God delights in filling things that are empty. Empty earths, empty wombs, empty oil jars, empty wineskins, empty hearts–especially, specially, empty hearts.
My friend Sharon likes to get me thinking about the many ways in which I am empty, and the many ways in which I can invite God to fill me up. I am an opportunity for God to show His stuff. But only if I can make myself empty, and ask Him in.
For a long time I have avoided emptiness. Being empty feels lonely sometimes, and that can hurt. Much better to fill it all up, at any cost, and not be lonely. But when I fill it up with my own things, there’s not enough room left for God’s things. So when He comes to me with something to give me I either say “Whoa, sorry God, no room left in here,” or I cram it in–and then start leaking because I’ve stretched myself too thin.
It’s taken lots of time and lots of pain to realize that my life is much more full, when it’s empty.
God is often found in paradoxes, yes?
I love the story of the little boy with his loaves and fishes. Can you indulge me a retelling of it? Jesus was preaching and healing and preaching and healing and by the time anyone looked up, it was late. There was a huge crowd of people numbering in the thousands. And they were all hungry. Not spiritually hungry, though I’m sure they were that too. No, the type of hunger being talked about here is the one that says “Give me substance in my mouth to chew and swallow and fill up my growling belly!” Jesus asked his disciples what they should do about this. They suggested Jesus send everyone home. I know I get a little grumpy when I’ve had a long day and I’m hungry, so it reassures that me Jesus’ apostles do too. It’s also reassuring that Jesus does not.
Instead of sending everyone home, Jesus tells his disciples to feed the people. Can you imagine being one of those disciples? There are several thousand grumpy, hungry, tired people in front of you, you have no food even for yourself, and Jesus tells you to feed everyone. I don’t know about you, but I’d be feeling a little exasperated. I might even feel like snapping at Jesus “Oh come on! You’re God! You’re the one that wants the people to stay here! You do it!” Is my sin showing?
The disciples though, are much more calm than I am and practically answer with the fact that there is only one little boy who has five loaves of bread and two small fish, and what is that among so many people? Jesus is undaunted.
“Bring them to me,” he says. He told everyone to sit down on the grass and get ready for a picnic. Then he looked to heaven and gave thanks and broke the loaves. The disciples distributed it amongst the people and everyone, everyone, ate. They even had second helpings, perhaps even thirds. They ate until they were satisfied. And then, just because God likes to show off sometimes, the disciples collected twelve baskets of leftovers.
This story is such a testament to me of what God can do with my emptiness, of what he wants to do with my emptiness. I am completely incapable of filling myself up. In my basket, I only have a few loaves and fish rattling around. What I have is completely insufficient, in and of itself, for the task at hand. But if I can take what I have and offer it to God with thankfulness then He will delight in filling me up to overflowing with all the things I need.
I believe this. And I cling to it.
It’s hard to keep my grasp on it when things are tough. It’s hard to accept the stinky, slimy oysters when you want the pearls. It’s even harder to accept the oysters and smile and say “Thank You.” And even that much harder to say “Thank You” and mean it. I do believe that often times you lead with your lips, and your heart follows. It’s my prayer that as I learn to say “Thank You” with my lips, my heart will learn to say “Thank You” in unison.