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On the Go, But Out of Fuel: Renewing Your Strength When You Feel Burned Out

By Karen O'Connor
Guest Columnist - "I'm fed up and burned out. I've just plain had it!" I said to a friend over the phone one morning after waking up feeling overwhelmed. "I feel like a car trying to run on empty."

"What you need is a day in the mountains," she said. "Remember last year when...."

I remembered well the event she referred to. An important decision about my life direction was looming. I needed some time alone to think and pray. I had always found God's voice to be especially clear when I walked in the woods, so I drove out to Morena Park about an hour outside San Diego and pulled into the campsite with an expectant heart.

"Lord," I asked in prayer while walking that afternoon, "please speak to me. Shed your light on my path--on my writing, on my home and family, on my church work. I feel in the dark about what to do next."

I took a deep breath and tried to relax, surrendering to His timeframe. That evening, after a bit of conversation around the campfire with other campers, I excused myself early and started down the path to my tent some distance away. I had deliberately chosen a spot where I would have privacy and peace. A sudden chill came over me, however, as I realized how dark it was on the road and how inadequate was my small flashlight. I had only enough light to cover one footstep at a time.

"Lord, I'm scared," I suddenly called, my voice shaking as I walked between a large grove of towering pines without even a sliver of moonlight to guide me. "Please, I can't see but a step at a time."

I no sooner finished my prayer than the realization came. I did have enough light--enough for one footstep at a time. And wasn't that all I really needed? A Scripture from Isaiah settled the matter right then. I didn't know the passage by heart, but I knew enough of it to encourage me.

"Yes, Lord, yes," I shouted into the trees. "You never forsake me. Thank you." I felt the Lord's strength fill me up in that moment. I didn't need a bright flashlight nor a full moon to guide me.

When I reached my tent, I located the passage through my Confordance. Sure enough there it was in chapter 42, verse 16. "I will lead them in paths they have not known: I will make darkness light before them and crooked things straight."

If you are in a similar spot in your life, on the go but out of fuel, I encourage you to invite the Lord to meet you in those troubled places. Here are four ways to renew your strength in Him when you're feeling burned out.

What a great gust of cleansing wind we would feel in our lives and in our homes and workplaces if we surrendered to the discipline of simplicity. Embracing simplicity, however, involves trust and prudence -- two virtues that are easier talked about than practiced. A simpler life -- one that is free of baggage, bulging calendars, demanding people, and unrealistic expectations can be challenging to come by. But when we commit to simplifying our lives, to clearing out the clutter -- from old magazines to old acquaintances who no longer nourish us -- oh the freedom and the strength we feel.

We can learn to say 'no' without feeling guilty, to refuel ourselves with a good night's rest after a day's work, and to carefully consider our choices and decisions ahead of time so we don't over-commit ourselves and risk illness and irritability.

We can also refuel ourselves spontaneously with short, specific prayers throughout the day. "Lord watch over me in the meeting today." "Lord, thank you for that special time with my family." "God, I need your strength tonight." "Father, I know you are providing for my every need."

Simplicity--the discipline that brings us down to where we ought to be so we can be lifted up by the strength of God when we need it most.

Silence, to most of us, is the absence of sound. But it is also a presence -- God's presence in quiet communion with our presence.

"In returning and rest you shall be saved" (Is. 30:15).

"Be still, and know that I am God" (Ps. 46:10).

Despite these encouraging words, however, many of us are so fearful
of being silent that we carry around our familiar blanket of noise wherever we go -- and then wonder why we don't hear God! We depend on the hum of radios and tapes in our cars, televisions and video players in our homes, and portable audio cassettes strapped to our heads and waists as we exercise.

Silence can be an intruder. Maybe as a child you were punished with the silent treatment. Or if you came from a large, noisy household, maybe you longed for a few moments of silence and never got them.

Silence is not an easy discipline to embrace. But oh the fruit the tree of silence bears when we sit under it. Agnes Sanford, a pioneer in the prayer and healing movement in the Christian church, said she never could have done the work the Lord gave her to do without regular, committed times of silence.

Wisely, the writer of Ecclesiastes said there is "a time to keep silent and a time to speak." Those of us who wish to re-fuel when we feel burned out will heed those words.

My husband drove a delivery truck for a short time during our early marriage and one of his favorite aspects of the job was the solitude it offered. Each lunch hour he parked on a hill in his territory that overlooked the Pacific Ocean. "I look forward to that time alone," he often said over dinner at night. "It's my time. No one but God knows where I am. I relax, enjoy my food, read the Bible, and even snooze! Everyone deserves such an experience."

I have taken up this practice in my life too. I spend at least a half hour each day walking alone, reading, praying, or simply 'being,' eager to remain available to God's voice and direction. Whenever I notice that feeling of overwhelm come upon me, I know immediately I need a 'time-out' for solitude.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines serendipity as "the faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident." Who among us couldn't use a bit of serendipity -- especially when we feel burned out? Consider today some things you can do for yourself that may lead to a fortunate discovery and then pursue it -- alone or with a companion. You may even want to make this a family affair.

My four-year-old grandson and I like to take nature walks to see what we can see. One day as we walked along a familiar path we noticed a tiny cluster of bugs swarming around some blooming plants. Liam was a bit put-off at first and he batted them out of his way. "Hey, don't do that," I said in mock solemnity. "They're playing tag and you're interrupting their game!"

"They are?" he asked with wide eyes.

From that point on we had this private joke about tag-playing bugs and whenever I visit he asks me to take him on a nature walk, certain we will discover something quite wonderful and unexpected.

One day I was in great need of a fortunate discovery so I simply got in my car and started driving. I had heard of a large commercial flower field just north of the city, within sight from the freeway. About twenty minutes out, I saw a sign, "Flower Fields, next right."

"Yeah!" I shouted. Just what I hoped for. I drove into the parking lot, paid my $2.00 entrance fee and spent two delicious hours all by myself, meandering the fields, feasting my eyes on the flowers, and getting in a good walk at the same time.

I came home refreshed, renewed, re-fueled. You can too. Why wait?

"...those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint (Isaiah 40:31 NIV).

Karen O'ConnorKaren O'Connor is the author of 38 books, a retreat speaker, and writing instructor from San Diego, California. Visit Karen's web site:


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