Embracing Emptiness

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We live in a world that talks endlessly about accomplishment and fulfillment. As a result, we strive endlessly for security and protection of that which we believe will give us accomplishments and fulfillment. However, what if we have it all wrong? What if life is really all about embracing emptiness? What if, instead of getting filled, it’s about becoming empty?

In the world of the church, we often substitute the idea of being filled with “worldly” things with being filled with God and accomplishing things for the kingdom instead of our own selfish pursuits. However, perhaps we’re making the mistake of taking a way of thinking (accomplishment and fulfillment) and filling it with new things when the Biblical text seems to be replete with challenges to empty ourselves and die to ourselves. (e.g., Philippians 2; Luke 9)

It might seem like we’re mincing words at this point but the distinction is critical. If our mindset is to fill and accomplish, then the onus or effort is on us. If the focus is on emptying ourselves, the onus is on God to fill and work through us for His purposes. The sheer joy of this approach is that all the pressure is off (even though we’ve become addicted to pressure and activity in Western culture) and we can simply be. The sheer challenge is that we are asked to release control and to wait.

The early 20th century writer and activist Simone Weil commented: “Grace fills empty spaces, but it can only enter where there is a void to receive it, and it is grace itself which makes this void.” God will graciously create space in our lives through suffering. Again, maybe, just maybe, this is why the Bible talks so much about suffering.

The ancient mystic Johannes Tauler writes: “Often when He comes, He finds the soul occupied … and He cannot gain entry, for we love & desire other things.” How often in our attempts to “live for God” are we really just asking God to bless or care for our agendas and purposes (i.e., the things we love other than God)?

Embracing emptiness means that we begin to feel and experience the inherent emptiness of this present life (cf., Ecclesiastes). So much of the activity of the modern world is designed to distract us from this reality or numb ourselves to it altogether. Only when we begin to embrace emptiness is there space for the transforming union of relationship with the God who lives in Trinity. The wise sage Henri Nouwen counsels: “Be patient. When you feel lonely, stay with your loneliness. Avoid the temptation to let your fearful self run off. Let it teach you its wisdom; let it tell you that you can live instead of just surviving. Gradually you will become one, and you will find that Jesus is living in your heart and offering you all you need.”

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~ by Ted Wueste on April 25, 2012.

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