the big empty

Pretty much every toddler I know, including my own, does this thing where they take their bin of toys and dump everything out. They then fill it back up… only to dump it out again. I’ve watched adults get frustrated by this whole activity. We have this leave it out or leave it in mentality and see the whole effort as futile. I say as long as she isn’t breaking anything or screaming or dumping them onto my head, let her be.

As I watched her do it the other day, something more profound hit me, as things tend to do when I’m a little sleep deprived and every little thing she does is magic. I started thinking about how as a Christian we often see things we want and do everything in our power to attain them, even if it is loud, clangy, messy and quite probably damaging to others around us. We get fixated on stuff. We want that one toy at the bottom of the basket and so we pick up the basket and deliberately throw everything else aside with great vigor and focus.

The question of course is what are you fixated on? And will it pay off? Like children, we get what we want and then not even five minutes later, we are on to the next thing or we’re trying to put everything back together again from the mess we made in attaining what we thought would give us pleasure. Or the inevitable discovery as a new parent that you can buy your kid the greatest toy and she’ll just play with the box or your old measuring cups for much much longer. We work so hard in this life. But are we working for the right things?

And I’m reminded, as we enter Holy Week – the events that led up to Jesus’ death and resurrection – that He was fixated. He came for one purpose and only one and nothing would stop him. No authority on earth or in hell could. People tried. His friends and family tried. His people didn’t get it. They were constantly trying to put all the toys back in the bin – aren’t these things important, Jesus? Shouldn’t we be more political? Don’t we have an agenda, the one where we overthrow the Romans and reestablish God’s kingdom of Israel? Those are the toys on the bottom of the bin that we are going for, right? Right?

“He emptied himself of all but love.”

It was a big empty. There was nothing else nearly as important as providing Grace. Nothing else on the agenda. His goal was to die so that all may live. It was far from easy, but in some ways it was the simplest thing. It was a singular purpose with nothing else to compete with it. Dying to self, not demanding his rights or rightful place on the throne. He willingly gave up his earthly comforts, his health and well being, his personal safety and space, his potential to a nice quiet life maybe settling down with a sweet Jewish girl and having his quiver of kids. None of those things fit in with his purpose so they became non-issues. They came out of the bin. He dumped them out. He didn’t need those things; he wasn’t after those things.

When I think of the Christian life and all I’ve come to learn so far, I realize that it’s really also a big empty. It’s a dumping out of “all the vain things that charm me most.” It’s the sacrifice of the things I hold dearest and closest. It’s the pouring out of my sinfulness, my deceit, my strivings, my attempts to attain and garner praise and accolades. It’s the removal of my knee jerk reactions, my set patterns of destructive behaviors, my self-centeredness and myopic vision. It’s the great dumping out of all that makes up the worst parts of me – even just the admittance of the existence of those things in me – weeding out the anger and pride, the very many ways I try to control and manipulate all the parts of my life – the stuff in my bin – for all the purposes that *I* have for myself.

And it’s the great empty that leaves us ready, but it also makes us open and vulnerable. It’s scary stuff for most of us. It reveals just how little we really trust God. I’m not sure what He’s going to do with my life. I don’t know how things will play out if I don’t try to control them. I don’t trust other people for sure and I am too afraid that they will walk all over me if I don’t attack first and strong-arm others to get my way. And what I’m not admitting is that I don’t really trust that God will do what He will do and that giving my life to Him means I believe He will deliver me to the day of reckoning and I will stand boldly before His throne with no condemnation and great reward, while those who did not trust Him will have to make their own defense. Woe to them. Woe to those who desperately try to fill their own bins. Woe to those who spend all their lives and energy on futile, fruitless purposes. They will come up short every time.

But for us who believe… for us, we will be broken, empty vessels, hearts and minds open wide to the glorious truth of God’s Own Self poured into us! What a mind-blowing thought! The Spirit of God Almighty, Ruler of all that is, Supreme and Highest, Maker of all things and Conqueror of sin and death, living IN me… this lowly, fragile jar of clay! Oh how wonderful! Oh how marvelous! And I get this picture of my bin. God takes up a lot of space. It has to be emptied of all for Him to take over. It has to be dumped out, poured out, and willingly so, for Him to fill me.

Fill me now, beautiful Savior. Remind me this Holy Week how you emptied yourself that I might live. Don’t let me continually try to refill myself with all the vanities I think will make me happy and whole.Force my hands to stop clinging to what I think I want and even dare to think I deserve in this world. Help me trade in these lesser things, replacing them with Your love and grace and goodness. Move in me and transform my space. Make me usable and sweet to You, ready always to do Your will. Let my meditations be on Your sufferings and Your sacrifice, this week, and all weeks, that I may more fully see the mystery and depth of Your plans for me in Your vast and eternal kingdom and eagerly lay down my life and all I am for Your glory. Fill me now, I pray.



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