Emptiness, yearning, incompleteness: these unpleasant words hold a hope for incomprehensible beauty. It is precisely in the seemingly abhorrent qualities of ourselves — qualities that we spend most of our time trying to fix or deny — that the very thing we most long for can be found: hope for the human spirit, freedom for love.
This is a secret known by those who have had the courage to face their own emptiness. The secret of being in love, of falling in love with life as it is meant to be, is to befriend our yearning instead of avoiding it, to live into our longing rather than trying to resolve it, to enter the spaciousness of our emptiness instead of trying to fill it up. — Gerald May in the Awakened Heart.
Fear of emptiness
It is hard to see emptiness as a friendly place. Our whole quest as a society is going the exact opposite direction — filling up our houses and storage units with stuff and our schedules with activities. I think a lot of us have sex in a vain attempt to fill and be filled. Gerald May is talking about something with which we are not very familiar.
I was struck with my own fear of that empty place in me when I reflected on our meetings last Saturday. At the monthly training I was surrounded by 50-plus loving people; then at the Leadership Team meeting I was with dear comrades, among whom are some of my closest friends. Yet I still came away feeling distant and fearful of my emptiness. I expected something from the meetings I did not get. I wanted to leave with joy, motivation and faith. There was so much joy, motivation and faith in the room, one would think it was hard to resist! I’m not saying I did completely resist. But the meetings did not satisfy my yearning. In fact, they seemed to heighten it.
I thought it might be helpful to name what we often feel in the middle of the sea of goodness and grace in which we swim.
As I said at the meetings, I seemed to meet a series of seriously empty people looking for fullness last week. They were making careful assessment of Circle of Hope (and me!) to see if we were likely candidates to meet their need. I resented being assessed like that. And I was sure I did not meet the test, which made me feel inadequate and guilty. But I relate to the search. I feel sorry for the seekers like I feel sorry for myself. When you’ve been hollowed out by drugs or other addictions, when you went to your parents and found them wanting or neglectful, when your mate broke your heart, the emptiness can feel desperate. We certainly don’t want to look somewhere that is going to injure us again! Our insides make definite demands, even if we don’t want them to!
I am often in a quandary as to what to do with myself. Much more do I wonder how to talk to someone else who appears at the door empty and ravenous and yet picky about the food served, even resistant to being fed. If we do not lose ourselves to find ourselves in Jesus, we are just full of it — that is, we are full of impossible expectation. I don’t always have a good solution for people who haven’t gotten to the end of thinking they can fill themselves up, or that they will be filled up if they just hook up with the right person, if they find the right community, of if they get a few friends. It will not all be better.
I know my life is not better until I enter the spaciousness of my emptiness and meet God there. The wide plain of our loneliness is the homeland of the Holy Spirit. Let’s be kind to ourselves as we realize this. As obvious as the thought might seem, the reality of moving that direction is excruciating. Rather than being merely irritated with the hungry packs sniffing the air around us for connection or running away from the fear of lack of it, let’s stay near each other and help one another with the terrors of life in the Spirit.