By Margo McKenzie
Life brings with it a multitude of emotions and concerns. Some days we feel we are practically on Mount Zion, transported to heavenly joys and understanding. At other times we can’t lift another foot, can’t write another line, or make another phone call. We are operating on empty. If a driver continues to move forward with an empty tank of gas, the car will sputter and die. And a person will come close to doing the same also. Sometimes we are aware of our emptiness. Very often when we journey on empty, we don’t even know it.
An empty chair at the table may generate feelings of emptiness in people, especially around this time of year. People may place more emphasis on what they do not possess rather than on what they do possess, sometimes taking permanent action for a temporary condition. The reality, however, is that when we haven’t achieved what others say we should have, this is the opportunity to create something new and meaningful.
During my single years, to confront the feelings of emptiness around birthdays and holidays, a few female friends and I decided to celebrate ourselves. We made reservations at many fine dining establishments for each other’s birthdays. We traveled around the globe together. We didn’t think about what we didn’t possess; we celebrated what we did have—friendship.
If the “traditional” family pieces are not in place, instead of allowing feelings of emptiness to swell within, this is the time to get together with whomever is in our family of friends. If necessity is the mother of creativity, then the holiday season is the time to rethink how we celebrate if the traditional pieces are not in place. This is one way to overcome feelings of emptiness. Understanding the history of emptiness may also help to overcome it.
Before the beginning, there was nothing but emptiness: “The earth was without form and void” (Genesis 1:2 NIV). There was no light nor plant life. There were no animals nor trees. Earth was a meaningless, unproductive place, taking up space until God moved upon the face of the waters and spoke. God exercised lasting creativity when he looked on the face of the earth and didn’t like what he saw. Through his power, God transformed the emptiness into an amazing place of beauty and order.
There is a lesson here for people who experience feelings of emptiness. God’s word generates transformation. The Genesis story teaches us that by reading His word and meditating on it, we can overcome feelings of emptiness. And if the creation story isn’t enough, seven chapters later, we find another illustration of divine intervention over emptiness.
Take a look at Naomi. During a famine, she and her husband and two sons left Bethlehem to go to Moab where there was food. There, her two sons married, and later died; and her husband died, too. One minute, Naomi was married and the mother of two sons. The next minute, she was a widow and the mother of two deceased sons. What else could she have felt but emptiness while living in a pagan land (Moab) with no man to look after her?
Naomi was empty and bitter, and said to her daughters-in-law, “The hand of the Lord has gone out against me.” Naomi left the land of Moab and returned to her home in Bethlehem, and one daughter-in-law, Ruth, returned with her. Once Naomi left the pagan land and returned home, the place where the sovereignty of God was recognized, life brightened for Naomi.
Ruth married and gave birth. Naomi had a family again. Through no fault of her own, Naomi ended up in a bitter situation. When she was able to get back to Bethlehem, the house of bread, she no longer complained of emptiness.
The lesson for us is to take our feelings of emptiness to where God is, and allow him to fill us. Very often, we don’t have to move our feet to get there; we just have to move our spirit, our attitude, our pride and, in humility, go to God. We just need to seclude ourselves in prayer and read the Bible.
Woman of Samaria
Consider the woman of Samaria. She thought she only needed to quench her physical thirst, and we find her at the well, prepared to do just that (John 4). However, she encountered Jesus there, who asked her for a drink. Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans, and the woman was well-aware of the rules of non-engagement. Perhaps Jesus spoke to her because he needed to do something outrageous to get her attention. Then Jesus read her situation and told her that if she knew his identity, she’d be asking him for water, because after drinking his water, she’d never thirst again. Scripture suggests she really didn’t understand the spiritual water Jesus was talking about. But she did go telling her friends to “Come see a man.”
What’s the takeaway? Sometimes we’re empty and try to fill up on physical things that do not satisfy. But if we allow him, if we listen, God will diagnose our condition. He’ll let us know when we are empty, and he will fill us up. He knows how to restore our weary soul. If the woman realized who Jesus was and what he had to offer, this could have been her song:
Fill my cup, Lord
I lift it up, Lord
Come and quench this thirsting of my soul
Bread of heaven, feed me ‘til I want no more
Fill my cup, fill it up and make me whole.
The words of that song by Richard Eugene Blanchard could be the prayer of the unsaved when they recognize their condition, or even of the saved when they haven’t taken care of their spiritual diet.
Sometimes Christians overspend their spirit. We can get so caught up that we forget to “fill up.” We forget to pray and spend quality time meditating on God’s word. When we’re so busy doing God’s work and neglect to fellowship with his people or pray, we begin to feel the symptoms of emptiness, such as defeat and doubt. The antidote to this feeling of emptiness is quality time with God, praying to him, reading his word and listening for his response. If we are honest with ourselves, sometimes we cause our own emptiness.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ru 1:13). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
Even Jesus himself experienced a moment of emptiness. This was evident when he was on the cross and he cried out, “Eli, Eli, Lamasabachthani” or "Father, Father, why has thou forsaken me?” Carrying the sins of the world in his body, he was separated from his father. Righteousness and unrighteousness cannot walk together. The point is that our unconfessed sin will separate us from God and cause us to experience the deepest of emptiness. The solution is to confess. As stated in John 1:9, “Confess your sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (NIV). Of course, Jesus had nothing to confess; he bore our sins as he was assigned to do, and then he returned to be with his father. Mission accomplished.
The Apostle Paul
Even the Apostle Paul felt moments of emptiness. Consider this statement:
"But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me" (2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV).
The church at Corinth held a special place in Paul’s heart because he had founded that church. He stayed in Corinth for one and a half years and helped the church to grow. Once away from Corinth, Paul heard reports that false prophets divided the church he planted. To make matters worse, they were also planting anti-Paul seeds among the congregation. Paul was discouraged and weak. What he said in verse 9 provides a model for all of us. Find a quiet spot, away from the noise, and get a refill. Paul’s refill was hearing some truths about God of which he needed to be reminded: “My grace is sufficient, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” These comforting words from the Lord were enough to fill his spirit.
I hesitate to say that weakness is a blessing, but the reality is that in order for us to experience the power of God, we must first experience weakness. This reminds me of another song, “Through it All” by Andrae Crouch.
I thank God for the mountains,
and I thank Him for the valleys,
I thank Him for the storms He brought me through
For if I'd never had a problem,
I wouldn't know God could solve them,
I'd never know what faith in God could do
In order to know God as a problem solver, we have to encounter those perplexing spaces in life. So what does Paul teach us about overcoming emptiness? He teaches us to embrace it, take it to God and allow him to reveal this dimension of who he is. How can we ever know the fullness of God unless we first experience emptiness? Very often we try to medicate emptiness with drugs, sex, or some other synthetic or diversion. The reality is that we should never attempt to overcome emptiness. What we should do is recognize our emptiness, and stand or kneel before God until he turns it around.
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