“How long have you been empty?”
It was a word I muttered several times in a soft whisper, unsure what else to say and overcome with the tears of that revelation and the vulnerable, instantaneous honesty with which I found even that word.
There have been a lot of days, more frequent over the past few years, when everything feels like a waste. When I wonder what I’m doing with my life and what I’ve been doing. When I wonder when things will change, how they will change, what I’m supposed to be doing to change them. Where are the answers to the nagging questions in my heart? Where are the answers to words unspoken?
They are here.
It’s no secret that God has not only richly blessed me but has gifted me beautifully. It includes those things that others see in me, but it is beyond that, too, to more intimate circumstances between just my God and I. For so long, I labored to prove those gifts, to make them public and to show my worth in some way. To show how God has gifted me and to be something that was uniquely me. The way to honor God, after all, is with His own gifts turned back for His glory.
True. All true.
Now, as I am coming out of a very dark period previously known as “my life,” I am learning so much about Him, His love, His gifts, and what I’m supposed to be doing with all of this. I think. It is tempting as I realize all that I am and all that I never was that I adamantly pretended to be, to try to prove myself as something more. To find a way to broadcast in my giftedness His presence in me. And when I see myself sitting on the sidelines, watching someone else do something I know I could easily do, it’s tough to not feel the sting in my heart.
A sting that is misplaced agony and nothing more. Because it answers something my heart is not really asking by pretending to be the answer to something more, and it is not His answer.
It is sitting in the congregation during worship and knowing the gift of music in me that would love to be on that stage. The part of me that would be rocking out on that drum set, feeling the beat of worship course through my whole body, or tickling the keys with that little bit of flair and the trust that’s developed over twenty-three years of practice. It is sitting there feeling the sting of knowing that ego pushed aside, it is not where I have been called right now. Maybe it’s still a little too much about me to be up there. What I know is that in those moments, my heart is called to deeper worship. The sting is replaced by the painful yearn of wanting to pour my heart out, to sing His praise, and to be just one voice.
It is watching a dramatic video play on the big screen and resenting that it’s a “canned” production, knowing that I’m sitting right there with a gift of drama and messaging. Hurting because no one cared to ask if I’d be interested in coming up with something. Feeling my body already getting into the role of this or the part of that with such confidence that it would be so vibrant and alive. It is sitting there feeling the sting of knowing that ego pushed aside, it is not where I have been called right now. Knowing that the drama in me would probably still be too much about escape and not about messaging. It would be about being something else, if just for a few minutes, and meaning something. It is watching that video play and quietly honoring the gifts of those on tape, appreciating their gift back to God and also to me.
It is listening to someone preach a message, teach a class, greet an audience, offer a thought and hearing God’s voice through my voice, as He has so often blessed me with the gift of speech. Rolling plays on words over in my head. Hearing the echoes of “amen” and soft laughter, knowing I hit it right at the heart and that someone heard what they needed to. It is sitting there feeling the sting of knowing that ego pushed aside, it is not where I have been called right now. That I would be too self-conscious of the words spoken to put any meaning behind them, or at least any authentic meaning. It is listening to those messages and hearing that phrase I would never dare speak because I knew how badly I, of all people, needed to hear it as God tries again to penetrate my heart.
You might think at this point that I’m talking exclusively about church, particularly my church. I am, and I am not. I am limiting myself to thinking of these things because were I to go into everything I am not called to do for God (right now), I might tend to get depressed. (There are certainly a thousand other little things that get to me in the same ways – watching someone land a job I wasn’t called to, date a man I wasn’t called to (and who wasn’t called to me)….) But I believe it is important to focus only on the areas I have hit in-depth because these are the places I am most vulnerable to attack and distraction. It is sitting in a seat on Sunday morning and feeling the sting, longing to be called, knowing I am not, and missing every word spoken, every song sung, and walking away…still empty.
The devil’s distraction. Locking me away in an endless cycle of questioning what must be wrong in me that God would not call me in such obvious gifts. That He would give me the gift of music but not put me in His band, the gift of words but not in His pulpit, the gift of theater but not on His stage. Thinking there must be something unworthy in me. Striving to figure out what it is. Trapped in my own thoughts to the point of missing completely what God is saying. All because my limited human wisdom can’t figure out what’s so hopelessly wrong with me. The devil’s distraction, laughing because not only have I just wasted an insane amount of time missing out on what I haven’t been called to but also missing out on what I have.
I have said recently, many times actually, that as God keeps working on my heart, a lot of what I’m finding is that there is much I have to sacrifice. Much I must surrender. Much that has been so heavily a part of me for so long that it’s hard to imagine living without it and yet understanding how it stands in the way and leaves me empty.
It is feeling like I’m sitting on this beautiful story that God is telling through me, that He has been since He’s known me (and before I knew Him), longing to live out this story for His glory, but not knowing quite how. Not finding an out spout where I always believed it would be hiding, lying in wait for the moment for me to step fully into His grace. Not finding it in the tangible gifts that sustain me in my quite moments. Then not knowing where to look. And not knowing how to cope with the heaviness of heart that comes with that sting of feeling so powerfully called and so strongly God’s presence…and knowing that ego pushed aside, it’s just not where I thought it would be.
Knowing that ego pushed aside, it is too much about ego. It is too much about wanting to earn that I am worthy. That if I show God’s beauty through something I can do, show myself to be His by doing something, then I can glorify both myself and God.
He has shown Himself powerful, faithful. I turn to Him in prayer and know that He will answer. I trust God to heal me, as He has done so powerfully. I trust God to bless me, as He continues day by day. I trust God to show my gifts, and just between the two of us, they bring me selfless joy. That is, when I am in the gift – doing whatever I do just for God in those intimate moments that those gifts draw me into Him and Him into me – I am the last thing on my mind. There is just something pure, something simple, something beyond measure. I trust God to do this. Because He does this every moment in me, and a lot of the time, it seems like I finally figured out how to tune into Him and tap that Presence.
And it has seemed to me that this is what God is about. This is the God the world needs to know. God who is ever-present, full of mercy. Who answers prayers. Who hears and answers. Who comes to us as we seek Him. Who knows the depths of our hearts and can tickle our depths in a way that both penetrates us to the core but makes us giggle because it’s so improbable yet perfectly executed. That is the God I have been coming to know, who has been revealing Himself in me through His work and His hand here. It is God, right? It is this God I want to shout to the world, to work on behalf of, to demonstrate His beauty. It is this God I feel like should be putting me in front, where His gifts in me would shine and where something real about Him would come through. Where I could show His awesomeness – really show it – because it is life. It is this God I feel on-fire for and feel like I ought to be doing something. Something with this calling. Something with this beauty. Something with this intimate God…
But then there is this:
“Let Me love you.”
It is the missing piece of my relationship with God. It is the part I can’t seem to trust Him with. That I don’t know how to trust Him with if I could even wrap my head around it for two seconds. That…He is calling me to.
This is where He is calling me. Not in my giftedness to praise, to preach, to perform a God whose mercy, blessing, Presence, guidance, favor, person, and intimacy I feel like I’m coming to know so well. But in my brokenness, to learn His love. In my brokenness, to learn to be. To be His. To be His glory because He has made me His glory. To be beautiful because He has made me beautiful.
This is where He is calling me. To be loved. To let..Him…love…me.
I have been agonizing a lot lately, a word I do not use lightly. The type of deep-seated pain in my heart that would probably overwhelm me if I had no faith. Agonizing over things, the way they have been, which I know is my own doing but I can only see that in hindsight and know that in those moments, I could not have changed it though I would long for something different now. Friends not made, guys not dated, risks not taken. I have lived a long, boring, and in many cases wasted life, being bitter and afraid and mostly afraid. I look at pictures of people I went to high school or college with, and I know that if I had been then as I am now, we could have been friends. It smacks of loneliness, one of my greatest battles. Knowing that nobody ever knew me, almost nobody truly knows me now, and also knowing that if they did, they would be surprised at what they would find. Looking at the same walls every day, the same neighborhood, and longing for somewhere to go, something to do, someone else to be with besides my own thoughts, which have a tendency to take over. Looking at men I missed out on, married and in many cases with children, and wondering when God is going to send my husband to me. Thinking about chances I had to do something crazy and knowing that today, I’d still be a little intimidated by them, but I’d take the leap. Choosing to see Crocodile Hunter with the youth group instead of whitewater rafting. Passing on a once-in-a-lifetime trip into the Amazon with a couple of professors from college who had specifically sought me out…because I didn’t want to pay the money and heaven forbid there might be a snake. Making it halfway to Oregon and turning around because of a voice in my ear that I couldn’t shut up, wishing I had left dad at home so I could have seen the Pacific Northwest and had the time of my life. I’m looking into new adventures, things I really want to do. These are some of them, but there are others – riding a zip line, going up in a hot air balloon, riding a horse. There is adventure in my spirit, and it stings knowing how much I passed up being something so worthless as afraid.
Yet, even as these things weigh heavy on my heart, I know they are still distraction. I know because of the answer I receive to them. The heaviness these thoughts bring into my life is not about the past; I do not regret the past en masse as this horrible space of wastedness. In moments of clarity, God graciously forgives me and invites me to forgive myself, and I find that my heart is only heavy for today. For feeling like today is wasted, feeling like these same things continue now even though I long to amend them. It’s weird. For so long, my past hung over me like a big sun hat, blocking out every bit of light and refusing to let my hair blow in the breeze. Now, God has granted me an incredible sense of wisdom and peace about much of the past and it is only today that feels pressing. It is only now, the decisions I make in this moment, that seems to matter. But when it catches me off guard, there is still that sting of knowing how wasted life has been. And I’m left thirsting, painfully, agonizingly, for something beautiful.
Then even that becomes a distraction. It becomes something I want to go out and ravenously fill my appetite for. Something else to do. Something else to put the force of my meager self behind and tackle, accomplish. Go out. Make friends. Shove your way in. Demand a boyfriend. Meticulously plan an adventure. Get down into the nitty-gritty and completely miss out on the point of everything.
Then tomorrow, a week from now, a year from now, sit down again and think about why you’re still empty.
Still empty because I have never let myself simply delight in something. Anything. I have been too concerned with doing things right, excelling, achieving, making sure it mattered. It’s never been just for fun. It’s never been because it just seemed right. It’s never been because my heart wanted to. I have turned down millions of requests from my own heart because the logic hasn’t been there. I was out and about yesterday and had a thought that I know I have had thousands of times before, that I know has scared me witless and stopped me from whatever I was doing. And all of a sudden, I realized it was the most bizarre, ridiculous, stupid thought ever and cast it aside with a bit of mourning for all it ever made me miss out on. That’s happening to me a lot lately. A couple of months ago, I prayed an earnest prayer that began, “Lord, I humble my competence and exceptionality before you…” because I am weary of the burden and ready to simply delight in life, in the beautiful things He has given me and yes, called in me. I’ve also started saying a simple “yes" to things. Whether I’m intimidated or not. Whether it makes perfect sense or not. To stop worrying. To stop obsessing. And to stop wavering and playing with well, maybes and perhaps one days. The day is today, and all it takes is a simple yes.
Still empty because I don’t know how to be delighted in. It comes back to His loving me, more powerful than anything else in my heart. That I need to fall into His arms and stay awhile, just letting Him love me. Every time I wind up near Him, every time He pierces and touches my heart, there is that overwhelming sense of ahhhh…this is right where I should be. And I think I could never be weary again. Until the next time I find myself right back in His arms where I least expected to find Him and realize how exhausted I still am. Like plugging your phone in for five minutes and expecting the charge to carry you through.
There is a lot of love in my heart. A lot of understanding and gratitude. Toward others and toward God, who has loved me in tangible ways far beyond what I could ever express. It is the intangible where I hesitate. Where lingering questions in my heart keep me from having that powerful encounter of brokenness that has to happen to set me free. Oh, how He yearns to set me free! And how I yearn for His freedom! And the distraction again…as I sit and ponder the thoughts in my head and try to figure out how to be loved like it’s something I have any control over. Then try to figure out the mechanics of surrender, to make sure I get it right and feel the maximum amount of His love in the shortest time possible to get back out there and start doing.
I need to linger. I need to encounter His love and not run scared. I need to let His presence and His promise dig at those questions of worthiness that have always haunted me – that I could ever be loved. That I could be loved simply because He loves me and not because I have done anything, been anything, said anything. That just because I am who He created me to be, He loves me. And even because I’m not what He’s created me to be, He still loves me. Just pure love. It stings to come so close to that encounter, to feel that sense of Him welling up inside me. It stings so bad that I stop it, that I start to throw it around in my head and look for ways to earn it, to prove it, to show it. I look for ways to make His love of me a gift for someone else, something I don’t hold onto long because it couldn’t be just for me.
Because I am a person who has never needed anything from anybody and who has felt guilty about the smallest of kindnesses shown over the years. It stings that He so boldly wants to deny and defy that.
Then I know that, ego pushed aside, I desperately need His love. To linger in His love. To let…Him…love…me.
To delight in life simply because it is life. To take a risk and an adventure when it doesn’t make sense. To say a simple yes.
One of the things I have noticed on this journey, especially over the past few weeks, is how life has already changed at choosing to delight in things. Little things. Big things. Without justifying them, dissecting them, analyzing them to death. I have cried tears over His graciousness. Grieved over my wastedness. Yearned to move forward. Longed for His calling and to use the beautiful gifts He’s put in me. Humbled myself to know that all tangible things aside, this is His calling for me right now – to let Him love me. Feeling the angst that brings and struggling against the powers that want to keep me from that at all costs. Battling the voices that have prevented me from hearing the lyrics of one song or the words of one sermon for months now, the devil’s distraction to keep me from encountering that love.
Seeking His love anyway. Letting it sit that I don’t feel worthy and praying, pleading with Him to answer even that as He has answered so many of the other deep questions of my heart whether I have known the words to put to them or not. Crying the tears He drips from my eyes, unashamedly and knowing He counts every one of them. Refusing to run scared any more. Feeling His redemption, His healing, and His presence.
And His piercing love.