Empty spaces. Seems like they are all around. A few weeks ago we had to have our prettiest tree cut down, a hundred year old pin oak that was struck by lightning over the summer. Most of the big trees in our yard are crooked and scraggly, but this one was perfectly formed and stood at the end of our driveway, right by the road, as if welcoming me to the house. The tree service men arrived rather unexpectedly on that Saturday morning with their chain saws and bucket truck and by mid-afternoon, the massive tree was just a stump. The yard seems bare and quiet without it there.
The same day our tree was being cut down, Fred Berger, my cousin Lee’s husband, was losing his short battle with cancer. He died that afternoon, leaving a gigantic hole in the lives of Lee and their 3 daughters as well as in Fred’s family and their community of Franklin, NC, where he had looked after the babies and children as the town’s pediatrician for over 40 years. He has left an empty space that will not be filled.
And, that same week-end, the Mooresville, NC High School class of 1974 celebrated their 40th reunion. One empty space at the reunion was my sister Anne, who was a member of the graduating class but died of cancer less than two years later. Through Facebook, I have been in touch with her wonderful friends and spent a morning getting together old pictures to send to them. Going through the pictures and talking to them brought up the old sad feelings that have never gone away, even after all these years. But how precious it was to know that Anne was remembered and missed and that they laughed and cried over her!
Each day as I have looked out over the empty place where our tree used to be, I have thought about these and other times in my life when I have been particularly hollow and about other friends who have lost loved ones in the last few weeks. In Sunday School this week, we began a study of a thought -provoking book called “Jesus is the Question: the 307 questions Jesus asked and the 3 He answered.” One of Jesus’s first questions was “Who are you looking for?” Although it seems like a simple question, it touches on our deepest needs. The blogging queen, Ginger, was in charge and wrote these song lyrics on the board:
Love is and always was the longing place inside my heart to know you and be known by you. (The Longing, by All Sons and Daughters)
Empty spaces and longing – often the only answer to these is God. We can’t help but have the empty places if we live long enough – our children are going to grow up and leave home, our parents and other family members are going to die, we retire or move or friends leave. I have struggled for years with the huge hole in my life left when Anne died, and will continue to – but I am trying to turn to The Lord to fill those places. We can temporarily ignore these feelings with being busy and entertained, but deep down our souls are craving The Lord – to know Him and to be known by Him, as the song says.
I have found that God does fill the empty spaces – sometimes in a spiritual way, but sometimes in concrete ways. Since Anne’s death 38 years ago, I have always had someone older in my life that filled a similar role as a big sister – never taking her place, but helping to fill in around the edges a little. The same can be said of other losses in my life.
I imagine my soul like a big hole in the ground full of rich soil. Scoops are taken out when my loved ones have died and other hurts have occured, but bucketfuls have also gone in. Support from my family and friends, the joy I get from church, the laughter at my job, the ability to run, the release of writing, time alone with God – all these things are like scoops of dirt being dumped back in, filling in but never quite getting it filled to the top. There is always that longing, and that part is left for God to finish up. I imagine the Holy Spirit like a dove settling in at the top of my hole, nestling in and spreading out His wings, sheltering me under them and filling in all the air pockets of lonliness and grief and bruised feelings.
I am working on not being afraid of the empty places but seeing them as areas of growth. As we stood around the day of the cutting talking with our tree man, I mentioned a little tree that we had planted several years ago a few yards from the big pin oak. “That tree has never grown much,” I commented. “The big tree was probably taking all the water from it.” said the tree man. “It ought to start growing now.” I’m anxious to see what it becomes.