I’d like to say it was my sister’s fault.

I was using the mixer to help, just a bit, with the homemade truffles she was making, after all. But it wasn’t her idea to make the four batches all at once. I had suggested it. And it wasn’t her idea to keep mixing and mixing. She’s the one that first noticed the smoke smell.

But there I was, attacking a bowl full of cream cheese and melted chocolate and cocoa powder and confectioner’s sugar with the hand mixer I had used and loved for years. The concoction was thick and the mixer was struggling. I knew the work I was asking the mixer to do was more than it could handle. In fact, I had done some of the stirring by hand to try to mitigate the exertion.

In those last few seconds though, when the truffle mixture was just nearly perfect, I knew there was no turning back. “I’m going for it,” I told my sister, as the hand mixer stalled and whined and sputtered on.

Then, the pop, then the sparks flying, then the silence.

I had burned out the mixer.

::

I know a little something about trying to do to many things at once, about pushing beyond limits, about burning out. If my life were an electric hand mixer, I’d be on the fourth or fifth one by now.

It’s kind of like when I made my first batch of strawberry jam: if one batch is good, then two batches would be better, I posited to myself. Except when it comes to making homemade jams and jellies, you can’t double the recipe. Period. It’s apparently an ancient law written by the hand of God into the DNA of creation. It’s a law no one apparently mentioned to me, until too late.

But there’s a similar law written by the hand of God into the DNA of each one of us – we have limits, we are human, we can only handle so much. When we try to double the recipe, when we tell ourselves, “I’m going for it,” even when we know it’s too much, the inevitable happens. We stall, we whine, we sputter on. Then, we burn out.

Five hours in the recliner yesterday, with tears pooling in my eyes as I watched syndicated sitcom after syndicated sitcom, told me that I would need to buy a new mixer soon.

::

In chapter 10 of her book, Not So Fast: Slow Down Solutions for Frenzied Families, Ann Kroeker uses the metaphor of shipping load limits to describe how much activity and commitment our lives can handle.

Every ship has a different capacity for cargo — that is, every ship has limits; therefore, Plimsoll promoted a plan requiring vessels to bear a standardized, permanent mark called a “load line” that would indicate when it was overloaded, Ann writes.

She goes on to say that just like different ships have different load limits, each of us has a capacity unique to us. Maybe my best friend can sit on more committees than me, handle more meetings, maybe my neighbor feels overwhelmed with just full-time work. Whatever the load, each one of us has a limit.

Our load limit may change over time — it has for me. When I was younger, I could handle much more activity, many more nights away from home, then I can now. But as I have matured, I can handle greater depth of responsibility, just not so much activity. Often as our load limits change, however, it takes trial and error to determine what they are.

Ann wrote about this on her blog just this past week.

In the past three weeks, I’ve realized that I’ve taken on too much; I’m operating at maximum capacity—probably a smidgen over capacity. I’m less patient, discerning and attentive. I feel drained. I even missed an appointment on Monday, and though it turned out okay in the end, I spent most of the day scolding myself and feeling like a failure. I knew it was because I had too much going on.

I’m living over capacity and exceeding my limits.

And I can’t continue like that.


::

Overloading ourselves beyond our limits is not just a personal problem, though. It can lead to self righteousness, selfish ambition, even doubt.

According to Dr. Don Carson, research professor of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and president of The Gospel Coalition, “Some doubt is the product of burning the candle at both ends. . . . If you push hard enough, cynicism leads to doubt. But you don’t have the right to go through life cynical, snarky, and rude.”

The most spiritual thing some of us could do, Carson went on to say during the final session of THINK11 at College Park Church, is to go to bed on time. “Not to pray all night” he added, “but to sleep.”

::

Lent starts Wednesday, and as I mentioned earlier, this year, I am giving up the hours of 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. as a Lenten fast. I’m giving up that one last television show, that one last load of laundry, the one more phone call, the couple more emails that keep me going and going instead of resting and sleeping.

If I am going to make it through the wilderness, after all, I am going to need my sleep. (Plus, Dr. Carson said it would be a very spiritual thing to do!)

What about you? Are you on your third, fourth, tenth mixer? Is your vessel riding very low in the water because you’ve taken on more than you can handle? Would the most spiritual thing you could do be to go to bed on time tonight?

How is Jesus speaking to you about these things? How can the wilderness of Lent help you confront, confess, and correct what Jesus is lovingly revealing?

PHOTO CREDIT: By M I X Y used by permission under the Creative Commons License.