Sunday, February 12, 2012
Running on empty
I have been thinking about emptiness. That emptiness that comes when we have driven ourselves too hard, too long. When we have worked, and played, and hurried – when we have given, and related, and studied, and struggled, and parented to the point that we have run out of resources . . . and are fast becoming “crispy critters”
About the raw emptiness that comes when we ignore the danger signals - frustration, despair, and tiredness - and just keep on. . . keep striving and struggling until we stagger, and stumble, and sometimes, tragically, even fall – flat on our faces, and come to a complete stop.
TS Eliot once described this condition in a remarkable way. He wrote
The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment
Bring knowledge of words, and ignorance of The Word
All our knowledge brings us near to our ignorance,
All our ignorance brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to God
Where is the life we have lost in the living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
Where is the life we have lost in living? The wisdom we have lost as we are besieged not only by tasks, but by input. Good question. What has happened when we end up without passion, or vision, or strength - dried up and withered – when we have a void at the center of our souls.
The modern American experience!
It is a condition we as humans cannot tolerate. “Nature abhors a vacuum” we are told. So does the human soul. And so in our emptiness we seek to be filled. We reach out, often desperately, looking for ways to be filled, to satisfy the emptiness within.
We reach out to other people, to husbands, wives, children and friends. But it doesn’t work. We don’t get filled, we get frustrated, because all too often they are empty too. And what we have is two empty people trying to suck the last bit of life and vitality out of one another. I read an author a while put it beautifully. “You can’t love out of need, you need to love out of fullness.” Same thing is true of so many of the other things we reach out to. Jobs, success, “things”, causes. We think our job will help, a promotion will help. But if the key thing is, missing, again, those things won’t work. We can have a wonderful car, a great house, a new carpet so deep we have to tie a bell on the baby, the perfect job, and we can still be empty.
What ultimately happens is that sometimes we find ourselves in a terrifying downward spiral. For in our emptiness, in our wild searchings, we begin to lose control. Then tragically we get controlled. Those things we have reached out to in our quest for fullness begin to dominate us. As depleted as we are we find ourselves at the mercy of the world around us. The people, the situations, the roles, the possessions we thought would rescue us begin to run our lives. And often, all too often, that is not good.
I like the way Paul puts in Romans 12:2. The world begins to “squeeze us into its mold.” Being empty we have no strength to resist. And we begin to live out our empty condition. And one day we wake up and look at ourselves in the mirror and say “who is this person?” Eeeeew!
So, what is the solution? What is the one thing that can create that sense of inner fullness that makes our lives different? How can we reach out in love and have that work, really work? How can we fulfill our chosen role in the world, and have that be truly meaningful? How can we live so that our possessions are tools we use, rather than burdens that control us?
The solution is God. More specifically the solution is God in us. The solution is the Spirit.
Let us go back to the words of Jesus to the disciples. He knows the disciples are troubled, scared, and empty. He knows that left on their own they will make a mess of things. Jesus has already told the lead disciple, Peter, that he was going to fail and deny him, not once, not twice, but three times. That was just a palate pleaser of what could and would go wrong if the disciples went out there and tried to move forward on their own.
So he says to them: (John 14:23-24) "If anyone loves me, that person will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. . . . (John 14:26-27) and the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
This means the key to fullness is not out there, anywhere. It is in here, inside us. Because of how we may at times feel, we as God’s people are never truly empty. For we have an incredible resource within. That is what Jesus was trying to tell his disciples. “I will not leave you orphans, alone, empty. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you
“I am in you.” Think about that. Christ in the person of the Spirit dwells in us. He is present in the form of that one he calls the “parakletos.” My bible translates that word as “counselor”. In the most literal sense it means “the one called alongside…the one who will journey with you.” The Spirit bring us a sense of God’s presence
He is present in the “pneuma” , which is another word for the Spirit. His breath, his life power, for that is what pneuma means, now resides in us. The Spirit is the power of God, in us.
And what does this Spirit do? Well, according to this discourse, it teaches. “It will teach you all things and remind you of what I have said.” Remember, we are all too often dazed and confused. The Spirit gives us much needed guidance, direction, focus.
And all this gives us peace. Makes it so we are not always unsettled, dissatisfied. Empty
And this sense of “peace” gives us a sense of safety so we do not have to be afraid. Jesus concluded his comments with these words – do not be afraid. Let’s face it, fear really messes things up. It makes us defensive, greedy, angry, closed, irrational, obsessive… I can’t think of enough adjectives to describe the impact of fear.
So, as the inner presence of God that guides us, and gives us peace and security, the Spirit – bottom line - enables us to live life. . . and it gives us the freedom t0 find our true selves
Sam Keen in his book “To A Dancing God” writes about the impact of allowing the Spirit to dance in our hearts. . . “I have discovered”, he says, “a new dimension of freedom and potency . I have had to switch from seeming myself as a quasi-determined victim to seeing myself as a responsible agent. With this change has come a sense that the future is open.”
When we are filled we are free to go with God
We are free to be loving people, people who can make a difference
When we are filled the future is full of potential… so much is possible. . .
More than we can ask or imagine
As people who are filled, we have love to give
As people who are filled, we have joy to express
As people who are filled we have healing to offer
As people who are filled we have peace to impart
Fullness and emptiness cannot exist together
And fullness changes everything! It changes our lives.
The future is open
I like to close with some words from Paul, in Ephesians chapter 3. He offers a prayer for the Ephesians. It is the Perfect prayer for us
I pray that out of his glorious riches God may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.