By Sr Melissa Dwyer
“Your emptiness is but your preparation for being filled.” – Charles Spurgeon
OFTEN we view the notion of emptiness as something negative.
There can be a tendency to be uncomfortable with silence, and try to fill it with noise.
We fill our free time with activity to avoid sitting with ourselves as we are. And sometimes in life, we find ourselves running on empty, needing to be filled up with something meaningful to keep us going.
For many, emptiness is terrifying and we are hesitant to apply the word “empty” to ourselves.
Yet emptiness in itself can be a very positive thing, for unless we realise we are in need of something to fill us up, we don’t necessarily give God the space to work.
I came to know Jesus through a moment of emptiness in my life.
As a young person, I never enjoyed going to Mass.
I would come up with every excuse in the book to avoid Church, especially seeing it clashed with my favourite television program.
I reached a point after finishing school where externally I had everything going for me; I’d just started the university course I dreamt; I had many friends and was doing really well at sport.
Yet inside me, something was missing.
I had an emptiness in me that I had no idea how to fill.
I found myself sitting in the back of a Church sharing with a priest how much I didn’t like myself.
He put me in touch with the local National Evangelisation Team, where I found a space to be myself, as I was, without judgement.
I started to pray and I came to know that a personal relationship with God was the only thing that would give me lasting happiness.
It was no longer important what I achieved, but who I was as a child of God.
This encounter with Jesus, at a moment of emptiness in my life, transformed me forever. My life resonated with the words of Saint Teresa of Kolkata who said, “It’s only when you realise your emptiness that God can fill you with himself.”
An old Chinese proverb says, the usefulness of a cup is in its emptiness.
Perhaps this can be reworded to suggest that the usefulness of a Christian is in our emptiness.
For it’s when we don’t have all the answers, when we don’t rely on ourselves, that we are more likely to reach out to God and give Him space to work in our lives and in our hearts.
Perhaps if we can re-dimension our mindsets to suggest that instead of emptiness being something negative, we see emptiness as an openness to unlimited possibilities.
Mary has always been for me a model of someone who lived her emptiness in such a way that she was open to God filling her up.
Mary had her life turned upside down by God when the angel Gabriel invited her to be the mother of Jesus.
Mary didn’t fully understand what was asked of her, yet she responded with unconditional availability to what God wanted to do in and through her.
We are continually challenged by the example of Mary, who invites us to consider if we are empty and available for God to use us, even when it doesn’t make sense.
It’s easy to see Mary and other biblical figures and saints who were open and available to God and willing to surrender lives to God’s plan.
However, in reality, sitting with our emptiness is not an easy thing to do.
It’s easy to say to others, “trust in God” and “don’t worry Jesus will fill your emptiness”, however the deeper truth is actually that sometimes Jesus doesn’t just fill the emptiness.
In certain seasons of life, He sometimes widens it. And that’s okay.
In the moments when being empty is painful, we recall that God never permits us to experience a time of trial unless he intends it to bring more abundant graces once it is over. Emptiness is never wasted or useless.
It leads us towards something, if only we are willing to keep searching for the light in the darkness, the rainbow after the storm.
As we move towards the end of the year, let us dare to consider, what might be cluttering up my life right now?
What might God be asking me to empty myself of?
I believe that if we surrender to this beautiful gift that emptiness can be, we might start to realize that, while we are always free to choose to fill ourselves with the world, in truth we can choose nothing less than Christ.
Even though sometimes choosing to sit in the unknown with Jesus is painful, He desires to fill our emptiness with Himself, and ultimately, “our hearts are restless until they rest in Him”.
Sr Melissa Dwyer is a religious sister of the Canossian Daughters of Charity in Brisbane.