September 24: For When You're Running on Empty

Life has a steady ebb and flow in which there is a constant emptying and a continual need to fill up.

Water evaporates from puddles, lakes and neighborhood mosquito-breeders, and once the clouds are heavy, dark and grey, it falls back to earth again.

The gas light comes on in the car, begging for an influx of petroleum before it will go a mile further.

Dishes are unloaded, and, especially with a large family, dirty ones are always at the ready to be loaded in the dishwasher. And repeat.

Early morning coffee cups are sucked dry, needing refilled before 9am if there's to be a prayer of making in through the long day ahead with littles, who sleep about as long as they are tall.

Leaves begin to transform brilliantly this time of year, reaching their glorious potential just before withering and descending to autumn's carpet below. The barrenness of winter makes room for new life come spring.

Bank accounts dwindle as payday approaches, clean clothes are depleted until laundry day arrives, and it never fails that all the toys get dumped out of the bin before any get picked up again.

I watched a video about animal life in the African desert. About the lizards that patrol the hot desert sand in search of beetles to eat in order to survive another day. The beetles are not only their food source but their daily water intake, as well. In a climate where water is scarce, any source of water will have to due. It's a matter of life and death.

Once a year, there is a torrential downpour of a few sacred inches. The water would fall on the nearby mountains and run down the sides in streams, finally emptying out into the river basin below. Animals would flock by the dozens to sip the precious, life-giving liquid before it disappeared into the dry, cracked ground, ashy and peeling with a thirst of it's own. The window of time was only a couple days, and after that, besides some evidence of erosion, the basin returned to it's barren, desolate form.

Lately I find myself empty. Stressed, tired, cracked and worn. I realized today, that from the time the kids get home from school to the time I put them to bed, I'm stressed. Somewhat with their behavior. They seem to be extra crazy, which is merely a fallout from sitting and listening and behaving all day.  So I feel like, in a way, I'm corralling a herd of ornery elephants that have no desire to behave in a civilized manner, let alone sit down, again, and complete homework.

And then there's the homework part itself, which for some is very easy and speedy, and for others, like a bad visit to the dentist, complete with Novocaine, pliers, drills and the like. I hate the dentist, so I get that.

But the homework. At the mention of it, I begin to grow tense because I know the evening of teeth pulling that lies ahead. And I dread even the thought of it. I hate the pile, about a half-inch thick, of avoided work that hitched a ride home to be completed this weekend.

It's hard because he struggles. Because he's behind. Because he hates it, probably more then I do. He hates it and doesn't understand it and is lacking the motivation to even try. He doesn't seem to realize that not doing it won't make it go away. Not learning the material will not make the next lesson easier. And so we struggle together, Ben mostly these days, pulling teeth until well after bedtime.

Emptying that folder one porcelain piece at a time. One assignment at a time. One spelling word, one math problem, one hair on our head at a time. Ben pulls them out of his beard, because, well, he's bald.

Emptying the "homework" side and filling the "return to school" side. Emptying patience and filling up frustration. Emptying grace and welling with stress.

And I also realized today, you can't fill a gas tank with water and expect the car to run. You can't fill a basin in the dessert with oil and expect the animals to survive. You can't empty a heart of all that is good--grace, patience, love--and replace it with frustration and stress. The heart won't run. The mind will deteriorate and shut down.

When I felt it today, the stress, bubbling to the surface once again at the thought of spending our long weekend hunched over the kitchen table, elbow deep in make-up work and obstinate attitudes and frustration, I raised my head, clenched my teeth, and said "STOP."

Just stop.

Stress was not going to fill the space any longer. Fear would no longer be in control. I could feel myself relax almost immediately at the thought of not needing to stress out.

Stress is not the boss of me. Imagine that.

I think with the school thing in particular, I feel responsible to a degree. I feel the need to fix it, to make it better. Now granted, I need to do my part as a parent and be an adult and such, but the other stuff is out of my control.

I can't control his attitude or willingness to work.

I can't make him miraculously understand the things that are so confusing to him.

I can't catch him up to the rest of his class overnight.

I can't be there at school when he's refusing to do his work, participate in reading, or try on his test.

I just can't.

All those things empty me. Because I want it to be better. I want him to no longer struggle, to be confident, to have the focus and will to work. I want our evenings to be different. But stress doesn't have to fill the emptiness.

The reality is, the future is largely out of my control. Maybe he won't finish all his makeup work and lose points. Maybe this weekend will be a horrible schoolwork experience. Maybe not. Maybe he won't pass the reading exam this year. Maybe he will fail this grade. Maybe he will have to start over again next year, maybe even in a different school. I don't know.

What I do know is that stress only adds to the grief, and there is a God who is so much bigger then all of it. And I can choose to rest in Him, knowing that whatever happens, though it may not be ideal, it won't be the end of the world. It won't be anything beyond the realm of redemption and renewal. I can remember that hope exists in Jesus, and I happen to know Him. I can let go and just rest, filling up to the brim with Water that Lives from a well that does not run dry, even in the most parched deserts of life.

If you find yourselves empty today, friends, only One thing will truly fill the depth of your soul. Rest in Him tonight.

{Thoughts after reading Matthew 14, Jesus Walks on Water}