This is a re-post from December of 2009. This week had a lot of life going on, but not a lot of writing. I originally wrote this about 3 years ago and have continued to think about the discipline of maintaining empty space in my life for God to do His business.
The Blessing of Empty Hands
Not many of us would consider the word “empty” something positive. Phrases like empty stomach, empty wallet, empty house, empty tank and others, can remind us of loss, struggle, loneliness, disadvantage and even powerlessness. But God’s economy does not work like ours.
I remember watching my four-year-old daughter, Keely, sketching on a fresh, white piece of paper one morning. With the concentration only achieved by the unfettered imagination of a toddler, she formed a whole world eleven inches long, eight and a half inches wide, and infinitely deep. When the length and width ran out of space for her imagination, she looked at me with concern. “Daddy! There’s no more room!” she protested.
I hurried to look through the supply drawer and fetched a fresh sheet. The joy and anticipation that blossomed on her face was worth far more than the finest painting in the best of museums. With renewed energy she began creating a whole new world. The blessing of an empty page was not wasted on my little girl.
A year later we moved to be near family and friends. Keely had mixed feelings about leaving familiar places and good friends. When we arrived at our new townhouse, she ran up the stairs to her empty room. Boxes and furniture would have to wait. Rushing through the door, she described in detail where her stuff would go, already seeing her special room in her head. An empty room had potential. An empty room was available – a blank canvas for a willing artist.
Just this last year my Mom passed away. Her passing was sudden and painful and left a lot of empty places behind. Her love filled so many lives with joy and grace and mercy. She left a faithful husband with an empty home and a grieving heart, sons and daughters without her loving words to bring comfort and encouragement, friends and acquaintances without her ready laugh and contagious smile and so many other empty spaces. She also left my little girl without her Big Nana. As painful as it is to watch my little girl’s tears when she’s missing her Nana’s hugs, I know she will be better for it in the years to come. She has learned – and is learning – how much God can do with an empty space. We all are.
It is a ironic that empty hands are those most capable of receiving. The hording and grasping so prevalent in our society, in our world, disallows so many from receiving anything from God. He so desires to draw beautiful things on our lives, but they are cluttered and scheduled and busy. He wants to fill our hearts with His love, but we have little rooms and closets that hold onto the past and hide away our shame and pain. He wants to give us so much, but we are grasping to those earthly things that help us feel safe and in control. If only we could learn the beauty of emptiness.
I hope that in the years ahead my daughter will learn to appreciate, even anticipate, the blessings of empty hands. I want her to know the power of an empty cross and the salvation Christ purchased with His blood on its cruel timbers. I want her to understand the blessing of an empty tomb and the promise of life after death. I want her to know Christ the savior “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.” (Philip. 2:6-7 NRSV).
Imagine what God could paint on your life if you gave Him the space. How wide, and high, and deep, and long? How much faith, hope and love could fit in a heart emptied of unforgiveness, shame, worry, anger and all the other cluttering memories and thoughts that we hold so tightly too? How much could He bless you with if you let go of everything else? Our challenge is to let go of all the things we’re holding onto and approach our heavenly Father with empty hands. Emptiness is where He works best.