they seem to slip out and trip me up. It has to be okay, to just be me. Because, well, who else could I be? My people also seem to be imperfect and flawed. Well, you know… So, I need to just let people be who they are. I need to let them off the hook and love them now, right now.
I tell the truth… When I am overwhelmed and under-resourced, I need to slow down, get quiet, and ask for help. I need to say no, I can’t do that right now. Please, could you help me? I need to not answer the phone or make more plans. I need to have honest conversations about what is hurting. I need to share my burden and open my life to people who love me. When my doing for others becomes a place of security for me, I know I need to make some changes. It should be okay to pull back, to ask for help, and to say no without fearing loss of love or trust.
Over the past decade, I’ve begun to realize that my resources are finite. I know, I probably should have considered that earlier, but I was a slow learner. I am learning that managing my time and tasks don’t seem to be enough. I need to move in and out of busyness. In silence and solitude, my soul is restored. I need to learn to guard and nurture my energy, my enthusiasm, my positivity, and my perspective. I need to listen to my own heart’s warnings and make good decisions about tending my soul. So, when the cup is empty, it’s a good time to stop pouring.