I am not. That much, for sure, I know.
It is the truth that wraps my heart every day, knowing that I am not. But I cannot say what I am not any longer because it seems so foolish that I ever was. Still, I know it is no longer my truth because I hear the old words roll off my tongue, and they are mindless jabber. They are not rooted in truth or in anything real; they are simply habit, the force of what I’ve known desperately stabbing to replace the emptiness that has replaced it.
Emptiness is a difficult master, even more difficult than mindless busyness or the stirring of boredom. Emptiness takes discipline, and it takes space. It takes boldness in the willingness to let it be without frantically trying to fill it with something, anything, to make it not emptiness any more. Yet I know that it is emptiness because the things that used to fill that space are gone, so far removed from recognition in my heart that I can’t believe I wasted so much time with them. I simply…do not know what has replaced what used to be; perhaps so far, it is nothing.
Nothing. Nothing except…that I am not. Even that thought, though, is enough to bring praise to my heart. I lie in bed at night, trying to figure out what is there, what is in me, but I fall so far short of words. I can only lie there and laugh, thanking God that I am not.
It is tempting to say how tough this is, how it is eating at me (and it is) and how much I am not enjoying this. But the truth is, I AM kind of enjoying it. Not because it is substantive…or maybe it is and I have not grasped that yet. But because this nothingness is more authentic than everything else ever has been. This nothingness, it is truth. It is now. It is me; and I am not.
What I am, and this is something in and of itself, is exhausted. That much, I also know. The past few weeks have been no less than rough. I wake up in the mornings ready to burst into tears for reasons I had not been able to put my finger on. Frustration, maybe, at the continued job search and coming so close yet falling short. Weariness of living in constant anticipation, knowing that what God has for me is right around the corner and thirsting after it. Physical fatigue from fighting to breathe. But it was gnawing on me that this…this was something more. This exhaustion transcends all that, and answering any of those questions would not bring me rest.
I prayed and asked God to show me where I had no words, what was going on that I was missing that was sapping my energy away from me. For the better part of three weeks, He had no answer except “exhaustion.” Pure exhaustion. That made sense, but I knew not why. Then, He showed me.
He showed me fallen, collapsed on the ground. I felt the dirt on my face and the sweat dripping down. I looked and saw my cut and bruised and broken body, and then I saw why. He showed me stumbling, falling out of the fight of my life. Darkness. Barbs. Threats. This was the obstacle course through which I had come, and in comparison to the clearing where my tired body now lay, it is easy to see how exhaustion set in. I wouldn’t have the strength to get up right now if I tried.
Yet He has given me enough to raise my head and utter words of praise, of worship. This, where the dust and the dirt and the blood and the beating meets the openness of the clearing and the promise of the future – this is holy. This is sacred. It is also…emptiness.
Emptiness because as I realize, the things that made so much sense in the jungle are useless in the clearing. And the clearing makes you realize how senseless perhaps they always were. For now, though, I don’t know what is different or what to do or what to say. I am content to be quiet and to accept His invitation for rest. As I see myself lying here, concerned not with where I’ve come from nor in what mess I now lay, I am content. To take a deep breath. To rest. To let His strength be enough. Knowing that for now, I cannot rise. Still here…is beautiful. All of it. It is the product of being me in the process of being His. That is awesome.
Content to be quiet. Content to be still. Perhaps these are my new natural, my new norm. They certainly feel more natural than anything I have ever been. My friends and constant companions as of late – confident assurance, unshakable faith, peace, stillness, softness, gentleness – these were His gifts to me on that final push, that last stretch to freedom. Because He knew I would stumble around. He knew I would need them. But I know they are His gifts to me even now and will be again for the future, though I sense they will take something different in them. Something that will be so perfect that I struggle now to envision it, though my heart knows their truth.
Then, in the midst of it all, the thoughts dancing in my head. What will it be like when I rise and leave this place? What will it be like living in the clearing instead of blazing through the darkness? Visions of doing just that flipped through my head, and I was discouraged. Disappointed. The darkness never left; it seemed to follow me wherever I went. No matter how many steps I took into the clearing, the darkness followed one step behind. That was the trick of discouragement. Until I realized, rather quickly for how these things usually come to me…
…it was only because I was bringing it along. Dragging it with me for whatever reason. For what reason? It has been all I have known.
I have known how to fight. I have known how to take it. I have known how to find the strength to keep standing. Perhaps that is it; perhaps in this exhaustion, I am afraid of my weakness, my vulnerability. What if I could never stand again? Perhaps the darkness is my comfort, my fall back into knowing that to face it, I would stand. I don’t take anything lying down.
But now I do. Now, I take His blessing lying down. I take His rest and His good work in me. Knowing it was I who kept myself tied to the past, I shake my foot loose of the vine. I commit to God that no matter the challenge, I will not bring darkness with me. It will only hold me back. It will keep me from stepping any more into His freedom and His will than I already am, and I will never know what He has for me.
Oh, how I long to know what He has for me! How I long to see His work completed in me! In the end, I don’t think I want anything different from God than His other children and many of my friends are seeking – to know and to be known and to be. To have the greatest and the most perfect gifts He has given. That is it, and that is on my wall to remind me. Living a life worthy. Being fully that.
Fully that, which is not.
My striving ceases; I surrender it into His hands. There’s nothing here to fight about, nothing to fight against. That is good because I have no fight left in me. I am in the throes of exhaustion, fighting every moment to stay out of bed and to do something besides cry. But these are tears of praise and redemption, tears of release. Oddly, the tears of emptiness. Which are not bad tears to cry, not at all. I am quiet, and that is fine. Please do not worry that I am quiet now; that may be my new natural. It may have been my old natural had I not had to be in such a loud and violent fight. This quiet, it suits me. This stillness, it suits me. This exhaustion…ok, that wears on me. It is weird to say, especially for someone who can figure things out, but I don’t know for sure how to do this. I don’t know how to be…not. I don’t know how to be whatever replaces…is. Or was. Or whatever you’d want to call it.
But this time, I am listening to His whisper in my heart. There’s nothing pressing me to figure it all out; I surrender my demand for answers. Anything I would push myself to find would be infinitely less, and I recognize and understand that. It is that that makes me praise in the emptiness. I will be what He strengthens me to be, and there is strength even in weakness. There is strength in rest. I will answer when called, and I will step boldly into the clearing when He strengthens me to rise.
In the peace of His presence, where His tender hand guides me in mercy and shields me in rest, I know but two things. First, that I am ok. I don’t always know what I am. I don’t always know what He is planning for tomorrow. I often am without words to say anything at all or even to define it for myself. But I know that I am ok, and that is enough.
And I know that I am not. And that, too, is enough.
(A song by Brandon Heath plays now in the background. “We don’t have to wait until the end of the night just to say that something’s wrong and maybe nobody’s right. We’re all victims in a battle that we never had to fight. Steady now, we’re in this thing together.”)