Traffic on the Sydney Harbour Bridge
Lightbulb moments

Running on empty

The other day I drove to a friend’s house. She lives some distance from me and since it was a brisk shining day and I wasn’t running late, I chose to enjoy the warm light. With the added drama of capricious spring clouds darting across the sky, I allowed my mind to slow down—to stop rushing. Somehow, this simple decision took away most of the stress of driving through traffic.


I was only a kilometre from my destination when I noticed the glowing ‘Empty’ light on my car’s fuel gauge. As my pulse rate escalated, I checked the onboard computer which confirmed that my fuel tank contained not much more than fumes.

I made a hasty detour to the petrol station I could see just a little further on. Thankful and relieved, I continued my journey secure in the knowledge that my car had what it needed to carry me onwards for many more kilometres.

But it could have turned out so differently. The light must have been on for at least half of the trip and I only glimpsed it for a slip of a moment in my peripheral vision.

If I’d noticed it a little earlier in a long stretch of traffic without a petrol station nearby, my journey would have been so much more stressful. If I’d not noticed it at all, I would very likely have been stranded on my way home, waiting for roadside assistance amid the noisy, petulant traffic. This realisation merely added to my sense of gratitude and relief.

But a week ago, I was neither so observant nor so fortunate. I discovered, too late, that my emotional and spiritual fuel tank had run dry and I was running on empty.

While the traffic of life swirled around me I had reached the end of my resources. And without the means to keep going, the only thing I could do was call for assistance and wait for it to arrive. I waited and waited. But it seemed that it wasn’t coming, that I was on my own.


Does your courage ever fail you—not in the sense that you are afraid, but rather that you’ve simply run out and all that’s left in the tank is a whiff, a memory, of courage spent and lost? That’s where I’ve been. And the emptiness left by the absence of courage soon began to fill up with doubt, even despair.

After years of finding my way through crises, challenges and cares that only ever seemed to multiply and get heavier, it seems that this week I finally ran out of courage. The courage to keep going.

Madeleine L’Engle once wrote about the daily reality of the Christian life:

We are all asked to do more than we can do.*

It’s true. I’ve lived it and I’m guessing you might have too. But this week, after receiving yet more difficult news—a well-aimed puncture—I simply couldn’t find the energy or the desire to get going again. The engine had stalled and the wheels were wobbling.

Many times in recent years it has seemed impossible for me to keep going, and that the Lord expected me to keep going, beyond my ability. Somehow, through dependence on him, I managed to do it. So what was different this time?


The difference this time was that I had given into the weariness and had become dis-couraged. I had lost heart. I felt that for years I had endured hardship as discipline from my heavenly Father because I knew it was for my good. But now it felt like I was being punished—punished for something I had done and I had no idea what that was.

I was bewildered, confused and felt deeply hurt. This time the difference was that I had begun to think I shouldn’t have to keep persevering. That I shouldn’t have to keep pressing forward and battling through.

I’d had enough and I didn’t want to do it anymore. And I no longer had the capacity to tell myself that there was no choice and I simply had to keep going. The tank was empty and I had nothing left.

Photo by annarachel |
Photo by annarachel |

In weakness and despair, the only thing I could do was cry out to God from the anguish in my heart and soul. All I could do was to tell him that I didn’t understand and that I was assailed by doubts that crashed like waves against the foundation of my faith. Where was his assurance and love?

After all this time, had I failed in so monumental a way that it meant I must continue to occupy a place on the ash heap? If I had, how exactly had I failed? Perhaps if I knew, I might at least understand and be delivered from the overwhelming conviction that I had been cut off from God and his love.


But, like Job, what I needed most was not a release from the hardships or a revelation of the reason for my difficulties. Like Job, what I needed most was to remember the rock-solid assurance that my heavenly Father loved me. That there was nothing that could or would ever separate me from him.

This was not a new lesson for me. But it was obviously one I needed to repeat. I needed to remember who my Father in heaven is—what he is like and what he is doing in his world.

I needed to rehearse in my mind what I knew to be true—that God is my rock and my salvation. So, when my heart grows faint because of things I don’t understand, I can still trust in him and cling to him, even when everything around and within me is screaming, “Don’t do it!”

I needed to call despair exactly what it is—despair. I needed to confess my failure to keep my eyes firmly fixed on Jesus, and to look to him for the courage I lack.


So often, when I cry out to God in weakness and confusion, I get glimpses of the true state of my soul. I see how desperately I need my Father’s loving but painful discipline. But in his great kindness and patience, when I do cry out to him I also see the beauty of my Saviour’s love. That’s when my tank is filled with the courage I need to keep following him.

So often when I feel alone in my distress, as I did this week, my Father God reminds me of his love through the faithful, prayerful support of dear friends. By their very presence and care, they help me to remember that I’m surrounded by fellow pilgrims who know what it’s like to be weary and lose heart.

I will not always understand what my heavenly Father is doing. But as I seek to obey him in the maelstrom of everyday life, I am confident that I will reach my destination.

Even if I end up stranded because I’ve failed to fill my tank or I’ve lost sight of Jesus, he will ensure that I continue in him until my life’s end. He will give me the courage I cannot find and bring me safe home to be with him forever. He will do the same for every one who trusts in him.

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).

*Quote from Walking on Water, Madeleine L’Engle, WaterBrook Press: Colorado Springs, 2001, p.65

Featured image: Photo by Anthony Harrison |

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