Full cabinets, full closets, full schedule, full belly. Even a head full of thoughts and worries. If ever there was a word that characterized the past year, it would be “full.”
Full, but not satisfied.
Only in the quietness of this week — it began during last Sunday morning’s worship service, in fact — has the thought been dancing through my head. In this next year, this next season, perhaps what I need to do is pare down, unload, release.
As one year makes way for the next, I will be here, trying to empty myself.
Practically speaking, I would do well to start in the kitchen. The cabinets, the pantry, the freezer, even the drawers in the fridge are full of the scraps and snatches of all the holidays dishes I have been making over the last weeks. Extra boxes of noodles and bags of chocolate chips, half a package of corn tortillas and a nearly full carton of buttermilk all need to find a place in a dish or a pot over the next few days.
Or it will all go to waste.
I rescued half a can of pureed pumpkin from the clutches of the garbage can just last night. Apparently, I made something with pumpkin recently, and in my haste, the excess just went in the fridge. Filling it up along with the other leftovers. But as I emptied the fridge last night, I found a use for it: a delicious loaf of pumpkin bread.
It was ironic really. In the emptying, I became satisfied.
Each area of my life could use this same discipline. My closets are full of clothes I never wear. My shelves are full of books I never read. My life is full of activities I don’t enjoy.
And so I try to empty myself — cleaning out what is otherwise wasted. Clothes that don’t fit, books that don’t matter, activities for no purpose, television altogether.
Even my spiritual disciplines suffer from being too full. I try to read so many Bible chapters; I try to pray for so many people; I try to give to so many causes. Check. Check. Check. But in much, I miss out. I don’t sit long with Jesus; I don’t persevere with a few; I don’t invest deeply in one.
So even my disciplines must be emptied. I have started reading just a little of the Word, slowly, listening and contemplating. I have been asking Jesus who He wants me to pray for, to give to. I have been trying to become like him.
I read this very passage from Philippians 2 on Christmas Eve morning. My friend, Kelly, and her young sons, Alex and Jensen, were here. They had already patiently endured breakfast, knowing that there were gifts to open in the back bedroom. But the pancakes had chocolate chips in them, and I let them use the straws they like. And so they waited.
Then, we gathered around the Advent wreath. We were going to light the Christ candle, the one I have continued to light each evening, so I pulled out my well-worn copy of the Book of Common Prayer to find a passage to read, and there it was. The New Testament reading for Christmas Eve was that beautiful passage from Philippians. The passage in which the Son of Man empties himself, right there before God and man.
We talked about what it means to empty yourself that morning, to be humble. The boys tried to answer when I asked what they thought it meant. Jensen yelled out a series of likely answers to a question about Jesus. “Repentance? Forgiveness? Grace?” he tried in succession.
“Can I blow out the candles?” Alex asked.
And so we could just move on, I just said simply, “It’s like wanting to open your Christmas presents so badly, but you go ahead and wait, because that’s what Mommy asked you to do. It’s giving up your way, and doing it God’s way.”
That’s really what this emptying is about. It’s not about the stuff or the busyness. It’s about saying “no” to more and more of my way. It’s about no longer trying to make my life fulfilling with lots and lots.
And it’s about coming empty-handed to Jesus so He can fill me up.
Today, I am writing in community with Ann Voskamp and friends, sharing our name for the New Year. In case it wasn’t clear in the post above, my word for 2011 is “empty.” To read Ann’s thoughtful post or to see what others have written, click on the button above.