From time to time, I strongly suspect we all feel drained, depleted, worn out – emptied! I could feel my legs cramping, ready to give in, as I approached the finish line of the NYC marathon a few years ago. Gasping for breath, my mind was racing with unfettered determination to keep in motion, however I did it, for just a few more yards. Upon crossing the finish line, I continued walking for some time, waiting for the exhilaration of finishing to triumph over the agony of the last few miles. I chose to run, I completed the course, and, paradoxically, I was both emptied and fulfilled. Another milestone in my personal log of most satisfying and memorable moments.
Running a race exemplifies a choice to push myself, test myself, empty myself. With adequate training and steady pacing I finish the race. The sense of accomplishment brings renewed vitality and, in time, more energy. In contrast, however, there are occasions when a deep feeling of being emptied overcomes me. Not by choice, but rather by some convergence of fate and forces beyond me, I feel reduced and threatened. I am tired and broken. I don’t know if I have what it takes to stay in the game for one more moment.
Empty is a verb as well as a noun. When I feel as though I am the object of that verb, when something or someone is playing me to exhaustion, I get discouraged.
As a child I was sent to church camp every summer. Sent implies more coercion than was actually the case. I recall fun times at Camp Koronis – whether short-sheeting our counselor’s bunk, pulling up all the stakes on the girls’ tent, or putting an extra dab of Brylcreem in my hair, hoping someone sort of special would notice. As the week of camp reached its inevitable climax, we were invited to the closing campfire, to throw sticks into fire. This recurring event, year after year, was a sign of giving ourselves, sins and all, to Jesus. Sitting there on a stump, staring into the fire, I was mesmerized by the call to commitment that echoed in my vulnerable heart. After years of playing out this stick ritual, I began to feel something of an automatic response, maybe even manipulated, as if a button had been pushed, once again. What more was left of me to give? Hadn’t I already thrown myself into the fire? Some of my earliest feelings of being emptied rather than choosing to run the race emerged around that campfire.
The all too prevalent experience of being emptied, whether on the job, at home with loved ones or in hostile environments not of our own choosing, easily overshadows the potential for personally choosing empty. Choosing to empty ourselves for a long race, a greater purpose, a higher calling, however we determine to do it, results in some of life’s most fulfilling moments.