When I was a bright-eyed, naive, somewhat spoiled seventeen-year-old, my generous parents bought me a car. My only instructions from my dad were to take care of the car because it was the only one he was ever going to buy me. And I have. Minus a few scrapes and bumps, the oil changes have been mostly routine, and the maintenance has been maintained. More than anything else, though, I have been obsessive with not running out of gas.
I think the preoccupation came from the fact that, especially as a kid, I was a little scatter-brained. One time, I put my dirty socks in the refrigerator and came dangerously close to dumping the pitcher of orange juice in the dirty hamper. Don’t ask why I was carrying those two things to begin with, but I saw what was in my hand at the last second and saved myself (and, let’s be honest, my mom) a huge mess. So, knowing I very likely could forget to put gas in my car, when I started driving, I obsessively checked my fuel levels. For years, I didn’t let my tank get below 1/4 full. I was twenty-three the first time my low fuel light came on. And I freaked.
The approximately five miles it took me to get to the only gas station I could remember in my panic were spent frantically praying and bargaining with God. “Please, please, please, please don’t let me run out of gas. Please let me make it to the gas station. Please.” I turned my A/C off, because my friend told me that saved gas, once, and I coasted as much as I could, not pulling any sudden pedal pushes. I made it safely, of course, and my fuel-level monitoring did not wane.
In the year and some change since that first fateful day, I have seen my fuel light three more times. The second time, it came on just as I pulled into the garage at work. I prayed and bargained, and took the first space I could find, praying I could make it to a gas station after work. I did. All was fine.
The third time was a bit more dramatic. It was only a couple of months ago, and it was a Monday morning. I was probably running late to work, but I remember looking down, seeing I was low on gas, and then hitting traffic. My fuel light switched on, and I was stuck on the toll road, in Houston traffic, with no exit and no convenient gas station. I called my husband. “How many miles can I go when my fuel light comes on?” He calmed me down, momentarily, before I remembered that HE had driven my car all weekend. HE was the one that didn’t monitor the fuel gauge, and if my car died and I got rear-ended, it would be HIS fault. I made it the few miles to work just fine.
The last time was this past Friday. I wasn’t quite as nervous, knowing I had always made it okay, but I was still obsessively watching that little orange needle. I had meant to get gas that morning, but, of course, I was running on-time for work, so stopping would’ve made me late. So I chanced it. Sure, I monitored it the whole time, but guess what? I made it. My fuel light switched on right when I pulled into the parking garage. I knew I could make it, so I stopped worrying.
After work, I filled up and drove home in my happily full car. I began to wonder about the concept of low fuel. Why am I so obsessive about my car having gas? I let cosmetic dings and oil changes slip by my radar, but I worry and stress about fuel for my car. I think it’s partially combating against my nature, as I mentioned. But I also think it has to do with not wanting to find myself stranded and helpless.
So then, why don’t I monitor my own fuel supply? Why do I push until I’m empty? I feel that in our culture today, we are expected to run ourselves into the ground. I do not care for myself the way I should. Hence one of my new year’s resolutions to RELAX once a week. Just once. Really relax. It’s a slow process– I always have dozens of things running through my brain. I am trying, though. And I think I should live a little more consciously and cautiously of my own fuel gauge. You cannot be the best You when you’re on empty. It’s impossible. And don’t do what I did to my husband. If you grant someone permission to use some of your fuel, whether in a time commitment, or a shoulder to cry on, don’t blame them when you don’t stop to refuel. Monitor yourself and stop blaming your job, your husband, your WoW addiction for your low levels.
SO! I challenge all of us, myself included, to remember to refuel. Don’t let your warning light flare up. Don’t let yourself get so dreadfully close to empty. Don’t live in the fear, in the knowledge, that your burn out is just one day, one phone call, one bill away. Live in the reality that we can fill ourselves up, however you believe you can do that. Prayer, reading the bible, writing, spin class. Whatever your fuel is, harvest it, use it, keep it well-stocked. And DON’T feel guilty when you choose refueling over something else. Don’t let the questions of “You’re still not unpacked YET?” or “When are you going to finish your book?” get you down. Don’t feel like you have to pour yourself into what other people are judgmentally telling you you should. Live with the goal in mind of sustaining yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually, and pay attention to your low fuel light. Then, let’s celebrate what we have become, and how far we were able to go. I think it will be a beautiful journey.