Today, I feel empty.
As I’ve become more unwell I’ve gone from having a fairly busy life to a very quiet one. There are lots of things I’d like to do to fill my time and my mind but my body simply won’t allow it. I used to enjoy my job, my friends and my ability to go out and do what I liked. All those things form a part of our identities. And when they are stripped away, I feel as if there is nothing left.
Emptiness is a feeling to which I’ve become accustomed. I often sit in my living room wondering what I’m meant to be doing. What is the point of all this? The BBC adaptation of ‘Wives and Daughters’ has one of my favourite quotes: “I try to say ‘God’s will be done’ but it’s harder to be resigned than happy people think.”
It’s ok to feel empty. It’s not pleasant. It’s not the way things should be. But it’s not necessarily sinful. The important thing is to remember and believe that you won’t stay empty. Our God is not a God of emptiness. He’s not a God of vacuums. He’s a God of cups that overflow and life lived to the full.
You may be looking toward this Christmas with a sadness or an emptiness. But know this: Jesus came down to earth, he emptied himself, he became nothing so that we don’t have to stay empty and so that we can be somebody. I don’t know when and I don’t know how but I can promise you that if you give God your emptiness He will fill you up in ways you’ve never dreamed. And if you give God your feeling of insignificance He will remind you that He loved you so much He sent His beloved Son so that you could bear the very name of Christ.
Emptiness is not the end. It may be part of our story but we have been given this emptiness so that when we are filled, we will know Love more deeply than ever before.
Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,
but emptied Himself,
taking the form of a bond-servant,
and being made in the likeness of men.
Being found in appearance as a man,
He humbled Himself
by becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
For this reason also, God highly exalted Him,
and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow,
of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2:6-11 (NASB)
I was listening to my Dad’s sermon from last week (listen to it here) on Jesus’ voice being like the roar of many waters and he said this:
‘In Revelation ch 14, you hear the roar of many waters…. which turns out to be a multitude of the redeemed… Those who, though powerless themselves, have been rescued and established by the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s almost as though the voices of the redeemed get caught up in the mighty history-shaping voice of the Lord Jesus Christ when they sing His praise as the Slain Lamb. So, if you feel like you haven’t got a voice and you’d like to be part of the roar of many waters voice then the best thing you can do is sing a new song of praise to the crucified Lord Jesus Christ. And as you sing a new song of praise to the Lamb who is worthy then your voice will become part of a multitude voice joined with Jesus’ which sounds like the roar of many waters. And since Jesus’ is a history shaping voice, maybe your little water droplet in His many-waters, glorious voice will be that contribution to taking the universe to where it’s meant to be.’
That sentence, in that paragraph, struck me as amazing. And then I remembered that a couple of years ago I named my blog One Little Drop. At the time I just thought that it was a nice thing to call my little drop in the ocean of the internet (I know, I know, really not profound), but now I realise that this tiny slice of web-space, this particular song of this particular redeemed, Jesus-serving person, is part of my contribution, part of my little water droplet in Jesus’ many-waters, glorious voice.
Because: ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!’
Amen and amen.
Back in hospital.
Back being ill.
Back with things being tough.
But to be honest, though my heart sank when I realised I was getting not so well again, a tiny bit of me felt relieved. You see, I really do struggle spiritually when things get easy and nothing kills my love of gospel like a smooth life.
I’m not trying to be super pious. But these feelings excite me. Perhaps this is what walking along the road of James 1:2 looks like. Maybe this is what it means to count it joy when I meet trials of various kinds.
There’s a part of me that loves the easier life and not a day goes by when I don’t wish for a ‘normal’, healthy, 2.5 children, live long with my husband set up. But the thing is, if I really, deep down, want things to get easier, I know I should just stop praying that we become more faithful, more loving and more like Jesus. And if I look at it that way, it becomes so obvious.
His way is best.
Simple as that.
I long to change the world. I want to be that person who does something large and wonderful and because of that thing, life is better for many people. I hear stories of heroes and want to be like them. I feel inadequate because my world is so small and my influence so tiny.
But greatness isn’t just found on the battlefield or in the charity hospital or in the giving of millions of pounds. Greatness is found in living rooms across the world. It’s found in the prayerfulness of the old lady. It’s found in the perseverance of the chronically ill. It’s found in the joyfulness of the weary parent.
We make a huge error by assuming, by teaching, by living the lie that greatness is only found in fame and recognition. Greatness is found in the smallest of places, in the weakest of people, in the lowest roles. Greatness is found in service. Greatness is found in prayer. Greatness is found in our Lord Jesus. His is the ultimate story of small places, weak people and low roles. And yet, on that Friday evening, on a cross that represented shame and poverty, Greatness made itself known.
I long to change the world. And I can. Here in my tiny flat, my prayers change the world, my love for my husband changes the world, my faith changes the world. It may seem insignificant but our God never looks down on the small things, instead He loves to see them.
Our God calls us to greatness, right here, right now. Let’s start small.
Today I got dressed and put a load of washing on. That’s pretty much it. Because today has been a bad day.
Today has been a day where the tightness in my chest feels like it’s suffocating me. That’s probably because it is.
Today has been a day where everything has been hard. It took an age to get dressed and another age to trek backwards and forwards to the washing machine with the tiny armfuls of clothes I could manage. All the things that good housewives are meant to do have been left undone. The house is messy, the kitchen surfaces dirty and it’s pizza for dinner.
Today I have felt useless.
It takes a complete reversal of our world’s view of things for me to feel like I mean something. There’s a reason that the elderly, the disabled and the unborn get ignored, or worse, treated as if they’re less than human. I’ve felt it. I’ve met people who don’t value me as much as they would a ‘normal’ person. I’ve conversed with people who would rather not walk with someone if it meant they had to walk more slowly. I’ve read articles by people who think it would have been better if I had not been born.
For them I am useless.
But you only have to take a quick look in the Bible to find that Jesus came for the lame, the blind, the elderly, the ill. Jesus spent time with those people. He cared for them in real ways. The gospel is for the ‘useless’ of this world. And if Jesus came for those ‘useless’ people then they can’t be all that useless after all. If Jesus came to create a kingdom and He chose the ‘useless’ people to fill it, then they must mean something to Him.
In the world’s sight, I may be useless but in my King’s sight, I am precious and I mean something. And that’s what truly matters.
Clouds? Decidedly yes.
Rain? In the foreseeable future.
In Hollywood it’s sunny. Well, either that or the air is filled with big fluffy white snowflakes, perfect for settling on some cute girl’s eyelashes. I’ll allow for some rain, as long as it’s torrential rain that makes for a romantic moment. But next thing, we’re back on with bright, warm sunshine.
I live here. I live in a world where mosquitoes and wasps exist. I live in a world that comes with an 18 certificate. I live in a world where hospital dramas are real, not scripted, cleaned up and wrapped in nice box sets.
A world that does have sunshine sometimes. A world with laughter. A world with daisies and roses. A world with a million books waiting to be read.
Yet I find myself looking at the bad. I find myself building my own tomb. A tomb of bad memories and fear of ones yet to be made. And I look out at the sunshine and the laughter, the daisies and the books from within my self made tomb. And as I do so I watch the death of my life. As I shut out the good and find it easier to focus on the bad, the spark dies.
And so I call out. Is anyone there who can help? I don’t want to be here. I want to be there, out in the sunshine, laughing with my family and friends.
And then I see it. At first it’s just a shadow but as my eyes strain to see it more, as I want it more, the outline of a figure becomes clearer. He walks nearer, rolls the stone of my carefully constructed tomb away, takes my hand and leads me into the sun. And as long as He’s holding my hand, I can’t go back. Sure, I’ll try to. Sunlight makes me blink and shows me cobwebs. But the more I look at Him, the tighter my grip becomes. That’s how I want it to be.
‘Be careful what you pray for because it might just happen.’
It’s true. Answers to prayer come in ways that I was never expecting. And often they’re extremely annoying ways. I pray for patience and end up in hospital. I pray for strength and have a diabetes scare. I pray for joy and watch as another part of my world comes crumbling down.
Life is a battle. It’s hard down here in the trenches. It’s hard fighting for your life every day. Fighting for joy. Fighting for hope. Fighting for strength. That’s the thing about being in the trenches. It’s hard to look up and see out over the battlefield. But it’s vital.
Come with me. I need you to see something. You stand on my shoulders, then I’ll stand on yours. Look out, up above the trenches, over the muddied field. Look out past the old, wooden cross. Do you see that flash of white? Do you hear that sound? That’s our King, that’s our Captain. He’s on his white horse, his sword’s in his mouth and his crown is firmly on his head. That’s the sound of the armies of heaven following him. That, my friend, is the sight and sound of victory.
It should be easier to fight when the victory has been won. But often it doesn’t seem like it. And that’s because I forget to look up. I forget the glory. I forget the honour. And I forget how God answers prayer. Just ask Jesus. Not my will but yours. But be careful praying that because it might just happen.
I believe in life. I believe in hope. I believe in joy. And yet there are days when believing is hard. When the reality of sin and its consequences hit home in sad ways. Having an illness makes you feel the pinpricks of life often. There isn’t a day when I’m not reminded of illness and sadness, of pain and discomfort. And sometimes, some days I feel those pinpricks harder and bigger than before.
Today I learned of the death of a friend with Cystic Fibrosis. I didn’t know her very well but I knew enough to be amazed at her life, at her hope and at her joy. She fought for over 30 years, she ran the race and crossed the finish line into the arms of the Saviour she loved. She will have a new body one day, a body made perfect, a body with lungs that can breathe long and deep breaths, a body with energy enough to run marathons.
And I weep. Not for Claire. She has found Glory. But for her family and friends. For the fight they will have to believe in life and hope and joy. For my own struggles yet to come. And for my own fight to believe.
But in the sadness, the Life Giver is there. He knows the pinpricks. And he knows the nail wounds. And he tells me that life is eternal, that hope is here and that joy can be found. It’s our job to trust.
It’s always a sign that things aren’t going well when the baby steps you take get even harder. Foetus steps isn’t a phrase and there’s a good reason for that! Marathons get harder and feel longer when you slow up.
Things took a turn for the worse in our house recently. It was pretty grim. It ended with a GP’s visit, a hospital appointment and a hospital bed. We found out a couple of days ago that if we hadn’t gone through the GP and had a hospital appointment, I would have been put onto a 5 week long waiting list. God never ceases to amaze.
And yet it makes me so ashamed that when God was sorting out my not having to wait for 5 weeks, I was complaining. ‘God, why am I so ill? What is this? Can’t we just have a year of marriage when things go smoothly? Ok, 3 months? Even better, just take CF away, Lord. I don’t want it. It’s not fair, surely you can see that.’ I’m called to trust in the small things and so often I’m blind and so often I’m ungrateful.
This little bout of illness has done two things, taken me into two phases.
The first is the realisation that life will never again be easy. I used to think it was. But I’m older now, a tiny bit wiser. And I know. I know when things aren’t going well. I know when life gets harder.
The second is the realisation that life will never be as wonderful as what’s coming. I watch people having babies and it hurts. Look at the King, Ruth. Look at his Glorious Kingdom. That’s where you’re going. Now go and have fun playing with the baby. I watch people playing sports and having fun and it hurts. Look at the King, Ruth. Look at his Glorious Kingdom. That’s where you’re going. Now go and have fun being a cheerleader. I watch people advancing in careers and it hurts. Look at the King, Ruth. Look at his Glorious Kingdom. That’s where you’re going. Now go and have fun listening to people’s stories and encouraging them.
There’s a reason we’re told that God does all things for our good. It’s because it’s true. And in tiny ways I’m being allowed to see this truth. Come and look through the cracks in life with me. Light seems brightest when it’s shining through a small crack. Walk into its glare and you’re dazzled. Better yet, sit down in the ray and bask in the warmth and light of our Father’s choices for us.
There’s a lot I can’t do. I can’t run, some days walking is hard. But I will outrun my illness. For now I can run metaphorically into the arms of my Saviour. I look forward to the day when I will physically run into Glory taking deep gulps of breath. And maybe even yell ‘Hooray!’ at the same time.
I’m sitting on a chair in the living room. I’ve just got dressed. It was a huge effort, much bigger than it should have been. I can’t speak. At least, when I try to nothing more than a croak comes out. My ears are misbehaving so that sounds seem more distant than I know they really are. I feel like I’m in a different world. My own private world. It’s lonely and it’s me-centred.
I don’t imagine that anyone likes being unwell. No, me neither. For one thing, it’s so annoying. Doesn’t my body know that I have things to do? Surely worlds will stop when I’m not there doing my bit. I am very important. Or perhaps not. Perhaps everything will carry on without me. It seems to be doing fine while I’m here sitting on my chair.
Well, ok. Maybe life doesn’t stop. But what about my opinions? I can’t speak, can’t enter conversations. I have things to say, worlds to change by my words, people to influence. But maybe they’re better off without my words. Maybe more of my words tear down than build up.
Being ill comes as a sharp reality check. Even though I know that my plans for myself aren’t guaranteed, it’s always a bit of a shock when God’s plans are different. When I have to cancel those dinner plans. Miss seeing those people. Keep those thoughts to myself.
Being ill tears down the wall of pride and self-importance that I like to build. Oh, I’m pretty quick at building it but God breathes and it crumbles beneath his glorious plans. I don’t like to see it crumble. In fact, I get pretty cross about the whole affair. Sure, I know what I’m supposed to do. I know the thank you prayers I’m supposed to pray. But seeing my wall fall down hurts. Every time.
Being ill pushes me along the path to Glory. It’s not a gentle push. It’s more like a poke with a cattle prod. I often try to resist it but, God be praised, he’s a lot stronger than I am.
I say this stuff. I believe this stuff. But I’m not sure that before I’m made new and perfect, before I meet Jesus I’ll even begin to really understand this. But as I sit here on my chair, I don’t have to understand it. I know that Glory is coming, and I’m getting a preview right now.