How do you keep from burning out? When it feels like everyone around you is demanding something from you – your time, your energy, your money, your attention, your touch, your advice – how can you keep on going?
If you don’t have healthy boundaries, you won’t. You’ll use it all up on the people who are violating your space and asking for your stuff and making their problems into your problems, and you will burn down, if not lose your fire altogether. But how do you balance that with the Scriptures’ message of love and generosity, the oft-preached ‘sacrificial giving’, the example of Christ pouring it all out? How do you balance that with your own heart to help and give and support and build up others, your need to take care of your children or succeed in your workplace or make a difference in the world?
I kept thinking about this yesterday, after a coffee chat with my girlfriends, and the image of our last barbeque came to mind. What do barbeques have to do with boundaries?
Well, my husband is good at grilling. He can turn out a mean steak and great burgers. But he’s not so great at getting the fire started, or laying down a healthy coalbed. He turns that task over to me – I grew up in the northwoods and can get a fire going with one match if I have to.
There are some tricks to it, of course. You’ve got to have a clean grill pit, not one smothered in old ashes and half-burnt briquettes. Put your starter in the centre. Use kindling – fuel that will catch easily – like dry bark, pine needles, and the like if you’re out in the bush, or torn cardboard and crumpled paper if you’re in your own backyard. Build up with thinner sticks of charcoal or smaller coals before you stack the bigger logs and briquettes. Be gentle with that first little flame and don’t dump everything on top of it at once.
And tend your fire. It needs fuel, and it needs oxygen, to burn properly. Make sure the vents of the barbeque are open, or slant rocks and larger logs to direct a breeze to the base of the flame. Keep an eye on it and don’t let it burn out.
Once your fire is burning well, you can start cooking. Your friends can stand around and grab the hamburgers straight from the grill just as they like them, warm their hands, toast their marshmallows. Everybody enjoys the light, the heat, the food. Time to party, and you’re the beloved host!
But what you don’t do is break up the fire and start handing out individual coals for guests to try to cook their own scraps of meat over. You don’t scatter the burning logs around to try to benefit as many people as possible. Do you see what I’m saying?
Start with a clean fire pit. Get your heart right – free of old bitter ashes, burnt-out desires, resentments, soggy love letters, and the like. Make sure you have a starter and some kindling; choose small tasks that you can accomplish, goals where you set yourself up for success, break up big and formidable logs and obstacles into thinner pieces.
Be gentle with that first little flame. As you nurse your weary body/mind/heart back into burning again, you don’t want to douse it by putting too much on the pile at once.
You need a place to contain the heat and keep the flames safe – that’s what boundaries are made for. But you’ll still need oxygen. Let the Spirit in to blow fresh air through. Spend time with God; if you close off those vents or clamp the lid on, your wood will only smolder sullenly and wearily.
Keep the fire tended, pushed together, so that your individual coals or logs can heat each other and burn fully and completely. New fuel will catch faster. The fire will warm more deeply. And everyone around the firepit will benefit more from that rich single source of fire than from a rapidly cooling fragment of yourself!
Bard Judith, May 30, 2013