Don’t Give Away What’s Meant for You

Can we find oxygen for exhausted souls in Song of Songs, of all books?

The man who is wise, therefore, will see his life as more like a reservoir than a canal. The canal simultaneously pours out what it receives; the reservoir retains the water till it is filled, then discharges the overflow without loss to itself. … You too must learn to await this fullness before pouring out your gifts, do not try to be more generous than God.
— Bernard of Clairvaux, from “The Two Operations of the Holy Spirit”

I was exhausted. I poured myself out all week, every week: preaching on Sunday, meetings on Monday, ministry groups on Tuesday, teaching Bible study on Wednesday, visiting the sick on Thursday, and sermon prep on Friday. By Saturday I had nothing left to give.

As a staff member at a large church, I knew what I had signed up for. I had degrees that prepared me for the rigor of a vocational life dedicated to Christ. I had friends in ministry, a supportive community, and books galore, and I knew enough to take retreats every few months. I loved ministry and wore my busyness as a badge. Jesus, I believed, would give me strength to do all I had set out to do.

But deep down, I could not fight the persistent pang of emptiness. More than tired after a busy week, I was soul-weary. A few days of vacation could not relieve this exhaustion. As a mom of two young children with a working husband writing his doctoral dissertation, I felt like a walking miracle. Now I realize I was more of a walking mess, slowly unraveling from the inside out.

The Breaking Point

This chaotic cycle culminated during a conference in 2015. Pete and Geri Scazzero, co-founders of the global ministry Emotionally Healthy Discipleship, were helping church leaders like me think about discipleship within our churches. But …

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