The moon hangs low reflecting the sun’s muted light onto my brick patio, the inky sky stretched smooth behind it. Far off the crickets cue their evening symphony and the shadowlands hush, settling down to enjoy this serenade.
I step onto the patio, leaving piles of dishes, grading, and homework in my cozy [cluttered] kitchen, and I notice that, for the first time in a long while, my spirit is still, as silent as the night sky before me. The voluble critic who took up residence in my heart years ago has, for a moment, ceased her incessant chatter.
I’m not sure when I first noticed this critic, but life’s growing pressures and accumulating responsibilities have certainly made her louder—she thrives on that kind of thing. She is loudest, though, when I fix my eyes on something that I am certain would be very good for my life (this job, that degree; this relationship, that success), do not ultimately realize this great “good,” am instead given something that I certainly would not have chosen for myself, and continue to cling to the good I thought I should have rather than enjoy the good that is actually in front of me. It is at this point, when my heart is too preoccupied with the “lost” good to actually revel in the good that God has given me, that the critic lapses into loud moans of “If only you had…!” and, “What if you hadn’t…?” and, “So and so has such and such” and, “Why did she get it right but not you?” and, “It would have been different if you had…” and on and on and on.
I realize this tendency to cling to the good I think I need is the same tendency that sent Lucifer soaring from the high heavens to the bowels of hell, and got Adam and Eve booted from a garden of Paradise into a cursed life of thankless work. This tendency is life-sucking, satisfaction-snatching, and joy-stealing. It is poison, and I want to be rid of it.
Of course my know-it-all critic believes I can rid myself of this tendency—that I can somehow rid myself of myself. But in the whole of history no human has ever been able to do that, not alone. And so I’m learning that in order to be rid of the part of me that idolizes my own ideals, the part of me that fuels my insufferable critic, I must be emptied.
I’m learning that being emptied hurts.
I'm learning that being emptied means smacking straight and hard into the insurmountable wall of my weakness, shortsightedness and ineptitude as I try to run fast toward the destination of my choosing. It means falling to the ground and having the things I value the most—the temporal things that make my life feel significant, safe and pain-proof—burned to ashes. It means waiting. Waiting, instead of crawling toward another dream destination full of “good” things I’m certain I must have. Waiting for God to fulfill the promises that I’ve doubted because I’m convinced somewhere deep down that I’m a better life-manager than God is a promise-keeper. Waiting, lying in this bed of ashes, wondering how in the world life could spring up from them, and then lifting my eyes and noticing that I’m sheltered by the emerald canopy of a towering tree and surrounded by green pastures, watered by the stream that surges through them. Being emptied means staying close to that murmuring, rippling brook even as shadows darken my resting place, and becoming keenly aware that I am not alone—I am never alone. In this waiting there is a stirring to life somewhere in my heart as I realize I have been made to lie down in green pastures because I couldn’t dream big enough to choose this reality on my own, and I think that this must be what it means for goodness and mercy to follow me, and maybe I should stop chasing them after all.
I am learning that being emptied means surrendering myself to the only One who could truly empty Himself; the One who surrendered Himself to death so that I could forever escape the dead end of living for the good life I think I deserve. It means lying still before Him in these green pastures and letting Him use the scalpels of failure, sorrow, sickness, and loneliness to cut open my heart so that the misplaced hopes and poorly ordered priorities that have been lodged in its tight crevices can come tumbling out. It means having my inner landscape littered with these piles of heart wreckage, fully exposed to me and to God, and it means letting Him remove the rubbish, instead of trying to hide it away, or even will it away with sheer desire. It means learning severe mercy. It means living grace.
I am learning that being emptied means letting the scarred hands that once dripped deep red love dip into the stream beside me and rub Living Water onto my heart, washing away the layers of the fear of loss that have been plastered thick and hard over the eyes of my heart. It means fixing these eyes that can finally see on His fierce and tender gaze and seeing—really seeing—that in Him to die is to live, to lose is to gain, to be weak is to be strong, and to be emptied is to be filled. Filled with a peace that pulses with gratitude, the conviction that even now my understanding of God’s goodness is but a tiny drop of an infinite sea, and a hope for the future that is as sturdy as the tomb is empty. This filling, it weakens and silences my voluble critic. And this silence, it is being filled with the still small voice that once spoke the cosmos into being and now sears sacred words hot in my still soul: To be emptied is to be filled is to be freed.
© by scj