December 4, 2017

Thoughts on a Tanker Refueling

Why caretakers have to take care of themselves.

Patrice Williams-Gordon

In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma a lone gas tanker being refueled caught my attention.

Star Status

Just a few days before, gas tankers had been the center of attention. In the disruptions that follow hurricanes, everyone was seeking to fill up gas tanks and store reserve supplies of gasoline. Lines of people at gas stations snaked away around corners. And with gas stations running out of the precious fuel, the sight of any loaded tanker inspired pandemonium, as panic-stricken motorists stormed the vehicle, necessitating police escort services for the tanker. But now, with life returning to normal, my gas tanker has lost its celebrity status: now it’s just another truck being quietly refueled. Thoughts on its renewed commonplaceness now hold me captive.

During and After the Storm

Disturbances in our personal lives often mirror nature’s storms. Nature’s tantrums generate chaos and great need, such as for gas tankers. But then the calm returns, demand wanes, and tankers lose their elevated status. How similar with our own social world. In times of crisis, caregivers are in high demand. The rush may become so intense that it threatens their very stability. Demand for their attention and possible intervention may lead them to feel both exhausted and indispensable. Then circumstances improve and the crisis abates, diminishing demand for their caring service. Their value seems to evaporate, leaving them either invisible in the shadows or conspicuously redundant. As liberating as it may seem to have no new burden, this change in pace can sometimes be disconcerting and even depressing for the caregiver as they reevaluate their worth.

Three Lessons for Caregivers

Caregivers may learn valuable post-storm lessons from my lone gas tanker.

1Embrace “alone” times. Don’t be discouraged by slow times. Your service comes in seasons. During those times when life seems to forget you, when demand for your assets is low and introspection yields little to celebrate, use the freedom for self-refueling. Check your gauge and service your being all you can, because calm times don’t last forever. Wise man Solomon says, “There’s an opportune time to do things, a right time for everything on the earth: . . . a right time to embrace and another to part, a right time to search and another to count your losses, a right time to hold on and another to let go, a right time to rip out and another to mend” (Eccl. 3:1-7).1 “Alone” times are the right time to mend.

2See service as your calling. Though it may seem selfish, it’s worth being aware that others often care much more about what you have to offer than what you need to survive. Your provisions and services on their behalf bring them to you and keep them in your company. Discovering or experiencing this may awaken feelings of resentment. But this truth is only one more of life’s less-flattering realities.

Service is why we are and how life is.

Yet all of us are created to service and sustain the life of others by means of the unique gifts and talents that we each process. It’s why we’re expected—in fact, instructed—to bear each other’s burdens “and so complete Christ’s law” (Gal. 6:2). The weight on that lone tanker’s back is not for self-enhancement; it is, in time of peace or war, for the sake of serving many. We too must ever be ready, whatever life’s changing circumstances may demand, to empty ourselves for others, to serve the rest to the last drop of fuel in our tank.

It won’t always be smooth, comfortable, or even acknowledged and thanked, but service is why we are and how life is. Service is how we express and participate in “the great principle which is the law of life for the universe.”2 Consider this detailed and in-depth description: “All things Christ received from God, but He took to give. . . . Through the beloved Son, the Father’s life flows out to all; through the Son it returns, in praise and joyous service. . . . And thus through Christ the circuit of beneficence is complete, representing the character of the great Giver, the law of life.”3

None of us needs, even for one moment, to worry about service for God going to waste: “God doesn’t miss anything. He knows perfectly well all the love you’ve shown him by helping . . . , and that you keep at it” (Heb. 6:10).

3Keep fueled up. It had never crossed my mind before that tankers themselves need to be fueled. It doesn’t matter how much gas is laden on their back to transport—they are stumped, useless, without their own personal supply to get the job done.

We must ever be ready, whatever life’s changing circumstances may demand, to empty ourselves for others.

In the same way, we cannot aptly serve others if we ignore the administration to ourselves of what we seek to give away: however rarely acknowledged, doctors do need medical checkups; teachers still need to be taught; pastors need to be ministered to; and parents often need a shoulder to cry on. Caregivers, depended on to supply care, need care themselves. That is what “alone” times are for, whether physically, emotionally, or spiritually. The apostle Paul warns: “I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. No sloppy living for me! I’m staying alert and in top condition. I’m not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself” (1 Cor. 9:27).

Paul’s words apply to all who find themselves called to care for others. “Staying alert and in top condition”—physically, emotionally, spiritually—is not just good stewardship: it is crucial to one’s continued ability to serve. So be a good steward to yourself. The chances of being run over, overturned, or otherwise damaged by those they seek to help is a risk care providers constantly face.

Run over, overturned, damaged, wiped out: it’s what happened to Jesus; it’s what His care for us got Him. Sometimes the Father sent Him support (Luke 22:43). Good stewardship of the self includes knowing when to call in the cops; when you need backup support or reinforcement to your boundaries. Being exhausted likely diminishes the care you may be able to give to those in need.

The Dalai Lama states it this way: “In dealing with those who are undergoing great suffering, if you feel ‘burnout’ setting in, if you feel demoralized and exhausted, it is best, for the sake of everyone, to withdraw and restore yourself. The point is to have a long-term perspective.”4

No wonder Jesus found it necessary to call His servant–trainees away from the field of action: bubbling over with excitement over all the work they had just done, the thrill of it threatened their continued stability in service. There was so much noble work to do, and such a sense of accomplishment in doing it, that even meals took a back burner. So Jesus invited, “Come off by yourselves; let’s take a break and get a little rest” (Mark 6:31).

Closing Counsel

Precisely because of your commitment to good stewardship, include yourself in taking care of yourself. Down times, “alone” times, are a necessary privilege, not moments for moping at being ignored. They are your times of recuperation. Embrace all the seasons along the path of service to which you feel called, and remember, too, the refueling seasons. It’s what you need in order to be able to steadily “work hard and cheerfully at all you do, just as though you were working for the Lord and not merely for your masters, remembering that it is the Lord Christ who is going to pay you, giving you your full portion of all He owns. He is the one you are really working for” (Col. 3:23, 24, TLB).5

  1. Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
  2. Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898), p. 21.
  3. Ibid.
  5. Verses marked TLB are taken from The Living Bible, copyright © 1971 by Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton, Ill. Used by permission.

Patrice Williams-Gordon is special events coordinator for the South Bahamas Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Nassau, Bahamas.