Why do nurses, pastors, and empathy workers unknowingly neglect their own families?

There once was a young man who bought a heavy steel canister full of helium gas. It was his daughter’s birthday, and he wanted to surprise his little girl by filling her room up with balloons. It was his joy to see and make her smile.

As this young man wheeled his heavy helium canister home, children from all over the neighborhood popped up and cheerfully asked if he would give them a balloon. And he would always kindly say “yes”. His response and his gift were always met with big toothy grins and excited giggles. Each child thanked him for his generosity and then happily skipped away.

At every corner he turned, more children appeared and asked for balloons. And so he kept inflating more and giving them away. And his heart was filled with joy as all the neighborhood was flooded with happy children and balloons. However, he never worried about running out of helium. For his steel canister continued to feel extremely heavy as he continued to pull it along.

Finally, this young man arrived home. And as soon as he opened the front door, his little daughter came bolting towards him with great joy and excitement! She couldn’t wait to receive her birthday gift!

But when he pulled out a fresh balloon and placed it over the nozzle of the Helium canister… nothing happened. The pink balloon continued to dangle lifelessly before his daughter’s eyes. There was no more helium left. And the rest of the evening was only filled with tears.

Many of us are like this young man. But instead of having a full canister of helium, we are given a full supply of empathy instead. As we encounter people in our workplaces and in our lives, we generously cheer them up by offering them a couple ounces of empathy. However, just like helium, we can’t see or quantify how much empathy we have left in our tank. And the danger of sharing it so casually with others is that we often unknowingly empty our entire supply before we arrive home. For it is hard to keep track of a finite resource that is invisible in nature. Even though everyone around us is filled with joy, our very own families are the ones who still remain empty and sad.

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