I was never a die-hard Trekkie (Star Trek fan, for those of you scratching your heads). I watched the original series in reruns because my brother forced me to watch it. I halfheartedly got into the first set of movies, kind of steered away from the Next Generation movies, and was pleasantly surprised at the reboot by J.J. Abrams of “Lost” fame. All that being said, I know enough about the series, the characters, and the plotline to be dangerous.
It seemed to be a regular occurrence on the original show when Mister Scott, the chief engineer on the Enterprise, would be asked to do something crucial that he would exclaim to Captain Kirk, “I just can’t do it, Captain.” Despite his reluctance and insistence against the possibility, it always seemed that Kirk could convince him otherwise, which was kind of disturbing to me. I guess, when you find a good plot formula, you stick with it and rarely look back.
But life is not an episode of Star Trek.
I took a detour from my 2014 reading list (which I am sadly behind on following) to read a book that had been on my Amazon wishlist for a while. I regularly check my wishlist to see what items have dropped in price and I noticed that this book, which had been there for a while, was being offered for free on Kindle. Never one to pass up a good deal, especially for something that I had wanted for a while, I purchased (do you really purchase it if it’s free) and dove in.
The book was entitled, “Delirious: My Journey with the Band, a Growing Family, and an Army of Historymakers” written by Martin Smith, the lead singer of the Christian band, Delirious. I had been introduced to their music not too long after I came out of college and when I began to lead worship on a regular basis, so I was very anxious to read his insights about his own experience as he journeyed through his own adventure.
As I read through the book, I was captivated and couldn’t put it down. Not sure that there was one thing that grabbed me other than the fact that I felt like he was very real in his description of his own experience and adventure. While much of it seemed fairly whitewashed, I appreciated that he was being honest about some of the struggles that he had along the way.
One particular quote stood out to me. After seeing some of the devastation after the earthquake in Haiti and also experiencing the death of a friend from church, he said, “I just didn’t have the emotional capacity to fully engage with both.” The statement seemed so innocent and yet raw. In those few words, he seemed to capture something that I have experienced multiple times over the past few years, the lack of emotional capacity to fully engage.
It’s happened with pastoral visits. It’s happened with phone calls. It’s happened in leading worship. It’s even happened when spending time with my family. There have been times when I just felt that I had no more to give, that I had exhausted the well, that I was empty.
When emotional energy is expended, it’s not as simple of a task to recharge as it is when physical energy is expended. Physically expended, one can sleep or eat and gain some energy to push on. Emotionally expended, the task is not quite as simple. Emotional exhaustion can result in fitful sleep, loss of appetite, and just an overall sense of being worn out.
Not too long ago, a friend of mine gave me a charge when I was officially installed as a pastor at my church. As he talked through life and all of the bumps along the way, he said that we can consider our lives like buckets with holes in them. We all leak. We all expend energy. The trick is to fill faster than you leak. That simple statement was so profound that it stuck with me and just about every other person that heard it that day.
Fill faster than you leak, and that’s just what I am trying to do. I have learned that in those moments when emotional capacity seems lost, saying “no” is more important than ever. If it means letting a phone call go to voicemail, answering an email later on, or asking someone for a little alone time, those choices can be crucial for recharging and gaining more emotional capacity again.
Personal limitations are important things to understand and acknowledge. None of us are superheroes, and the sooner that we realize that, the better off we, and all those around us, will be. When we continue to try to press on with empty tanks, we will burn out. Learning that it’s okay to say, “I just can’t do it” is an important lesson.
Let’s face it, things don’t seem to slow down much, and they certainly don’t slow down just because we are experiencing a heavier load than usual. But others are around us, they are ready and willing to help, they are understanding (well, most of them are) and they can get over the disappointment that they might experience with our initial refusal. If someone is unwilling to understand our own need for recharge, we might want to press them on it, asking them whether they ever need time for recharge themselves. If they say that they don’t need that time, we’re well on our way to understanding why they press so hard. Hopefully, that will be further encouragement for us to enforce those breakaway times to fill our own buckets.