We stood in the foyer of our home, saying good bye to some new friends who had stopped by to meet us and hear the story of Sustainable Faith Indy. We’d had one of those serendipitous visits where you feel as though you’ve met some new friends who, in truth, are old friends—kindred spirits. Just before they walked out the door, the husband turned and said to me, “What I’ve been hearing from the Lord these days is, '_______, You’re afraid of empty.’”
Something of his words, that simple statement, felt unusual and personally significant. I’ve continued to ponder them since and brought them into my own time of contemplation and prayer. I’ve wondered if they are words for me. If I’m afraid of empty.
Empty is a negative word. It means to be without. To have nothing. Empty stomachs growl. Empty pockets beg. Empty words are vacuous and insincere. Empty thoughts are meaningless. Yet how might empty be an invitation from God; something that God desires of me; of us? What happens when I’m empty? What happens when I’m not?
When I’m empty of words I listen better. I’m not so eager to say what’s on my mind and short change someone else from being able to share fully and without interruption. When I’m empty of activity, it creates space in my life to listen to God and my own heart. When I slow down and become still, I am far more able to hear his still small voice. When I’m empty of my ego, my false self, the true and real self in me has room to expand and fill with life and love.
Being afraid of empty is to live life re-actively, anxiously avoiding the cessation of motion; avoiding silence, stillness and solitariness. It may explain why our culture is the way it is. Look around and notice how fast we move, how full we fill our lives. Afraid of empty explains why we can’t be in our cars without the radio on; at home without a television or sound system blaring in the background; why we can't be alone with our own thoughts; why we can't be alone, period.
But what are we missing when we jam our minds, hearts and lives with clutter—all out of fear of being empty? I can tell you that I miss the richer, deeper thoughts that come from quiet contemplation. I miss hearing the whispers of the Spirit. I miss noticing the cries of another's soul, expressed ever-so-discreetly and cautiously, testing to see if I’m safe enough, empty enough, to notice. I miss the wonder of life all around me that can only be seen from a snail’s pace.
I miss God filling me. For you see only God can fill an empty vessel. A vessel that’s been cleansed of ego and nonsense. A life that’s being healed of addiction to noise and stuff, where space has been freed. A body and being that has been offered to God in openness, stillness, silence and aloneness.
A prayer has been circling within me over the last several weeks; a prayer of emptying. It has formed quite naturally and repeats itself again and again when my heart and mind pause and drift toward prayer.
Cleanse me of all that clutters my life.
Forgive me of sin that stains my life and steals from you.
Heal me of my compulsions to fill the emptiness with empty things.
Free space in me for you and for your good work.
Fill me with your Spirit, with your love.