A Motto for the Tired and Worn

I had an email conversation the other day that made me want to drop everything and take a sympathy nap. Every sentence oozed discouragement as my formerly energetic friend described how tired she is, how she has to drag herself through each day, how void she is of enthusiasm and vision.


Her words shot me back several years to a season when I felt much like she is feeling now. I didn’t have near the full plate that my friend carries, but as I’ve shared here and here, I know very well what it’s like to trudge around all day in a state of perpetual overwhelmedness.

I’m not talking about being a bit too busy or somewhat over-committed. No, this has to do with the kind of mind-numbing fatigue that stems from circumstantial, hormonal, relational or physical factors that often are beyond our control.

As I read my friend’s email, I thought of the little phrase that guided how I used my time and energy during my own tired years:

“Only do what only I can do.”

Contrary to what I may think, I am not indispensable. And during seasons of acute exhaustion or stress, if there are others who can do work that I’m struggling to do, I need to step aside and let them.

Here’s a case in point. I used to work in the children’s ministry at my church, teaching a class of fifth and sixth graders once a month. There were some great kids in this class, including my own daughter, but because of my depleted state, I often found my patience wearing thin and my irritability level rising as I tried to get them to focus.

When I actually began to dread going to church on those Sundays when I had to teach, I started to wonder if it might be time for a change. The turning point came when I realized that I would not want someone with my attitude teaching my own daughters, so maybe it was time to move on to something else.

The children’s pastor graciously let me off the hook, and I relinquished my teacher title knowing that there were other people who could oversee the class, probably much better than I could. My little motto gave me the freedom to let go and find ways to serve that better matched my gifts and personality.

That wasn’t the only thing I dropped or said “no” to during those years. I turned down leadership opportunities. I didn’t sign up to be a room parent at my daughters’ school (though I did make treats for class parties). I didn’t volunteer for much of anything, really.

I felt selfish and guilty at times. I wondered if people were disappointed in me, and maybe they were. But during this exhausted season of my life, when my neck tightened easily and I sometimes found it hard to breathe, I had to put my own oxygen mask on first before I could help anyone else.

So I only did what only I could do.

For me, this mostly included taking care of my home and family. Beyond my normal household duties, I focused on what I thought was important, even if it tuckered me out. For example, when Lilly was in fourth and fifth grade, she wanted me to come for lunch at her school once a week. The cafeteria was noisy and the kids were rambunctious—not the best environment for an overwhelmed mom—but I went because I sensed she needed me.

I’m not suggesting that weary people should never participate in activities or ministries that take them out of their so-called “comfort zones” or don’t seem to fit their obvious skill sets. Sometimes when the call for “all hands on deck” goes out, it is our moral or spiritual obligation to answer it, no matter how fatigued we are.

Also, the practice of only doing what only you can do isn’t necessarily a permanent decision-making strategy. You might be worn out now, but you probably won’t be worn out forever. Seasons change, energy levels go back up, enthusiasm returns. It might require medical intervention from time to time, but it does happen.

For awhile, I had so much margin in my life there was hardly room for anything else. But as I started to feel more like my normal self, I began adding things back in—but only very strategically.

Today, I volunteer at the elementary school—helping kids with writing, but still not planning parties. I now have lunch with younger daughter Molly every week—because she’ll be in middle school next year and I won’t be able to then. I help organize special events for the women’s ministry at church—because not everyone enjoys this sort of work but I thoroughly enjoy it.

I do other things, too, but I haven’t forgotten what those tired days were like. Which is why I shared my experiences with my friend, along with these final thoughts that I hope might encourage others who are slogging through their own weary seasons.

I’m sorry you are in this tough place of never-ending butt-dragging, my friend. I know words from me won’t change much, but I do understand, and I would hug you if I could. You are making a difference, even if you see no tangible proof right now. So hang in there. It won’t always be like this.

And if it gets worse before it gets better, as it sometimes does, take a tip from your white-space loving friend and only do what only you can do.

It’s hard to let go, but it’s worth it.

Lois Flowers

P.S. Linking up this week with Suzie Eller at #LiveFreeThursday.

22 Responses to A Motto for the Tired and Worn

  1. Cindy Krall says:

    I LOVED this! This is exactly the mantra I used when I had to make some hard choices regarding the balancing act between work and family. My kids are much older now (high school and college) and yet I’m amazed how applicable the phrase remains! It’s easy to get caught up in the many needs our world faces and then get S-T-R-E-T-C-H-E-D beyond what is best for anyone! So glad to “meet” you! (Your #livefree neighbor!)

    • Lois Flowers says:

      And I’m glad to meet YOU, Cindy. I’m glad to know someone else has found this mantra helpful too! By the way, I love the name of your blog and hope to browse around there soon. Ironically, I’ve always been a do-ahead woman myself, but now find myself in a spot where I’m having to wait until almost the last minute to do something (in one area of my life, at least). It’s quite a change and a challenge! Have a blessed Easter!

  2. Lois, these are words of freedom, and I need to heed them. Thanks for your wise words: “Only do what only I can do.” That narrows things down considerably, doesn’t it!

  3. Amanda Jones says:

    I LOVE your motto. I can relate to your story. Even now, I am having to make tough choices because I need that oxygen mask securely fastened. Thank you for this word today, I think I will write out your motto and use it to remember…

  4. I’ve been in this season of burnout myself. For the last couple of years. I’ve wanted to do it all, and then I crashed and burned. Saying no can lead to so much freedom, and I’ve learned it allows others to do what God has called them to do as well.

  5. Devi says:

    I needed this, Lois, thank you. It’s great advice for anyone in the middle of a transition. I feel like there is so much to be done all the time, but the truth is my kids and hubby just need my time and love right now..

  6. Rachel Masters says:

    Proverbs 25:11 ” A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.” AND Proverbs 27:9 “Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of a friend springs from their heartfelt advice.” Lois, I hope you know how much I appreciate you. The picture (and the post, of course) all made me smile big this morning. Thank you…. And may God keep on blessing you as you counsel many through your blogs.

    • Lois Flowers says:

      Oh, Rachel … what would I do without you? 🙂 Your friendship and encouragement are two of God’s most precious gifts to me! And you want to know Randy’s official proclamation about the photo? “Best blog post picture ever in the history of mankind.” (Not bad coming from someone who claims he doesn’t like dogs.) Hugs to you and yours!

  7. Linda Stoll says:

    Good Morning, Lois … I love the grace you’ve given to yourself along the way. I’ve found that the older I get, the easier it is to say ‘no, thanks,’ to do far less people-pleasing, to embrace whatever calling has been giving for that season.

    It’s a peaceful place that births effective ministry …

    Meanwhile, I love that photo. Those were the days …


    • Lois Flowers says:

      I think you’re right, Linda. Not doing much for so long helped me see what I’m really passionate about, so now it’s a lot easier to choose the right things to say “yes” to without feeling bad about saying “no” to others. (OK, that was a mouthful!) And the photo … it makes me laugh every time I look at it! 🙂 Blessings, friend.

  8. Bethany says:

    I’m saving this one. Wow. Thanks for the raw honesty Lois and the wonderful motto. I know there are days when I’ve needed it -but it comes with those feelings of guilt and shame and feeling like you aren’t measuring up. Your phrase makes the quiet point that we are only created for and asked to do so much by the Lord -so it’s alright. : ) Thank you for this! Glad your friend has you for encouragement!

    • Lois Flowers says:

      Bethany, I know those feelings too. But maybe we can take a cue from the friend I wrote about, who used to stand up on a chair our college dorm room and lecture ME about getting rid of false guilt! You’re right … we can only do so much, and God is gracious when that “so much” isn’t very much at all! Blessings to you today!

  9. Karen Otero says:

    Love this! Seems to be a theme God is trying to make me aware of .

  10. Kristine says:

    Lois, you always know how to speak directly to my heart! I am trying to implement this wise advice, but sometimes I let that people-pleasing person back in control. Just this week I had an occasion where I said an important ‘no’ to something, just to feel guilty all day afterwards. I’m learning to let go of those feelings and be confident in my Best Yes. Happy to be your neighbor at Purposeful Faith:)

    • Lois Flowers says:

      Oh, Kristine, you are too kind! I’m glad you had the courage to say that important “no” … here’s trusting that future “no’s” will come easier as you see benefits of this one. 🙂

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