I love to live on the edge. At least that is what I tell my kids when they are all frustrated with me. I am that person. That person that drives until the “E” light in my car has been shining at me for about 30 miles. It doesn’t help that now my car tells me exactly how many miles I have to “E.”
I drive until there are no more miles left. It just has an asterisk on the screen. (I assumed when it said * that meant there was no more gas, but I’m happy to report that you can actually make it at least 5 miles with nothing but an asterisk.) I’ve learned that this drives my middle child crazy. He worries about his mama. He likes to know I’m not going to run out of gas, that I will not be stuck somewhere, that I am safe. One day, as I realized we were near “E” he snapped, “MOM! You are dangerously close to empty.”
A church recently asked me to speak on this very topic: You Can’t Lead On Empty. It was one of those Moses moments. I thought, “God, they have the wrong person to speak on this. I’m a single mom. I’m managing 3 kids. I try to take care of my house, my yard, the bills, the food, their schedules and mine. I’m working full time, plus some side jobs. They have made a mistake asking me.”
But, as I began to think and pray about this topic, I was reminded of an impactful talk I heard years ago on this very subject. Wayne Cordeiro had just written a book called, Leading on Empty and did a talk on it. I don’t save much, but I still had my notes, and the book. It was that good. So, I got busy reading and studying and prepping my talk. Every single principle spoke to me as a single mom and so I wanted to share them with you.
Know what fills your tank and what drains it.
Answer the statement, I feel most alive when __________________. Now ask yourself these 3 questions:
- Who am I with?
- What am I doing?
- Where am I doing this?
Our life, our very soul, has to be filled up in order to pour out. If I were to keep driving my car way past empty, my car would stall. If I only put 3 gallons of gas in each time I stopped to fill it, I wouldn’t make it very far. We are the same way. Are you putting in more than you’re giving out? The drain of life can’t be emptying you faster than you are filling yourself up.
And one way to be conscious of that is know what fills you and what drains you. Being a single mom can ironically fall into both categories. Sometimes parenting can be so filling, and other times it sucks the life out of me. Make a list of “Fill” and “Drain” items.
Have you ever noticed that when life gets busy, we tend to cut the things from the “Fill” column? We rarely cut from the “Drain” list. Why? I don’t know, but that is something I’ve worked hard at changing. My kids need me to have a tank that is more on the full side. They deserve that.
Understand balance in life.
I think for most of us, if we were to define balance in life we might draw a seesaw with family on one side and work on the other. I used to think it was a constant balancing game. That is not really how life works. Our family has to be the fulcrum. Fulcrum is defined as the point on which a lever rests or is supported and on which it pivots. Our family is the center. If you lose a job, you start interviewing for another. If you lose your family, you lose everything.
Lead out of rest.
We don’t mess up as parents because we are evil. It is often because we are exhausted. We have to look at our year, our month, our week and our day with rest in mind. Schedule your rest points first on your yearly calendar.
- Know when you will take a day off way in advance.
- Schedule your vacations at the beginning of the year.
- Use all of your vacation time. You’ve earned it and need it.
- Know when you will sleep. Often people say, “I can’t sleep in. I have to get up, get the kids up, etc…” Sleep in on the other side of the clock. Go to bed earlier. Your best sleep is from 11-3. The average person needs 7-8 hours. If you aren’t getting that, you aren’t the best you.
Find someone to be your lightening rod.
Who is your person that you can be totally honest with and who can be honest with you? If you’re a single parent, you don’t have a spouse to bounce things off of. You need to have a person. Who can you go to when the day has totally frustrated you? If you don’t have someone you can dump it all in front of, you will take it out on your family. Find someone who can take it, listen and then ground it–just like a lightening rod. Sometimes, you need to know when to ask for help. For a season this person may be a counselor. Recognize when your kids may need one too. Finding help when it’s needed is one of the greatest gifts I’ve given myself and my kids. (see my article on when to ask for help)
Finally, and most importantly.
Prioritize your relationship with God.
Listen to him, talk with him, obey him, worship him, pray to him. He has all of this. He’s got our mess. It doesn’t take him by surprise. He loves us more than we can ever fathom. He is in control and he wants the best for us. I really believe that. He doesn’t want us to live dangerously close to empty at any moment. He wants us to live rich full lives that honor him.