The Meaning of Emptiness

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,  
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
For you shall go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall break forth into singing,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
-Isaiah 55: 10-12 (ESV)

Emptiness takes on many forms for me. I remember being asked by the search committee that called me to Arizona “How do you think you will handle moving to a place where you don’t know anyone and leave many family and friends behind?” I also remember thinking “They have no idea how much of an introvert I really am.”

Being alone is not much of a problem for me. I’ve often wondered if there was something wrong with me because of this. But much of my strength comes from knowing that no matter where I am in life (with or without the intimacy of family and friends geographically nearby) that if I’m in the center of God’s will, he will sustain me. I know this because I’ve lived it.

But I also think emptiness can take the form of dashed expectations, or a time of spiritual dryness, or even a hardened heart. There certainly can be an overlap with these things and people, but I’ve also found myself empty of joy. Empty of compassion. Even empty of devotion to something I once found myself completely devoted.

I learned these times are not to be ignored. Sometimes it takes a while for me to even realize I’m in the emptiness, but once I do, if I don’t ask myself why and delve deep with my heart and mind to find out why I’m there I run the risk of a significant, prolonged drought. And I what I often find so fascinating about the way I function in these times of emptiness is how it almost always takes a person to show me my emptiness.

There isn’t much rain here in the desert. And I only experienced a tiny bit of snow when I was back in Nebraska for the holidays. It even rained in Phoenix that night my flight left. Just as Isaiah says – the snow and rain cause something to happen. (We just don’t always get to see it or may see the results months later, in the Spring.) It brings fourth and makes the earth sprout. Can I learn to trust that God does the same to me? That the times of dreary rain and cold snow actually mean something… and have a purpose?

 “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, o give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.” -Jeremiah 29:10-14

What I adore about this oft-used passage is the context. God promised prosperity for his people… but after 70 years in exile. We often use this passage to sooth someone’s pain or to inspire then to move forward… but God didn’t actually restore their fortunes until many, many years after (so many that the generations that heard the prophecy from Jeremiah wouldn’t live to see it come true.) So it probably seems weird that I love the hard part, but I do because I’ve been there. I’ve been in the hard places. I am there now. And understanding that God’s promises to his people may not come true in my lifetime is not fun for me to hear. But it does help me grow into a deeper trust with him. There are peaks and valleys when you are a child of God. I prefer the peaks, yes. But the valleys show me deep and wonderful and mysterious things. They show me God’s providence and love for his people. They show me the effects of the Fall, which in order to fully understand God’s grace we must be aware of such sin and brokenness. This is part of my emptiness. This is part of the world’s emptiness.

But his promises are never empty. I don’t always understand why he chooses to fulfill the the way he does sometimes. But they are never void, because he is never void.

That’s something to rejoice about.

… in fact, that’s something to clap your hands and break forth into singing about. I think I’ll go join the trees. 🙂

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