You wouldn’t buy a phone without also investing in a phone charger, right? Without the charger, the phone is pointless. It might work for a couple of days, but once it’s out of battery, that’s it!
Similarly, we humans need a power source, we need to charge our batteries too. This world is so draining, with all its expectations, demands, busyness and labels. I think we’ve all at some point in our lives felt drained, like we have nothing left to give. Like we’re on a hamster wheel and can’t seem to jump off. I was speaking to a friend the other day who said she felt like she’d lost her purpose, like she wasn’t moving forward anymore but stuck in the same repetitive cycle.
What gives us life? What is our power source, what keeps us charged up and living life to the full?
We all want to have life to the full. Not such a full life that we have no time to live!
The following comes from a lesson learnt through mistake after mistake this year, as I’ve struggled with battling burnout, low battery, and feeling like I have nothing left to give.
As well as all the usual busyness that comes with life, I am involved in many different ministries – and being in ministry requires a lot of giving, loving, serving. Naturally, there’s only so much I can give before I run out of things to give! My battery is drained and I can’t sustainably keep going as I am anymore.
Now most people would recognise the signs and stop. I am not one of those people. I didn’t want to let anyone down, I thought I could keep going and so I went until I crashed because I physically could not go anymore. I was so drained I couldn’t even look after myself properly, let alone my students, my flat mates, my youth group and everyone else I interacted with.
I know there’s the cliché ‘love until it hurts,’ ‘real love demands sacrifice,’ ‘loving means putting the needs of the other first, always.’ But in Matthew 12:7, Jesus reminds us ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ As I reflected on this scripture, I thought, ‘Doesn’t this also apply to showing mercy to ourselves? After all, what’s the point of a sacrifice when you have nothing left to give anymore?’
When we continuously give so much of our time, health and energy in order to fulfil our roles to the best of our ability, yet never stop to make time for ourselves, is that really a meaningful ‘sacrifice?’ When we keep giving and have nothing left to give anymore yet still go on, what’s the point of that? What are we giving? Is this truly selfless love, or is it selfish; prideful because we don’t want to let anyone down, conceited because we think we can do it all? C.S Lewis talks about this in his book ‘The Four Loves.’
“...the truth that God is love may slyly come to mean for us the converse, that love is God. Every human love, at its height, has a tendency to claim for itself a divine authority...It tells us not to count the cost, it demands of us a total commitment...”
I’m not saying that if you’ve ever done this, you’re a terrible person (because believe me, I’m in the same boat!). I’m not saying that God can’t use our giving, regardless of our mindset or intention. I think maybe this is all just part of the human condition. We are obsessed with busyness, and we don’t like letting people down, so we give until our batteries are drained, and still we soldier on.
But stop a moment and think: what are you giving from?
This year, I have discovered that I have a ‘Love Tank.’ (a term originally from ‘The Five Love Languages’ by Dr Chapman, but here I’m referring to it in a slightly different context). Every time I give, every time I love someone else through my actions, work, words, etc., that tank empties slightly. This means that it is so important I am allowing myself to stop and to be loved, in order to keep that tank full so I can keep on giving.
We have a God who is Love (1 John 4:16) – Jesus showed us that when He walked the earth and suffered crucifixion out of love for us - and I believe He is the only way we can keep our ‘love tanks’ topped up.
I used to think that I was following God’s will because I was doing so many things to help others encounter His love. I’m not saying that is wrong - but my mind was blown when I recently realised that actually, God’s will = to love me. That is why He created me!! He doesn’t need me, but He wants me. He wants to wrap me in His love.
Wow...God’s will is simply to love me!?? That means I am co-operating with His will when I am letting myself be loved – through friends, family, quality ‘me’ time, a good meal, music, Church, a walk in nature, a good book, coffee with a friend, deep chats with a mentor, prayer time, reading scripture, formation, study, etc.
What if we changed our perspective? What if rather than doing things out of a desire to please others or to help others know they are loved, we did things because we were so convinced that we were loved and we allowed that to flow into all we did?
What if we loved because we are loved, not just for the sake of loving?
We absolutely cannot keep giving, keep loving, unless we stop and make time to be loved ourselves. A phone won’t work unless you charge it. Philanthropists can’t keep donating unless they have some source of income. For a sacrifice, to be meaningful, you must have something to give in the first place. As the saying goes, ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup.’
We must fill our ‘love tanks’ if we are to keep living life to the full! We need to plug into the power source, we need to allow our God, who is Love, to love us!
I said at the beginning that this is a lesson learnt from experience. As I was recently reminded at a retreat I was on, working for God doesn’t necessarily mean you are doing God’s work. It is so important to plug in to God, to allow yourself to be loved by Him.
In simply allowing myself to be loved first - allowing my ‘love tank’ to be topped up - I’ve noticed such a difference in my work and life. Where before I would have focused more on output and getting tasks done, I am now more comfortable with pausing and being fully present to a student who comes in for a chat. Or with letting go of an unfinished task to instead check in on a friend. Or with actually allowing myself to spend three hours creating rather than scrolling or worrying about work. I am able to enjoy all I do because I know I am loved regardless of the outcome. And the more I am convinced of my lovableness, the more love shines through in all I do! The more I live life to the full.
We are not called to burnout. We are not called to give and give and give, to sacrifice until it hurts and then to keep giving some more! We are called to love, and to be loved. As Christians, there’s often a whole lot of emphasis on the ‘to love’ part. But as I’ve learnt, even more importantly, we are called ‘to be loved.’ That is when we are most closely co-operating with God’s will. That is when we are solidly plugged in to our power source, charged up and living life to the full.
So, if it’s been a while since you allowed yourself to be loved – get off that hamster wheel. Go treat yourself to a coffee and a good book. Have dinner with a friend. Take that hour slot of Adoration. Take a long walk. Wrap yourself in a blanket and have a movie night with friends. Pick up your Bible. Research that thing you’ve always longed to learn about. Eat that chocolate. Plug in. Go and allow yourself to be loved.
Check out this song by Kingdom Culture Worship: Abide
‘To be love, is to be loved by You...’