Why Running on Fumes is a Bad Idea (or "Things I Learned From My Grandmother-in-law")
Wednesday, April 23, 2014 at 9:23PM
Bernie Anderson

Shortly after Renee' and I were married we went on a road trip with her Grandparents. We drove from Tennessee to Texas - somewhere south of Amarillo. I can't remember the name of the town. It was a great memory for us. Her grandparents (now passed away) were some of the kindest, hardest working, generous-hearted people I've ever known. One of the things I learned about Renee's grandfather on that trip is he didn't want anyone else to pay for anything. He literally slapped my wallet out of my hand when I started pulling out my credit card to pay for a hotel room once. Violently generous, I guess. I learned something about her grandmother on that trip, as well. She really didn't want to run out of gas. When there's a half tank of gas, I've always tended to take the optimistic "half-full" view of things. Not Grandmom. With hawkish attentiveness, she would begin suggesting we stop for gas as that gauge dropped below half a tank. If it was at quarter of a tank, we might as well have been on empty in her mind. We had stopped to spend the night with the gauge on a quarter tank, and I dutifully got up early the next day and filled up without her knowing - and without telling her. I can still remember gaining speed on the entrance ramp to the Interstate and seeing her in the back seat, frantically craning her neck to see the gas gauge, as she was quite sure I had lost my mind taking off down the road while running on a quarter tank of fumes.

As I grow older, I find more and more that the older people I know in my life have usually been right all along. Wisdom and age and all that, I guess.

It is wise to have reserve.

When we were at the completion of our first term in Mongolia in 2010, my personal "gas tank" was pretty much depleted and I was running on spiritual, emotional and physical fumes. I can remember arriving in the US and for a month I would do crazy things like sleep until Noon. In fact, I remember sleeping a lot. I had no reserve, and the weariness that comes as a result of that was evident. It had been evident in relationships and interactions with people, work and more. It wasn't pretty.

I do resonate with the idea of coming to the end of this life, and having spent it all for the glory and Kingdom of God because I do believe it's what ultimately matters. I am fairly certain that's what William Borden was thinking about when he said "No Reserve." After all, you can't take it with you. It's true.

The problem is ... we don't really know when the end will come. Could be today. But it also could be sometime after we hit the century mark, what with modern medicine and Obamacare and all. Who knows?

Running our emotional and spiritual lives without reserve is a bad idea, for both the short and long term. I found that out at the end of 2010 and I've been careful since then to try and make sure that there's something in the metaphorical "tank". Travelers in the Mongolian countryside will often take multiple gas containers with them, just to have a reserve should they have to be outside the possibility of refill. Emotional and spiritual reserve can be stored in the containers of time, solitude and space.


Every waking hour of every day does not, and in fact should not, be filled with constant activity. Many recent studies show this. Sometimes it's good to just take a nap. Take a walk. Watch a movie. Not everything has to be so intense. Time to just sit and be, rather than do will do wonders to the empty soul.


I tend to ride the bus and walk a lot here. One reason for this is because I dislike sitting in traffic. But another reason (and a big reason) is because I need the alone time. I like to grab a coffee. Take a few minutes to sit on a bench in the plaza between the National circus and the State Department Store. People watch on the bus. It gives space for emotional reserve, without which I'm not sure I would have made it through the roller coaster ride that this past term has been. I intend to continue incorporating walking and solitude where I am after I leave here. I need it.


I'm trying to start every day with analog time. This means no computer. Just a bible, a pen, a notebook and/or other kinds of non-electronic material items that I can either read or write with. I am finding that this analog space is extremely helpful. I love working with a computer. In fact, I've become a bit of geek over the years. I love the productivity that is possibly with electronics, and think of it as a God-send, actually. My Mac and my iPhone are great tools. I love them. However, I also need daily space that is tactile. Analog. Old school. I find that this helps me to focus and to think. It fills my tanks. I need that space in my life. And I am finding I need it more all the time.

So, while I have great respect for the spirit of Mr. Borden, I also believe that the 21st century believer needs to be careful of running on empty for extended periods of time. Our culture is one which pushes us to live without reserves. It's why so many people are in debt, working 80 hours per week and getting through the days on depression and anxiety medication with a sleeping pill chaser.

I believe there is a counter-cultural spirituality which would allow for time, solitude and space that will make us more productive for the Kingdom in the long term. Productivity for the Kingdom and busyness for the Kingdom are not the same thing. Not the same thing at all.

What do you do to avoid running on empty? 

"Busyness is an illness of spirit…"

Eugene Peterson 

Article originally appeared on Remember Mongolia (http://www.remembermongolia.org/).
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