This Has to Go!
An Open Letter About Emptiness and Faith
by Rachel Hickling
Have you ever felt hollow, empty, unfulfilled? I have, a lot, really more than I would like to admit. And if I’m being honest, God’s promises of fulfillment and provision have often left me wondering if something was wrong with me because I was feeling so empty inside. I have some thoughts I want to share with you including a testimony about my own struggle with emptiness, an important conversation I had with a friend, and a vision that God gave me. I hope that I may help bring some understanding to any emptiness you may be experiencing in your faith walk and challenge you in your relationship with Christ.
So the letter begins…
Two weeks after this past holiday season, I spent about an hour having a heart-to-heart with one of my dearest friends. We opened our conversation with a check on where we both were spiritually, talking about our relationships with Jesus. After a little while of sharing, I came undone. Honesty began to flow from my mouth as I expressed feeling like there was a huge crater in my heart, a cavern of darkness at the center of my being, like something was blocking me from hearing and receiving from God. As I said this, I wept. Through tears, the words came tumbling out of my mouth one by one. My doubts of God’s character, my doubts of my own spirituality, my questions of God’s goodness and promises and then my own attempts to make the emptiness in my heart stop. I wondered, “If I’m really a Christian, then why are so many of my days filled with a hollow existence?”
My friend surprised me by expressing some of her own emptiness in her walk with the Lord. She then shared with me a nugget of wisdom, saying, “Maybe the emptiness we feel isn’t the real problem… maybe it’s the symptom of a deeper problem. Maybe emptiness isn’t a bad thing.” These words resonated in my mind for hours after our conversation. I knew they were significant. So I began an open dialogue with God about the topic of emptiness. He spoke to me like only he could, through a vision that was so vivid that it captured many of my thoughts for many days.
The vision went something like this….
A scene opened in my mind with a little girl standing in darkness at the bottom of a sizable cavern. She looked up, seeing only blackness, with a small trace of white light that came to a small point. This child not only had the physical features of a little girl but embodied the essence of a being who was all at once innately small, scared, callow, defenseless, curious yet innocent. I heard a voice on the air, that was at first indistinguishable. Suddenly, a figure appeared to the little girl at the bottom of the chasm. The figure’s features were hard to make out but embodied the essence of divinity. The figure approached the little girl, reaching out a hand to hers, and as their hands touched, he raised her up out of the darkness of the cavern to the top of a serene cliffside. The cliffside was intensely picturesque. Strands of green grass were emerald blades that brushed up against the most peaceful sea-toned sky. It was daytime, and the sun was peaking down through sparse clouds that added just enough interest to the sky to make it otherworldly.
At the center of this sky was something quite peculiar. Upon this quaint cliffside was a massive overturned tree that had been recently excavated, with its impressive root system facing up. Though the tree was not in its expected stance, it was stunning, with foliage that danced in the wind with vibrant greens and bustling pinks that captured passion, lust, and desire. The tree had a wide, robust trunk that had once stood in a most stately manner, with beautiful ivy cascading down its center. There was also a gravity about the tree, an enticing beauty that is hard to explain, so magnetic that I, as an onlooker, found myself all too quickly caught up in its orbit. Before I knew it, I was entranced with the tree for indefinite amount of time, under a hypnosis of sorts that was motivated by my own desire for the beautiful things in life.
Suddenly, a voice jolted me awake. It was the same voice that I had heard speaking to the little girl previously, but it was now speaking to me. The voice said, “This has to go.”
The voice carried such grace yet such authority that I knew that it was the voice of God. He had seen it all, the seeds planted, the tears that watered the soil, the years that went into the growth of the little sapling that was now a glorious tree. Then I realized…God was speaking to me in symbols. I was the little girl and the Cliffside was my inner self. I had planted the tree, and watered it for many years in an attempt to create something beautiful to fill the emptiness of my heart. “Why did this beautiful piece of creation have to go,” I wondered? Because God knew what I was thinking, he said,
“This tree was in the place where I meet you in your emptiness, so it had to go.”
Then I saw the parts of the tree that I had ignored before. The roots that were once shallow had jutted into the deepest parts of the earth, extending into the deepest parts of my inner core, twisting and attaching themselves to most extensions of my “self.” They had become so familiar to me that the exposed roots held pieces of my inner self in their clutches. They had wrapped around many parts of me, choking out my innocence, identity, and joy. The inner workings of the root system were more complex and more dangerous than I had ever realized. My own attempts at fullness had choked out my relationship with Jesus, and then strangled my identity in the process. This tree was my defense to show myself I wasn’t empty like I felt. But the truth is, without Jesus, I am empty. My heart is a dark, hollow cavern that cannot be filled by even the most impressive root system.
Friends, this vision was a wake up call for me. I had planted a tree in my heart, something that seemed good, but was destructive to my walk with Jesus and nearly destroyed my faith. It all started because I got tired of yearning for my Jesus. I got tired of feeling empty, so I secretly ran to the good things of life spending years sewing seeds, watering earthly things that only left me empty and lost. And that’s what I want to get to today… I was using good things to try to fill my emptiness. And if we are being honest, we all do it, and it’s very dangerous.
Here is a list of things that I was using to try to bring fullness to my emptiness:
- An overly busy schedule
- My own dreams of success
- Having a plan for everything
- Attaining material belongings
- Unrealistic expectations of myself and others
- Being overly self-focused
- Being at the center of ministry
- Needing to be needed
- Religious Achievement through “ministering more”
- Fantasies about romantic relationships
- Pride over being the person that everyone goes to for advice
- Running myself into the ground trying to save everyone around me.
Does any of this sound familiar? We have a new problem as the American Church. We are too focused on being “filled” with good things and being the hero that we don’t allow ourselves to hunger and thirst after God. We want a quick fix that is going to make us feel better when we are feeling empty.
We are obsessed with success and God giving us the “ideal life.” We don’t want to be hungry… because it’s hard. We’ve been trained by American Society to be entitled in attitude, demanding instant gratification for our souls. Or we go to the opposite extreme and feel that we need to save the world in order to gain significance and worth. Many of us have bought the lie that good things of this earth will fill us, and we’ve stopped going to the Source Himself with our deepest longings for fulfillment.
As church people, most of us aren’t looking to the “bad things” to make fill our emptiness. Instead, we are twisting the “good things” so secretly to fill the God-shaped caverns in our souls. Then the enemy has us in a cycle of being self-focused and pouring good earthly accomplishments into our God-void, which ends in destruction of identity, emptiness and disappointment. Even the best gifts in life are never enough and will leave us empty every time. Allowing ourselves to hunger and thirst after God’s presence is not an easy thing. In fact, it is very counter-cultural in a world where anything and everything is at our fingertips. But hunger leads to life, if we eat of the right things…God’s word and his presence. Things that will pass away distract us constantly. What about our personal relationships with Jesus?
He is the ONLY THING that will satisfy, the Tree of Life from which all good fruits come.
We’re supposed to long for him, to ache when we haven’t been in his presence enough, to need his power and touch in our lives. That’s the hallmark of having an authentic relationship with Jesus. Missing him…longing for him… loving him, needing his saving grace, being empty and lost without him, but finding real peace as he forms us every day. So why am I writing this letter to you? I want to remind you to spend time with your Lord, everyday, focusing on Him, and less on self. Stop striving even after good things to fill you. Don’t just look to God’s blessings, look to Jesus himself.
Do you have any trees growing in your heart? If so, let God have his way in you. Then, ache after your first love. And he will fill you with Himself, which is way more beautiful than anything you can grow on our own.
This has to go now.