Some days emptiness walks across the room and slaps you in the face even though, and sometimes because, you are a Christian. I know this can happen at any age, but it seems common as you grow old.
As I near retirement age, I am startled by how little I have done. Books not written. Prayers not answered. Dreams not realized. Fragments of achievement, but never enough.
I have measured out my life not in coffee spoons but in stacks of essays graded. A competent teacher, but not legendary. And of course, as a parent you always wish you had done more or done better.
A life surrendered to God offers no automatic protection. We long to serve God in world-changing ways. We crave significance.
Sometimes emptiness pounds my faith in the promises I think (wrongly?) God has spoken. Why would God call me to pray for city-transforming revival if He never intended to release it? Yes, I know Jeremiah did exactly that. He preached and prayed and Israel never repented but instead went into exile. Jeremiah is, however, called the weeping prophet and was no fun at church potlucks.
Emptiness is relative, so it never helps to list the things you actually accomplished and the lives you have impacted for good and for God. There are always the dozens who have done more in comparison. Nor is hope had by considering those lives emptied by years of drug addiction or self-destructive living. Emptiness is no respecter of persons.
It is good to count your blessings one by one, but it does little to protect us from the slap of emptiness. In fact, you may just end up wondering how you could do so little with all God has given you.
Here are two things that stop emptiness in its tracks. After Jesus and his disciples see a poor widow put her two mites in the treasury, Jesus says, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them; for they all out of their surplus put into the offering; but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on.” (Luke 21:3—4) Elsewhere Jesus says, “And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you he shall not lose his reward.” Matthew 10:42
These two verses show that God’s kingdom runs on a different economy. The human longing for significance is God-given—but what is significant to us and to God aren’t the same. A life surrendered to God, like the widow’s mites, is within the reach of every believer. We can live for His eyes and according to his economy. In his kingdom and economy even a cup of water counts.
It is liberating to fully embrace the economy of God. Not only can I ignore what others think of my achievements, I don’t have to care about what I think. Every day can I sally forth with widow’s mites and give all I have to God. Every day, significance is within reach even if invisible to all but God.
The second defense to emptiness is the hidden life. Paul wrote in Colossians “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (3:3). Not only do others not see who I really am, I can’t see my life. I have died to the visible life—one lived for the eyes of others, or even my own eyes. I am free just to live in humble obedience each day. It’s enough.
Therefore, I resist the temptation to weigh my accomplishments or lack of them. My worth and life are hidden with Christ in God. Only God knows my heart—the great things done with pride and simple things done with purity. I can trust all this to God. This is the joy of the hidden life.
So when emptiness crosses the room to slap me, I grab it by the lapels, box its ears, and say, “You don’t know me! Hell [a personification of existential angst], I don’t even know me! But when Christ, who is my life, is revealed, then I also will be revealed with Him in glory.” Glory!