When You’re Running on Empty

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The life you save may be your own. Flannery O’Connor


I was wedged into a Bed, Bath, and Beyond aisle late at night standing on a scale. I gasped. Audibly. Still in my pregnancy pants, I was every bit of 44 lbs over my normal weight two months after my second was born. I did the math. She had been eight lbs and the placenta probably weighed around four. And what about all that water? I stepped on a few more scales to make sure the first hadn’t been tampered with. Darn arrogant technology. That was a whole lot of truth staring back at me in big digital numbers. Ping and I was double espresso awake.


This little bit of loveliness propelled me into a season of 6 am trips to a small gym at a strip mall across the interstate. I got serious. 6 am serious. The endorphins helped heal the post-partum depression which always followed my births. But the biggest gift of all was discovering that morning exercise created a foundation for the day: more energy, less emotional roller coasters. All of us in the little yellow cottage could agree that was a good thing. 


But here’s the thing. This felt bigger than just a New Year’s resolution. It felt like I was laying a foundation for a life. In the following weeks when I prayed about how I should be using my time and energy, I kept sensing the same thing. Hold steady. Keep laying this one foundation. The message didn’t move on until habits had been formed. In fact, the message didn’t change for six. whole. months. Six months later a foundation had been laid, something firm, something substantial, something that could be built on.

Apparently I wasn’t done. Not close. There were other layers added later, many layers like rest and sabbath, self-acceptance, and getting rooted and established in God’s love.

During most transitions we have to go back with our hard hats on and bang around a little, make sure each layer is solid, checking to see if there are any worrying cracks.


Early in my motherhood, my mom shared the oxygen mask metaphor with me and it fits right here smack dab in the middle of all this. It mixes metaphors but you get the point. Summer, she said, you can’t put anyone else’s mask on until you have slipped on yours. Check and check. If I forget to take care of my basics, my foundation, there are always consequences.


Last week was a week of crazy and I heard it again. Time to go back and shore up the foundation. I was throwing myself into a new schedule with homeschooling and ministry and by the end of the week the corners of my life were showing deep fissures. My patience was frayed. I was yelling faster, overworking. I was saying “yes” too often. Thursday night my husband called it out. I was cleaning after bedtime with a tape of resentfulness on replay before crawling into bed bone tired. Andrew hugged me, saw the tears, and then begged me to take the next day off. The next day during a personal sabbath I went back to the basics. Am I getting enough rest, enough exercise, enough healthy food, enough prayer, enough silence, enough time soaking in the love of God?


This Pinterest meme brought big tears to the surface last Thursday night:  “You can’t pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself first.” I pinned it to my BRAVE board. It felt brave to say yes to essential things when it would be easier to keep running full speed ahead. But I knew what empty felt like and it was time to go back to the basics and shore up the foundation.


What foundations do you shore up when you’re on empty?

If you’re reading Shauna Niequist’s beautiful brave book, Present Over Perfect, you’ll hear little bits of echoes here. Perhaps you want to read too? What’s been connecting with your heart?


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  1. Last week was the same for me. God showed me that I was managing myself harshly and driving myself with unrealistic expectations instead of caring for myself and letting Him care for me. This week has been much better… it requires better priorities, a stronger foundation as you said. Thank you for sharing.

  2. How AWESOME you shared this, Summer—I am in so much need of hearing to take care of myself and my basic needs FIRST. I have begun the process–again–taking off the weight, going to the gym, spending time with the Lord. It’s difficult right now as we are having remodeling done and things are chaotic–I need to breathe, to be in stillness. Be STILL and KNOW that I AM God. Thanks for the insight.

  3. Summer, your writing is exquisite. I so need to heed your words. It is extremely easy to fall out of routine and create a world full of chaos. I need to be kinder to myself and strengthen my self-care. Thanks! Blessings!

    1. Thank you Fran. It’s easy to get lost in a pressing to-do list, isn’t it? Here’s to doing the hard work to stay in healthy rhythms of work and rest. Keep being brave.

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