Got that empty feeling?

Empty on the inside

The other day I woke up feeling really empty. It was a Tuesday. Before I could swing my legs over the side of the bed I knew I was feeling empty. I got dressed, half dressed anyway, fumbled into the kitchen to check messages on my blackberry. Afterwards, I still felt empty. I turned on the morning news, only to find out things were the same as yesterday, with a few new highlights. I was still empty. I checked the last sports scores on the internet and found out the Vancouver Canucks had won the night before. My emptiness was suspended for a moment and then returned. I remembered it was garbage day. One of my favorite days. There is something about getting rid of your S#@% that is satisfying. I filled the recycle container and hauled both containers over to the side of the road. Walking back I felt relieved, only to find that by the time I opened the door the feeling of emptiness had caught up to me. I went into the house and had my bowl of homemade granola (a diet Maryanne has me on) and felt afterwards that while my physical emptiness was satisfied my spiritual emptiness was not. I don’t like it when I feel spiritually empty, which often means I feel alone, lost or confused. I try to fill that emptiness… to make it go away. I think emptiness has followed me my whole life, though sometimes I am more aware of it than at other times. I think emptiness follows all of us our whole lives. To feel empty is to feel vulnerable, yet to empty myself out before God or in confession with friends is a freeing thing. Emptiness is something I love and hate and something I need but not always identify. It is what makes me realize I am hungry, hungry for God. Emptiness is a spiritual reality we all contend with in our daily routines.

This feeling of emptiness has some connection to this larger conversation about ‘what is church’. I believe that this conversation must focus less on structures and methods and more on recognizing and responding to our feelings of inner emptiness. We often have empty words, empty people, empty promises and empty meetings. Empty within as much as empty without. Certainly methods and structures can add to our emptiness but before we wrestle with issues of structure we must admit our emptiness, which isn’t just that we have empty structures. We circumvent the process of how emptiness is satisfied if we only wrestle with the structures. If we just design new structures for community life and spiritual life and do not consider the issues of our hearts, we could simply plunge into another form of emptiness. It may be delayed by our false hope but it’s ultimate reality will catch up to us. Emptiness is the confession of hunger and the starting point to receive nourishment. When our bodies are empty, we get hungry. When we are spiritually empty, we get hungry too. Responding to spiritual hunger can be frightening but it is the only way towards life, towards the good life.

In the book of Colossians 1: 15-20 we see a picture of the good life. The good life begins when we recognize we must empty ourselves to let Christ into our emptiness. It requires a letting in and a letting go in real time. It is frightening and rewarding. It is daily and continual. Many who call themselves followers of Jesus do not experience the reality of letting go and letting in on a regular basis. They fill their emptiness the same way everyone else does but proclaim otherwise. They are still trying to present to God a credible life while they hide in the shadows of performance and guilt… leaving themselves feeling empty. I often find myself in that place. It takes an admission of who He is and who we are over and over again in the deepest and most vulnerable place to experience the good life. It all starts with responding to the feelings of being empty.

Todd Rutkowski

~ by blueporch on March 27, 2010.

3 Responses to “Got that empty feeling?”

  1. Your acknowledgement of spiritual emptiness and physical emptiness reminds me of a comparison i often make of ‘loneliness’ and ‘aloneness’. Like you, I feel the constant tensions and wrestlings of emptiness that have followed me my whole life and at times my feelings – musings of emptiness is more comforting than the deferred hope of something ‘other’, As wierd as this perhaps sounds, the ‘other’ feels even more empty!

    Last wknd I watched a documentary called “September Issue” – the story of the VOGUE empire, there is an approx 3min scene in the movie that changed my life. A Renown former UK model and VOGUE legendary Creative Director is standing on the grounds of the Palace of Versais in Paris, France ( which happens to be my favorite place in Paris) and as she is standing there in complete silence staring into the gardens, you see and hear the wind blowing through her long fire engine red hair…slowly slowly… she begins to tear up and ever so quietly attests to the beauty of where she is standing, that she is a true romantic at heart and that somewhere in it all SHE got left behind. A couple moments later as she is reflecting she looks into the camera and says BUT, I cannot stay here in this place…I must move on. One must move on. This brief scene in this movie rattled me as it was language, expression and great beauty that I have felt deeply for years, many times the sting of and have never had language for. In those quiet moments my heart was articulated. This did not conjure great wells of sadness and pain for me but, liberty.

    I say all that because I feel deeply that the darkness of emptiness and yet the light of that same emptiness has created the poetic mosaic of my life.

    I do not try to run from it nor have desire to mask it any longer. For the first time it appears to have reconciled itself with me. For years I was afraid to be alone in any situation – as it represented complete emptiness which = despair yet, to me now I am finding a certain sense of solace in ‘aloneness’. I am not as sure as I used to think it’s purpose was to cultivate in my life but, I am drawn back to a reading by the Henri Nouwen Society.

    “Solitude is the garden for our hearts, which yearn for love. It is the place where our aloneness can bear fruit. It is the home for our restless bodies and anxious minds. Solitude, whether it is connected with a physical space or not, is essential for our spiritual lives. It is not an easy place to be, since we are so insecure and fearful that we are easily distracted by whatever promises immediate satisfaction. Solitude is not immediately satisfying, because in solitude we meet our demons, our addictions, our feelings of lust and anger, and our immense need for recognition and approval. But if we do not run away, we will meet there also the One who says, “Do not be afraid. I am with you, and I will guide you through the valley of darkness.”

    I still yearn for love and longing for an abundant life but in embracing BEING ‘present’ I am reminded to keep returning to my solitude. It begins to fill empty places and In this place I am not alone.

  2. I think the feeling of emptiness presents itself to me as though my interior landscape has opened up a great chasm that is deep enough to lose myself inside of. It is something which both frightens and fascinates me-the former because it seems that’s when the dark chasm inside me is the widest (and therefore the inner demons scream the loudest) and the latter because when my soul feels a seething, vast void I almost feel more closely connected to the greatness of the universe, and the vastness of God. I suppose I could liken my empty feeling to the desert feeling, when one is the most vulnerable to the heat and scorching, scouring sand, the solitude of our thoughts, and yet also the most appreciative of the small oasis of water and friends that may appear along the way. What I haven’t yet figured out is if there is something specific that triggers the yawning chasm of emptiness to appear, but I have a sneaking suspicion most of us humans are wired similarly, and the only way to avoid being swallowed by that chasm is to both accept and be the helping hands pulling others away from the edge.

  3. I like what Sandra said about accepting the emptiness. We usually use the word, “struggling” when talking about these kinds of feelings (emptiness, desolation, angst) as if these feelings are to be conquered and mastered, put back into their rightful box on the shelf at the back of our brain….(and understandably so, these times can be such a struggle)! However, I’m learning (as I’ve been walking through something quite similar these past few months), that it really doesn’t have to be ALL struggle, (and nor do I have to “embrace the feelings either—they’re no fun), but just putting one foot in front of the other and taking it one step at a time is what I’m finding freeing. This isn’t one I can maneuver my way out of. What does God want to show me and keep showing me while I’m here?
    As humans, when a particular event or feeling occurs that we don’t like, we usually want to skitter away from it as fast as possible. And if any of you are like me, it’s all those moments in the day when you have your thoughts to yourself that you’re there trying to dissect and analyze where the feelings are all coming from, questioning, “why do I feel this way” and furthermore, “what special formula do I have to learn to stop these feelings?”
    However, it’s in the coming to terms with my utter “undone-ness” and reaching out for help or understanding where I have been finding small pockets of hope: be it a phone call, a friendly visit, a child’s laughter….this is where I’m learning the rewards of vulnerability and authenticity. Usually in these seasons, the empty feelings don’t disappear in a day, which is what makes it so difficult to KEEP seeking out others. So often, we feel like we are disturbing people or bringing them down with our perpetual “dark night of the soul,” but it’s in these humbling efforts where people continue to be supportive, that illustrate to me truly loving one another the way Jesus would.

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