When you have nothing to bring

I have nothing this morning, nothing to bring to the One who made worlds from nothing and shaped hummingbirds and hydrangeas from formless, empty darkness. Nothing except the half-written post that refuses to complete, my own weariness, and a prayer of willingness.

He accepts them like a parent holding out hands to a child bringing a broken toy and a breaking heart. He holds them gently, and my heart heals a little as I see again that what matters to me matters to him because I matter to him. Then he sets them down carefully beside him and gathers me close, his arms reminding me once more that his delight in me isn’t affected at all by whether I have anything to bring him, or whether what I bring is broken or whole. He loves me just because he loves me, and sometimes the greatest thing I can offer is the vulnerability of my honest need.

When you have nothing to give

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As I bring my gift, shame sometimes still creeps in, taunting me with its jabs, “It’s such a poor gift. Can’t you find anything better than this to offer a King?”

I ignore the voice and offer my gift anyway, the gift that in this moment is all I have to give: all of my longing, my emptiness, my helplessness.

The Gracious One reminds me of another woman who gave him all of her nothingness, her entire poverty. He received it as a gift of everything.

In this upside-down kingdom, it is not fullness, independence, sufficiency which the King seeks, but emptiness. Acceptance of our own inability.

“Grace fills empty spaces, but it can only enter where there is void to receive it, and it is grace itself which makes this void.” (Simone Weil)

It is grace itself which makes this void.

It is grace that lets us feel the truth of our smallness.

“Apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

It is grace that fills our smallness with his greatness.

“My strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

And it is grace that reminds us again and again that our emptiness is not a shameful gift, not a last resort because we have nothing “better” to offer, but the very thing God most wants—because he who delights to bless in the most extravagant ways wants to fill us with himself.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit (or as I’ve often heard Darrell Johnson paraphrase, “Blessed are those who know they do not have what it takes”) for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)

 

An edited repost from the archives

When you find yourself in a desert

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I wrote last week about Wesley’s covenant prayer and how it was getting easier to pray it. The whole week since has been a reminder that no matter how much I might have grown, I’ve barely made it into kindergarten yet. Last week I could pray most of the lines. This week I’ve struggled to pray any. Or I’ve prayed them, but I’ve wondered if it made any difference. “Let me be full, let me be empty,” I’ve prayed, and yet when my energy failed by noon and the do-list that I couldn’t do stretched long and the hours of emptiness still longer, and I couldn’t shake the self-pity or even seem to be able to let Jesus love me in the middle of it, I wondered if my prayer had made any difference at all.

It felt like I was standing in the middle of a desert with emptiness stretching away to the horizon and my only companions the self that I wanted to escape and the tempter slithering around in the endless sands of my selfishness egging me on.

“Where are you, God? And where am I? And how do I find my way through this parched place?”

I’ve been in high-altitude deserts where the mountains of work crowded close and the snow drifting through the passes cut off all escape routes, and I’ve been in deserts of burned-out emptiness where the hours stretched away long after my strength had worn out and my parched lips cracked with the waiting for an oasis to appear.

Every desert looks a little different. But underneath, the heart of every desert is the same. Every desert, in one way or another, strips us of our ability to think we’ve got it together and calls us back to the One who holds everything together.

And this week as I cried out, a drop of water fell onto my parched tongue. A tiny, two-letter word that budded with hope.

“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert.” (Luke 4:1)

I’d remembered that Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the desert (Matt 4:1). I’d never noticed that Luke uses a different preposition. The one who led Jesus into the wilderness didn’t desert him at the first row of dunes. Jesus was, as the United Bible Society Translators’ Handbook says, “led about. Jesus went, guided by the Holy Spirit, from place to place in the wilderness.”

It shouldn’t surprise me. God not only led the Israelites into the desert on their journey into freedom, He led them about in it (Exodus 40:36-37).

It’s the way of the wilderness in Scripture. However hurt and grumbly we may feel as our comforts and our security are stripped away, however we may wonder where God is or who God is or how we’ve ended up in this place, God never leads us into the desert to desert us. He leads us here to draw us closer. To teach us to trust His love, to learn to let ourselves be led. Here in the desert enough of the clutter gets cleared away that we can finally, maybe, begin to hear again the voice of the One who is calling us closer:

“Therefore I am now going to allure her;

I will lead her into the desert

and speak tenderly to her.

There I will give her back her vineyards,

And make the Valley of Trouble a door of hope. . . .

‘In that day,’ declares the LORD, ‘you will call me ‘my husband’;

you will no longer call me ‘my master.’ . . .

I will betroth you to me forever. . . in love and compassion. . .

And you will know the LORD.” (Hosea 2: 14-20)

When you long for fullness

It rises and falls moment by moment, me scarcely aware. Receiving breath-gift. Fullness. The surrender of release. Emptiness.

The breath cycle happens in spirit as in body. Grace is given, received with thankfulness. A moment, a day perhaps, of felt fullness, joy and peace. Excitement at what God is doing. Then it fades. Fatigue sets in. Restlessness. A fresh awareness of my own emptiness and poverty and need.

I seem to want always to feel full.

I forget that constant fullness leads to death.

Those with asthma know. Emptiness is a gift, constant fullness that against which they war. For in their illness, the problem is not receiving breath, but releasing it; not getting air in, but out.  As the airways close, the lungs stay full. No release, no space for the next breath in. And the air within, the gift of the past, has already done its life-giving work, gracing the body with oxygen. It can give no more life but waits to be surrendered, the space emptied for another rise to fullness.

And I wonder, can I learn not to fight the process of surrender? Each time the fullness wanes, can I learn to ask, “What am I being invited to release?” Can I move beyond seeing emptiness as a necessary but unpleasant preparation for fullness and learn to receive the unique gifts that emptiness offers? For it is only here that we discover ourselves loved in our poverty, our nothingness. It is here alone that we learn we are cherished not for our doing, but because by unfathomable mystery God delights in our being.

And I realize that without this gift of emptiness, there is no rising cycle to fullness, for this is the gift, the earthy, holy stuff of new creation fullness, that at our emptiest, we find ourselves embraced again by the One who delights to draw us close enough to breathe into us our next moment of fullness.

 A repost from the archives 

When you don’t have much to offer

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I ran along the garden path, wishing I’d brought my camera. The grasses bowed, shimmered, almost glowed in the early morning light.

I moved slowly, my run half walk, each step dragging the weight of my heart. There are times it’s tempting to pull the covers over your head and skip the day.

I stopped to stretch and a tear slipped from my eye. I gave it to Jesus. It was all I had to give.

As I walked back past the grasses, almost other-worldly in their silvery shimmer, I sensed His nudge. “Look closer.”

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Sometimes you have strength to give, and sometimes willing weakness. And when your threadbare weakness has worn right through and all you have left is emptiness and tears, just bring Him those. But be warned: you might have to go for your camera. It’s nothing for this one who spoke the Milky Way out of empty space to string worlds of beauty from tears bent to his light.