Don’t Burn the Candle at Both Ends

When you hear the phrase “burning the candle at both ends” what comes to mind? Maybe you think of someone working late, waking early, and over-exerting themselves. I know I did.


But then I got to thinking, when was the last time I actually saw someone burning a candle at both ends? Even here in Amish country, this has yet to happen. Which led me to wonder, “Where does this phrase come from and what does it actually mean?”


Google to the rescue. According to…


“The ‘both ends’ weren’t the ends of the day but were a literal reference to the two ends of a candle. Candles were useful and valuable and the notion of waste suggested by lighting both ends at once implied reckless waste. This thought may well have been accentuated by the fact that candles may only be lit at both ends when held horizontally, which would cause them to drip and burn out quickly.”

Fascinating. Burning the candle at both ends is actually a reference to poor stewardship. When you overdo any aspect of your life, you are mismanaging it. You might burn brighter for awhile, but then you’ll quickly burn out.


Surely you’ve known people like this. Perhaps you are someone like this. I myself am a recovering both-ends burner.


The Bible points us to a better way. As seen in its opening chapters, we are created to work, but also to rest. We need healthy rhythms of surging and retreating to do either well. Overworking dehumanizes us and limits our God-given potential. Instead of bringing our best, we bring our leftovers. The more we overwork, the less we have to bring to work.


In our cult-of-busyness culture, burning the candle at both ends can be seen as a necessary evil or a even badge of honor. But when we pause to think about it, we know it’s unsustainable and that there’s more to life than getting things done.


You are the light of the world. Don’t hide your candle, but don’t burn it at both ends either.

Dave Mierau (Meer-oh)

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