Ending the Day on Fumes
A few weeks ago, my soccer team played our final game of the season. It was on a Sunday afternoon, and there was a trophy at stake. Even though my league is for ‘older’ players, most of us still have a bit of competitive drive and we wanted to win the game. For what it was, the game was hard-fought, and the good guys won.
At this stage of my athletic career, those games take a few days to recover from. As my body cooled down from the game, everything started to hurt and by that evening, there was not much left. I got my kids down to bed and then migrated to my bed and lay down to pass out. I don’t think it was 9pm yet.
The next morning and in the days following, I thought about this feeling a fair bit. I was reflecting on a video that I used to watch a few years ago. It is one of those motivational videos where a bunch of clips are spliced together. One of the speakers, Eric Thomas, says, “When you die, die on E (as in empty)”. The point I think Eric is trying to make is that we should hold nothing back in pursuit of the life we are intended for.
As satisfying as falling asleep completely exhausted because I played a game of soccer and am almost 40, I know that is not the calling of my life. The question then is how often do I go to bed knowing that I have given everything to my true calling, as a husband and father?
The answer is probably not as often as I would like to think.
Now I am not suggesting that every day should end in pure exhaustion, with every drop of energy spent. Things break down unless we take care of them. In my experience, it is possible to ruin the next day before it arrives if I do not end the current day well. I need to take care of my mind, body and spirit so that it can continue to bear good fruit, which I cannot do if I try to burn it down every day.
The reality is, however, that we are all going to spend effort and energy every day. My question is this: is it in service to filling ourselves or in service of others?
In an instant gratification world, we are all encouraged to do whatever feels good in the moment and to look out for ourselves. Buy the thing that makes you feel good, put your own needs first – we deserve it right?
On the rare occasion when I have an evening to myself, my mind instantly wanders to television and starts calculating how many episodes of a given show I can watch before falling asleep. When that small window opens, there is something inside me that wants to fill it up as much as I can. It is desperate to consume, knowing that the opportunity is there. Foregoing any of that to get a good night sleep seems like an opportunity missed.
But I can tell you from my lived experience that I rarely feel satisfied and happy with my choices when I have stayed up to binge-watch episodes of the latest series. Generally, I fall asleep with the TV on and wake up in the middle of the night with a sore neck. After staggering around turning off the lights, I flop down in bed and struggle to fall asleep, knowing the morning is coming and I am going to be exhausted.
Why is that consuming what is there now, filling ourselves with whatever is available and feels good, leads to so much dissatisfaction?
When we look around our culture, whether it is food, alcohol and drugs, sex and pornography, or wealth, status, or any other ‘consumable’ that is marketed to us, the consumption seems to lead to emptiness, dissatisfaction, and even pain?
Perhaps the answer is that fulfillment is not in the filling of ourselves, but in the emptying. When we empty ourselves of our personal desires, we create space for others and to be filled by something greater.
The Best Days
When I am at my best as a husband and dad, I am present to my family. I am free from the distractions of work or my phone and am able to listen, support, and participate in the lives of my wife and kids.
Sometimes when I get home from work I am mentally spent and the thought of listening to what happened that day, or getting onto the floor to play Lego seems like more than I can take. When my kids ask me in these moments to play, I just want to say no and put myself first. And I have done that in the past. But I rarely feel good about it.
A mentor suggested to me recently that I work on just saying yes before I can think about it. By the time we are outside playing in the driveway, building Legos, or reading, the feeling of wanting to be left alone has faded and the joy of being present has more than taken over. Great days are often the result when I say yes to my family.
At one point in my life, I would have said a great day might look like watching football on the couch or doing something social with friends.
When I look back at my life one day, I do not expect that I will regret not watching enough football. I hope that I will look back fondly at the times I spent with my wife and children, growing with them and leading them on adventures.
What might seem like sacrifice in giving up my personal desires for the needs of my family returns far more than what I could have expected from time to myself, pursuing short term satisfaction.
The Ultimate Example
St. Paul invites us to imitate the example of Christ, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” (Phil 2:6-8).
Jesus chose to humble Himself. He had other options – He could have overpowered his adversaries – but chose to empty himself instead. He chose to walk the hardest road for others rather than seek safety and comfort for Himself. The paradox in this choice is that it led to His greatest glory – only through death on the Cross can the glory of Easter happen.
This is the choice that we must make daily. Am I willing to empty myself of selfish desires, the things that feel like they will satisfy me in this moment, my preferences? If so, I will increase my capacity to serve others, my family first and foremost, but the same applies at the office and with friends. It is a contradiction in today’s culture.
If we are willing to make this choice, the results will surprise us. In emptying ourselves in love for and service of others, we will find ourselves full. Full of joy, purpose, and meaning in our lives. In God’s economy, our actions in service will yield benefits – to those we serve, but also to ourselves – that will last far longer than any quick comfort or grab for gratification.
Out of love, we must be willing to let go of the pursuit of the temporary and live to empty ourselves out for others. At the end of the day, Die on Empty.
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