I debated whether to use the words “flame out” or “burn out” in the title of this post. I went with flame out after looking up the definition:
Flame-Out: “A complete and conspicuous failure.”
That eloquently describes me as a Christian parent one day recently. Burn out implies a slow fizzle. I didn’t slowly fizzle into bad parent mode. I was a “complete and conspicuous failure.”
Maybe it was the thousandth morning I cleaned up a poopy bathroom mess. Perhaps it was finding my 2-year-old playing in the bathtub fully clothed, covered in soap (again). It could have been my other daughter’s incessant use of the word “no” lately. Or maybe it was my son’s interest in scaring his little sister the second mommy isn’t around.
It was probably all of those things and much more. But that day started with a loss of my temper, continued with a chain of less-than-ideal reactions to my kids’ (even tiny) failures, and ended with my face buried in my hands with regret.
My regret was one part guilt and one part frustration that I work so hard to raise my kids in a Christ-centered way, only to feel I ruined it all with one horrible day. It was like a big black mark on my Christian parenting report card: I despised it but couldn’t erase it. All I could do was analyze it.
My conclusion: I had gotten to a point where I had nothing positive left to give my kids, so I gave them the worst of me. I ran out of everything.
I ran out of desire.
Desire is the fuel that keeps the lamp of Godly parenting burning bright. When things get so hard that you subconsciously give up even caring that you’re parenting right, you’ve run out of desire. You favor the gratification of your own outbursts more than the joy of creating disciples.
I ran out of solutions.
Solutions give you the options for how to best shine the light for your kids. When you have possible solutions for parenting problems, you have hope and motivation; when you feel you’ve exhausted your options, you have frustration and anger.
I ran out of perspective.
Perspective is the view of the lamp that allows you to appreciate its beauty, even when it’s sometimes too hot, sometimes too bright, sometimes too small, or otherwise not quite what you hoped for. When you lose perspective, you see disappointment instead of beauty.
I ran out of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is the guide that directs the lamp’s light. When you become so self-reliant that you no longer turn to the Spirit for guidance, you place yourself on an island of exhaustible human wisdom. Desire, solutions and perspective are of limited impact without the power of the Spirit lighting the way.
So what can you do when you flame out like I did? Refill the empty.
Refill yourself with desire.
Shame can ironically crush desire. We have a natural defense mechanism that says, “I messed up, and it’s all just too hard, so I’m just giving up trying to do better. I just can’t do this.” That’s really just fear talking. We don’t want to risk failing again. To refill yourself with desire, you must be ready to accept that you will fail again, but that the bigger failure is in giving up.
Refill yourself with solutions.
Believe me, I know what it’s like to think you’ve tried “everything” and there is just “nothing” left to try. But there are always more solutions to be found from books, friends, articles, and most importantly, prayer. Just because you’ve reached the bottom of your solution barrel doesn’t mean effective solutions don’t exist.
Refill yourself with perspective.
I find that looking at family pictures is a great way to restore my view to the bigger picture. There is no whining, arguing, or yelling when you see (beautifully silent) snapshots of your children; only the beauty of that single moment in time. Determine where beauty lies for you and go to that place.
Refill yourself with the Holy Spirit.
All Christians receive the Holy Spirit when they become believers (Romans 8:9), but we are NOT filled with the Spirit at all times (Ephesians 5:18 is one of several passages indicating we need to continue being filled). In other words, the Holy Spirit is always in us, but if we choose to push Him to the side in favor of our own nature, we will be filled with our sin and not with the Spirit. Thus, we will only reap the fruits of the Spirit when we pray for the Spirit to be in control of us.
Next time you’re on the verge of flaming out, consider where you’re running on empty and refill before you hit the bottom!
Have you experienced this feeling of “flaming out” as a parent? What here do you most need to refill yourself with right now?