“He brought me out into a spacious place; He rescued me because He delighted in me.” (Ps 18: 19)
It’s pitiful! The same thing happens every vacation. The days leading up to the precious time away are filled to the brim. I’m out of breath. The trouble with vacation is that all of the work I normally do still needs to be done before I leave, doubling my work. By the time vacation comes around, I am exhausted and salivating for free time.
Then the blessed vacation comes, and I finally have my much-needed free time. And I start to get itchy. I don’t know what to do with empty space, time to myself. Inevitably, I vacillate between checking back at the office to make sure everything is okay and allowing myself to feel uncomfortable. For the first day or two, I will do anything to avoid having nothing to do.
Space is both what we desperately need and terribly fear. The problem with space is that it is, by definition, empty. Our natural human tendency is to fill empty spaces, whether that is space in our homes, words in a conversation, or prayers to God. I notice around some people that their compulsion for filling every moment, every conversation is so strong that I begin to feel claustrophobic around them. Isn’t it interesting that the opposite of spacious is claustrophobic? Claustrophobia is the feeling of panic that comes from being enclosed with no space. We can’t live with space, we can’t live without space.
After a day or two of vacation, space looks different. What initially felt empty and scary, feels freeing and delightful. In Hebrew, the word “space” is in the root of the word that is translated “salvation.” The challenge with space is that we need to reframe space from emptiness to freedom. That involves pushing through the uncomfortable place where we don’t have an agenda, a purpose, or a goal. I am a fanatic about defining goals and clarifying agenda. But sometimes that fanaticism is a veiled attempt to control life and avoid the emptiness that could become my salvation. Space, while unsettling, is a necessary ingredient of growth.
Henri Nouwen writes, “In the spiritual life, the word discipline means ‘the effort to create some space in which God can act.’ Discipline means to prevent everything in your life from being filled up. Discipline means that somewhere you’re not occupied, and certainly not preoccupied. In the spiritual life, discipline means to create that space in which something can happen that you hadn’t planned or counted on.”
Here is my challenge. Somewhere during this week, create empty space in your life. Empty space is a place when you relax and do nothing, a time when you sit and let your mind wander. You decide what it looks like. Is it a leisurely walk? Sitting in a favorite chair? Taking a bath? Let this spacious time linger for at least thirty minutes. Be warned. You might love it, or you might hate it. Whichever happens, know that space is where life is found. We are not meant to be perpetually filled. If you and I are to enjoy life, have meaningful relationships, and find internal peace, then we must become friends with space.