The Empty Spaces of Our Lives

Posted on May 7, 2012 by Greg Willson

Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God…”

We believe that empty spaces are wastes of spaces. Like all good Americans we place a high value on efficiency, and how can a vacant moment be accomplishing anything? This is why we have such a hard time with waiting. And this is also why we create all sorts of diversions to make sure we never feel the weight of an ounce of boredom. But things do happen when nothing happens. In fact, the silence of a moment is often when we are confronted with ourselves and with God. And that’s why we want to run away from it.

I’m currently reading through Chuck DeGroat’s book, Leaving Egypt: Finding God in the Wilderness Places, and came across this quote from Thomas Merton:

To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence.

As a musician this makes sense to me. Most people think music is made up of the notes we choose to play, and of course that’s true, but music is also fundamentally about the notes we choose not to play. The rhythms and melodies leave space in the right places. How annoying would it be to have a guitarist play an incredible ripping guitar solo full of a million notes going a million miles per hour on an acoustic ballad? Or how annoying would it be to have a drummer constantly play a drum solo, slamming his sticks into every piece of equipment imaginable in the middle of a singer’s melody? The melody would get lost in the notes.

If all notes and rhythms were being played at once, it would sound like a horrible cacophony. And one interesting point: we can’t even do that if we wanted! No human being on any instrument (that I know of, non-electronic at least) can play every note all the time simultaneously. That should be a good anaology for us.

We submit ourselves to violence every time we try and cram two tons into a 16 oz. container. And then we feel guilty that we couldn’t fit it all in. Knowing what goes in that container requires us to trust and rely on God to tell us: to tell us more of who He is, more of who we are, more of what our world is about. We’d much rather make those decisions ourselves, but we’re not made for that, we can’t do it.

What are the melodies that might be getting lost in your noise of notes? How are we not honoring the empty spaces that God has designed us to live within? When a day doesn’t work as planned, are we completely wrecked? When we don’t cross everything off that to-do list, are we unloving toward others? When a building takes much longer than anticipated, are we unduly frustrated?

We all tend to orient our lives around removing these “empty” spaces, where God is asking us to seek Him in them.

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11 Responses to “The Empty Spaces of Our Lives”

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  2. Pastor Curt
    May 07, 2012

    Greg, this is a timely word for me as I seek to observe my monthly prayer emphasis day and wait on the Lord. Asking God to keep me from the violence of excess demands. Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to post.

  3. Matt West
    May 07, 2012

    I agree with sentiment, but since I know nothing about music, some of the analogies were tough for me to understand.:) I do think we need to value the off time God gives us!

  4. Jeff Wadley
    May 07, 2012

    Great post, Greg. I still submit that Chuck DeGroat is one of the best [undiscovered] writers for the church of this generation! He has a great blog here:

    Thanks for the reminder of “unplayed” notes!

  5. Nicely written post, Greg. I love the quiet times in life (and in music) to allow what has come before and what is to come after, a chance to be reflected upon. That resolving chord in music (and in life) is always welcome when it comes, but the waiting makes it all the sweeter.

  6. Graham
    May 08, 2012

    Great post, friend. I was just reading this article on the 20th anniversary of Eddie’s Attic, in GA. There was this great line by John Mayer (::choke, I know, something not completely self-centered coming out of his mouth:):

    “When a room is making noise—let’s say on a scale of one to ten, it’s a four—you lose all the music you can make from one to four,” he says. “You lose so much touch and nuance. There’s so much beautiful music that happens between a pin dropping and the first bit of chatter. That’s where some of the best music in the world came from, and that’s why Eddie’s has that magic.” –

    Keep up the good work/word.

  7. Thanks everyone- glad it hit something, even if it was obtuse at times! Graham, love that quote. I’m gonna steal it.

  8. Jillian Combs
    May 08, 2012

    solid. thanks Greg.

  9. Stella Eelman
    May 09, 2012

    An empty space in your heart where God should be, is the only emptiness that is a lonely void. Praise God for His mercy and grace to sinners.

  10. Olivia Taylor
    May 19, 2012

    Soooo true. Love the music analogies. Painted the truth so vividly. Thanks, Greg. It’s hard to be still and listen to the silence. I know I spend so much energy staying busy, “productive,” filling up the emptiness. And yet, so often, that is where Christ is waiting for me.

    I didn’t realize Chuck had that book out. I heard his thoughts on his New Exodus model for counseling. Cool.

  11. Thanks, Olivia! And it’s been great reading the book form of the model Chuck’s been using. Great stuff so far.

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