Running on empty
Lee October 23, 2015

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 and the drama of capricious spring clouds darting across the sky, allowing my mind to slow down—to stop rushing. Somehow, this simple decision took away most of the stress of driving through traffic.

Empty: 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 and, 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 a throng of noisy, petulant traffic. This realisation merely added to my sense of gratitude and relief.

But a week ago, I was not so observant or so fortunate for 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, waited. But it seemed that it wasn’t coming and 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 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. At numerous times in recent years it’s seemed impossible for me to keep going, and that the Lord was expecting me to go beyond my ability. But somehow, through dependence on him, I managed it. So what was different this time?

Discouraged: 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, to keep pressing forward and battling through. I’d had enough and I didn’t want to do it anymore. 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 | Lightstock.com
Photo by annarachel | Lightstock.com

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 tell him that I didn’t understand and that I was assailed by doubts, crashing like waves against the foundation of my faith—his assurance and love.

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

Remembering: But, like Job, what I needed most was not 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 and that nothing could, or would, separate me from him—ever.

This was not a new lesson for me, but it was obviously one I needed to repeat. I needed to remember who God is, what he is like and what he is doing in his world. I needed to rehearse in my mind what I know to be true—that God is my rock and my salvation—so that when my heart grows faint because of things I don’t understand, I will 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 and 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, and 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, he 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 travellers who know what it’s like to be weary and lose heart.

I will not always understand what my heavenly Father is doing as I seek to obey him in the maelstrom of everyday life, but I am certain that I will reach my destination. Even if I end up stranded—when I fail to fill my tank or I lose 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 anyone 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 | Lightstock.com

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