The path to simplicity is not for the faint of heart. It’s a process that requires total honesty. So let me pose the question: How depleted are you? How long has it been since you have felt fully replenished?
Jesus told Martha that her only hope was to pull up a chair, unplug from all the busyness, and begin a conversation with the only one who could restore her frenetic heart, settle her spirit, and get her heading back to true north. Is the same true for you?
Allow me to ask a follow-up question: Would an honest conversation with Jesus, in an unrushed setting, help you, too?
Of all the leaders I’ve had the opportunity to meet—from CEOs to nonprofit execs to politicians to church leaders—guess which type is most likely to have a problem with being overwhelmed, overscheduled, and exhausted?
Senior pastors! Card-carrying, seminary-graduated women and men of the cloth. Exhaustion runs rampant among pastors. This subject comes up in every city, every country, every culture, and every language group in which I’ve had the privilege of doing some mentoring and training. It’s a universal theme.
Here’s what I often do with my exhausted pastor friends: First, I draw a simple picture of a bucket, on a whiteboard or a napkin, depending on the setting. I ask, “What does your life feel like when your energy bucket is filled to the brim? What does it feel like when you’re filled up with God, when you’re connected to Jesus Christ, when things in your family are running on all cylinders, when your schedule is sane, when you’re eating right and exercising and sleeping properly?
How does it feel to be filled up and replenished?”
Here’s how they describe full-bucket living:
- “I’m at my best when I’m filled up.”
- “I pray my best prayers.”
- “I feel the presence of God more consistently.”
- “I’m more attentive to the whispers of the Holy Spirit.”
- “I hear the voice of God more often than when I’m depleted.”
- “I love my spouse and my family well.”
- “I love perfect strangers. Heck, I even love Packer fans!” (When I hear this in Chicago, it’s impressive!)
- “When I’m filled up, I make better decisions about my schedule. I’m careful not to overcommit.”
- “I make better food choices and rest choices.”
- “I feel more creative, more soulful.”
- “I feel eager to do God’s bidding.”
Sometimes, a pastor will get real quiet for a minute and then say, “When I’m all filled up, I live the life that Jesus desires for me: life in all its fullness, a life characterized by that peace that passes human understanding.” With a nostalgic nod, these pastors reflect fondly on times when they were all filled up, living a life-to-the-full kind of life.
How about you? Can you recall a time when you were living that way? When you were replenished and filled up? When you were living soulfully, restfully, creatively, lovingly, playfully, prayerfully? My guess is you can recall a handful of such times in your life. (If not, keep reading—there’s hope!) I can recall such times too—and increasingly they are becoming the norm rather than the exception, as I seek to master the art of simplified living. It can be done.
Now hold on to that image for a second, and let’s switch gears. Let’s talk about times when you’re depleted—toxically depleted. Your bucket is empty. You have nothing left to give. What does that feel like?
When I ask people this question, no matter where I am in the world, the first word that comes out of their mouths is resentment. They resent someone or something—just like Martha coming out of the kitchen shaking a wooden spoon at Mary and Jesus. She was resentful. “Jesus, don’t you care? My sister’s a deadbeat. We can’t order takeout. Your disciples are mooches. And they never help with the dishes.”
Resentment. Ever feel it? I do.
Another word I hear frequently is irritated. Some of us are easily irritated when we get depleted. Something minor goes wrong, and it sets us off, all out of proportion. We snap at our spouse, we lose our temper at work, we kick the dog.
Some of us withdraw and become passive.
Some of us isolate and become loners.
Some of us overeat, overdrink, or overmedicate.
Some of us overwork.
I feel horrible admitting it, but overwork is my approach. My colleagues know it’s true. When I’m depleted, I put my shoulder to the wheel and work like a mad banshee, pushing myself and everyone around me mercilessly.
And let me confess something that makes me extra lovable: When I’m in one of my overworking spells, I get mad at anyone who isn’t overworking. I get irritated if someone is whistling in the hallways at Willow. I think, What are you whistling about? You should be working harder instead of whistling! You’re clearly under-challenged. Step into my office and I’ll straighten that out!
Sometimes when we get depleted, we get scattered. We lose our ability to focus, and we jump from one distraction to the next with little to show for it. We confuse motion with progress.
Some of us over-rev. We get all the plates spinning at some ridiculous RPM. When people look at us, they just shake their heads. Whoa! This is going to end badly.
Some of us, when we get depleted, escape into movies, cheesy novels, or television. We waste hour upon hour trolling Facebook, Pinterest, or Instagram, admiring others’ lives instead of living our own.
Some of us overspend. When we get totally depleted, we go to the mall with credit cards, looking for the type of quick high that fits in a shopping bag.
Some of us turn to pornography. Those who don’t have the energy or emotional health to pursue intimacy in a healthy way often go after it in the shadows. If you look at what’s underneath the skyrocketing use of pornography these days, a lot of it is connected to depletion, isolation, and exhaustion. In the same way, some people have affairs. (Sometimes several.)
I think it’s safe to say that none of us are at our best when we’re depleted.
If you find yourself shaking that wooden spoon—or that canoe paddle—and you’re telling God what to do, and you’re mad at the world, maybe it’s time for you to hear God say to you, “Let’s sit down together. We’ve got some things to work out, you and me. You’ve lost a connection with me somewhere. You’ve lost your bearings on true north, and now you’re just spinning. But I have a better plan.”
Learn how to fill up your bucket and keep it filled. God created you to live your life with your energy reserves filled to the top. That’s how he created all of us to live.
My prayer is that you will put a stake in the ground that says, I’m done living on empty. I’m done staying in a depleted condition. May you have the kind of humility and conviction it takes to mark today as the day that living on empty ends for you.
This is an excerpt from the book Simplify: Ten Practices to Unclutter Your Soul by Bill Hybels, senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois. Learn more at SimplifyBook.com.