by Allison Martin
What’s missing in your life right now?
That’s a really personal question, and I might not go that deep if we were sitting here face to face. But since I’m writing and you’re reading, and no one can hear your answer but you, I’ll take a step beyond surface level.
If you were to be honest, what are the empty places in your life right now?
In this community of believers, I suspect there are some women who are sincerely doing their best to follow after God and His will for their lives. Yet in spite of their fervent prayers and best efforts, they still feel the ache of something missing. They’ve tried to ignore it, to not let it bother them, to not let the frustration they feel slip above the surface. And yet in the hidden places of their heart, the quiet question remains: “Why?”
Why haven’t I been feeling God’s presence like I desperately want to?
Why do I long for community, and yet feel so alone?
Why do I keep giving all my efforts for results that never come?
Why does the Voice I long to hear seem so far away?
Why do I feel so unfulfilled, so forgotten, so overlooked?
There’s too many empty places to give an exhaustive list of the questions they bring, but I’m sure you know what yours is.
Empty places are where the walls close in around us and our questions grow louder as they echo. Though no one else may have any idea, they’re there. It is in the empty places that we strain to see God’s purpose, His plan, or even the slightest fingerprint of evidence that His hand is at work. Not in our lives as a whole, but in this one specific place - the empty place.
Our tendency is to scramble around, haphazardly filling the emptiness with anything and everything we can squeeze in. Yet in our frenzied efforts to fill every void in our life, we can miss the lesson they came to teach.
God is the Master Teacher, and sometimes emptiness is in His lesson plan. We may not have seen it coming, but it was on His schedule long before it became a part of our life. He knows just the perfect way to speak into the individual lives of His children, so His ways aren’t cookie cutter or predictable. They’re a tailored fit to you.
We often celebrate when God works through abundance, but let’s not forget that His ways are much higher than ours.
Peter learned the power of prayer as an entire church believed for his deliverance from prison; Paul found the same power as he sat in chains, abandoned and alone.
David learned leadership in a cave with six hundred men under his care; Moses learned it on the backside of a desert, with no one to talk to but sheep.
The children of Israel learned to follow God with a cloud and a fire guiding their every step; Abraham learned with a simple command to go, no roadmap or destination included.
God‘s lesson plans include both abundance and emptiness. If it were up to us, we’d choose the former over the latter every time. We would always choose abundance because we can’t imagine all the beauty that God intends to bring through the emptiness.
I feel a tug to be more transparent here than I normally would. I'm awkward - if you've met me, then we're both aware of this. I also have tendencies to overthink, which can be a destructive combination.
By nature, I don’t do big groups well. Even big friend groups. A good conversation with a small group is where I’m comfortable. But put me in a big group of even people I count as friends, and it’s easy for me to freeze up. With God’s help, I’ve come a long way, and now I can truly enjoy a big group. But in my teenage years and early twenties, it could be paralyzing.
If I didn’t actively work to silence the negative thoughts, I would always feel like the odd one out. It really didn’t matter how kind and welcoming the group was, because the problem wasn’t with them. It was with me. I would feel like the one everyone was looking at thinking, "Who invited her?” The one that couldn’t say it right, or be funny enough to fit in with the group.
This led to varying seasons of my life where I knew I had friends, but I felt alone. I isolated myself rather than risk rejection, and then felt the weight of that loneliness. I didn’t want to be that way, and I tried not to be. But I felt powerless to stop it. I was in my early twenties before I really surrendered that part of myself to God and let Him start to help me. But by that time, some scars had been made. (Though this is my natural inclination, I made the decision to not be held back by it. It’s not to say that I don’t ever struggle with it, but it’s something God continually gives me victory in.)
Last year at our youth camp, I slipped off by myself in an altar service. I had been reflecting on those different seasons in my life, and I had some questions. I wasn't angry; I just needed some clarity as to why. I covered my face and poured my heart out to God all alone.
I suddenly felt a hand on my arm. No one praying in my ear or saying anything. Just one friend, being there. A friend I had made because I reached out to her, knowing how it felt to be all alone and left behind.
At that moment God spoke to my heart: “Those seasons of loneliness shaped you in ways that having a big friend group never could have.”
In that moment, I realized how much of my ministry was built on things I learned in the empty places.
Don't get me wrong - God has taught me countless times through abundance. He gave me people that showed up just when I needed them, and stayed. Through men and women of God pouring into me, and encouraging words coming at the right moment. Rock solid friends and supportive family. A card in the mail here, a life shaping altar service there. Yes, God has taught me so much through abundance.
But He has also shaped me through emptiness.
At times I learned the kind of friend I wanted be, because it's what I wished I had. I learned lessons of faithfulness when I watched people walk away. I learned a hunger for God's presence when I couldn't find Him anywhere. I learned the value of seeing potential in people, in the times I wondered if anyone saw anything special in me. I learned the power of believing in someone, by feeling the weight of not measuring up. I was shaped by the encouraging word that never came, and by the empty cafeteria table.
God shapes our lives through both abundance and emptiness. Both are His tools, and He is not careless with either. He uses them with intention, carefully molding us into who He sees that we could be.
If you find yourself in an empty place today, take comfort that you are not alone. As much as we try to keep them hidden away, all of us have them.
I believe that these times of emptiness are seasons, not life sentences. Seasons will change as they always do, and you will live in abundance again. It might look different than you expect, and it may not be the same as before. God may fill the empty place with something entirely new, or He may choose to simply fill it with Himself.
But rest assured that you have a good Father, whose plans for you are only good. Emptiness is not the destination, only a tool. I can’t say that the lesson will end soon, because that’s not for me to decide. But I can say with confidence that when it does, your heart will once again echo the Psalmist: “My cup runneth over.”