What Does It Take To Give?

I distinctly remember one afternoon several years ago deciding that I was tired, worn out, and overworked and I needed a break.  It was a warm day and I decided to go for a long hike.  Like a 4-hour hike.  In the middle of the day.  It was unprecedented.  Usually I only did hikes like these on weekends.  But I was determined to exercise self-care and rest.

I returned four hours later to my house.  I took stock of myself: was I rested?  Was I less stressed?  Was I rejuvenated?  Did I have renewed energy to work?  No.  On all accounts.  What happened?  Didn’t I take time off?  Didn’t I just spend four hours of ME time?  Why was I not restored?

Those who are driven, who work demanding jobs, or who have strong work ethics know that you just can’t keep giving and giving and expect to sustain yourself perpetually.  You need to re-fuel the tanks.  This is common knowledge.  What is less common knowledge is that there are things one does that restore your engines and other things one does that definitely don’t.  Knowing which is which is critical.   And they may not be the same for each person.

For example, it took me years to realize that if I was sitting at my desk for three hours straight with no breaks, browsing the internet, playing chess online, or checking social media may be entertaining, but it wasn’t restful.  It didn’t help me get my energy back.  A 10-minute nap did!  Likewise, I love spending time with people; in fact, my work is all about people.  Talking with, corresponding with, counseling with, and organizing people is the most fulfilling work I’ve ever done.  But fulfilling does not equal restful!  Just because I enjoy it doesn’t mean it’s refueling my engines.  As extroverted as I may be, I need down time e.g. time away from people to be ready for the next day or part of a day.  That’s just how I work.

That’s on an hour-by-hour basis.  But there are also rests needed at longer intervals.  Daily I need to take time to spend with God and center myself.   Weekly it’s helpful to get lost in a good movie.  Every few weeks I do need to take a hike and just get away from suburban life for a while.  And every quarter or so my soul is restored by getting out of town.

I am not a spring; I am a spigot.  Meaning, I am not the source of energy but its conduit.  So I have to be careful that I am receiving enough to give.  I need healthy doses of things that feed me.  Specifically, I need things that rejuvenate me.  I need things that inspire me.  I need things that connect me.  On the other hand, I need to limit the things that exhaust me, that take from me, that depress me.  That doesn’t mean eliminating them.  Maybe the way I am there for my family, the way I serve the community, the way I live out my values takes from me and occasionally might even depress me; it’s not always a nice world out there.  But being aware of which of these are giving and which are taking is key to sustaining me.

The four-hour hike that afternoon didn’t restore me for yet another reason.  No activity was going to give me peace and rejuvenate me that day other than sitting down with myself and sorting out, among the worries and hangups gripping my heart, what I needed to accept and what I needed to change.  Sometimes, 20-minutes of soul-searching is worth far more than four hours in the woods.  Sometimes it’s not what’s coming at us but what’s still unresolved within us that is wearing us out!

It may be more blessed to give than to receive but it doesn’t last long unless we do some of the latter!  It’s not selfish to receive as long as we know that what we are receiving is truly life-giving and not life-taking.  The more we receive of the good stuff, the more we can give it away!

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