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June 17, 2020

The other day someone asked me if I was burning both ends of the candle. I thought about it and then I pondered where that phrase came from. To burn the candle at both ends is an expression that implies that an individual is attempting to live at a pace that places a great deal of strain on his or her physical and emotional resources. The fear associated with this type of activity has to do with the fact that burning the candle at both ends implies that the individual is rapidly using up those resources without taking the time to replenish them. As a result, there is some concern that this type of activity will eventually result in collapse and possibly permanent damage from which the individual will never fully recover.
This particular English saying is often traced back to the early years of the 18th century and had to do with waste. Choosing to burn the candle at both ends as a means of generating more light right now would in fact produce a short-term effect that many would find desirable. At the same time, this choice to burn both ends of the candle simultaneously would also mean the candle was consumed faster, ultimately leaving the user in darkness. Typically, choosing to burn the candle at both ends was considered a wasteful and short-lived effort that ultimately left an individual with no way to enjoy light once the sun had set at the end of the day.
“I heard a pastor once ask his congregation if their lives were more like rivers or more like swamps. He explained that rivers, on the one hand, are places teeming with life within and around them. These rivers, the pastor went on to say, flow steadily between the riverbanks and remain steady to temper thirst, assist with cleanliness, help with travel, and offer food or even recreation. The river is there, consistently faithful with its calling. Swamps, on the other hand, are messy. Rather the remaining within banks, they spread out over everything, making the land difficult to farm and nearly uninhabitable.
The pastor was making a point about being disciplined with our time and resources. Rather than doing too much and being spread-out too thin (over everything like a swamp), we should remain disciplined and within healthy borders like a river. There is so much wisdom in this. Many of us, especially those who wish to help others and bring about positive change in our world, often have a hard time saying no. Sometimes we realize that we are spread too thin. Sometimes we can actually sustain this thinly spread pace of life without seeing too many setbacks. Yet, what we miss is that we are only giving each commitment just a portion of the best we can offer. As present as we may attempt to be in the moment, we simply cannot dedicate the time and attention the commitment demands or truly deserves. Thus, we end up not giving our purest water but a muddied and at times swamped version of ourselves.
That is not to say that rivers only serve one purpose. They offer drinking water, travel, fun, energy, and more. But they know their limits. They know if they break out beyond their banks, they can become floods and become destructive to everything and everyone around them.
But what to do if we find ourselves – our lives – being lived in a swamp. The first thing to do is understand where we are. Swamps, by definition, are wetlands that have shallow waters in spaces called low-lying depressions. These depressions are spaces that have physically sunken below the surrounding areas. Being overly stretched and swamped can often lead to a burnout-induced depression that pulls us below those who surround us. This shallowness only allows for a certain type of life to exist within rather that the full potential of vibrancy that a life in and by the river can bring. Once we realize where we are living – that is, a swamp – we can begin the process of reclaiming and transitioning the land. Unhealthy wetlands can be reclaimed, experts say, by draining the excess water. This is hard to do as we often feel like we will go thirsty without the extracurricular excesses in our lives, but if we learn to say no, to rebuild boundaries, to move to the side of the river rather than the middle of the swamp, we can begin to live healthier, clearer lives.” (Charles Lattimore Howard, Pond River Ocean Rain: Find Peace in the Storms of Life)
Our lives get so busy that sometimes we do not know if we are coming or going. A friend and I were having a conversation one time about how hectic our lives were and we thought about checking ourselves into the hospital just to get some rest. Now when we see each other or talk we ask each other if we had checked into a hospital lately 😊! It is a reminder to slow down. One thought I have pondered on during this pandemic is maybe we can learn to slow down. We do not have to live fast paced lives. It is not good for us or those around us nor for us. Yes, I need to listen to my own thoughts and words. We need to slow down and replenish, reenergize! But are we being replenished by swamp water or the Living Water? God bless and God’s got this!

About Rev. Bud Budzinski

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