One of the most unsettling feelings is driving on an empty gas tank.

We see that needle hit the ‘E’ – sometimes even go below it – and we get to praying and hoping that our car doesn’t sputter and die before we get to wherever we’re going. And if you’re like me and accustomed to being on a tight budget, you know exactly how much further you can go when that gas light comes on (50 miles city, 75 miles highway!) and will ride those gas fumes to the very end. Talk about leaning on faith!

An empty gas tank is unsettling, but finally filling that sucker up is just the opposite – it provides a sense of security, accomplishment, and, strangely enough, joy. Even when gas prices hit their peak and we’re shelling out mad money for every gallon, we still feel an underlying buzz of euphoria. Because now Ole Betsy is good to go, and no matter what other vehicular problems we may have, running out of fuel is no longer one of them.

We’ve taken this habit of riding on ‘E’ from our cars and, unfortunately, have applied it to our lives. When we get low on ourselves – feeling unloved, unworthy, depressed, stressed – we don’t stop and give ourselves proper care and maintenance. Instead we look at the gauge and say, “I’m fine, I can keep going,” all the while ignoring the signs that indicate it’s time to pull in to the station and refuel. We don’t acknowledge our emotional and mental needs, and push ourselves to the brink of total breakdown. And once that happens, it’ll take more than a call to AAA or roadside assistance to get us up and running again.

While an empty gas tank is unnerving, an empty emotional tank is soul-threatening. Just as our own bodies require fuel in the form of food, water, and air to work, our Spirits require fuel in the form of love, support, and relationship. While each person’s emotional tank varies – some need less while others need more – the truth remains that none of us can run very long on ‘E’. We have convinced ourselves that we are completely self-sufficient and bypass station after station, refusing to stop and give ourselves the fuel we so desperately need. Is it any wonder that we find ourselves running ragged so often?

Car maintenance pros will tell you that it’s not good to ride your car on empty; you’re not even supposed to let it get past half a tank. When it comes to our Spirits, the second we sense we’re no longer full should be the moment we stop to fill up. There is fuel all around us: we have caring friends, loving families, and spiritual support centers; we can fill up by doing our hobbies and expressing our talents; even striking up a friendly conversation with a stranger in the store can provide a quick pick-up. Whatever form of fuel we need, the point is not to neglect ourselves and try to go without it. Because just like a car, once the tank is completely empty, we’ll find ourselves completely shut down.

Now is the time to stop treating our cars better than we treat our hearts. If a mere gas tank going from empty to full can give us a better sense of security, then an emotional tank that stays on ‘F’ rather than ‘E’ will give us a better sense of being. For a full emotional tank is more than protection from a break-down; it results in a life that is better lived. So the next time you feel your needle slipping, stop at the station. Because it’s time to stop riding on ‘E’.