“. . . LET ME BE EMPTY”
Today’s Scripture Reading
12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
6 because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”
7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? 8 If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live!10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
If to be “full” is to be satisfied, then to be “empty” is to be unfulfilled and void of any kind of satisfaction. To pray the second half of this line, “let me be empty,” is to offer ourselves up knowing that there may be times when we serve God's mission that we are left wanting--feeling like our work is done in vain, without any real impact or joy. We've all heard statements similar to, “we all have parts of our jobs we don't like,” or “I like 80 percent of my job and hate 20 percent of my job.” in God's economy, however, there is likely a time or two when we will feel the 80/20 principle in reverse, or maybe even feel 100 percent dissatisfied.
To serve others, knowing that “empty” might be there to greet us at the end of our work, is to serve faithfully, without needing to see or feel the fruits of our labor. Empty can mean a lot of things, including lack of purpose or meaning. Contrary to being “full,” serving empty can feel as though serving is pointless. To pray, “let me be empty,” however, is to know that serving could be an experience in which we serve out of obedience and respect and never see positive results, meet joy, feel fulfilled, or make a difference of any kind.
A saying often attributed to Mother Teresa goes, “Don't think that love, in order to be genuine, has to be extraordinary.” the truth is, sometimes loving others in the name of Jesus doesn't even feel ordinary. We must choose to love, even when we don't feel like it. We must choose to love, even when it doesn't produce feelings of satisfaction. Also attributed to Mother Teresa are the words, “For love to be real, it must cost, it must hurt, it must empty us of self.” I believe that Wesley would have thought similarly. To love, that is to have a total love of God and others, we must be emptied of self. Like Jesus emptied himself to take on humanity (Philippians 2), so we are charged to take up our cross and in doing so, die to self and empty ourselves in entirety, which, of course, includes feelings of satisfaction.
I am sure you've been empty before. Empty is that feeling when you feel as though whatever you've done to serve or love another has had no impact, carries no weight, gets no credit, and takes every ounce of your energy to complete. In the end, you choose to love anyway because you know that this is how the world will recognize its disciples, but how we love one another-- and by how we choose to live an illumined life in a dark world. You won't always feel joy, but you will always know the weight of the responsibility to love.
C.S. Lewis said “the rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did.” although we may feel empty, if we act as though we feel joy, those we serve will know that God has not forgotten them. Love enacted is a gift from God, whether we feel like giving it away or not.
Have you ever received a gift that you didn't really like? What did you say? You said, “Thanks so much; I love it,” even when you didn't. Have you ever been proudly served a meal by someone who has spent a great deal of time working on it and after taking one bite, you realize you were going to have to choke it down? What did you say? You said, “This is delicious; Thank you.” you may have even gone overboard and said, “May I have the recipe for this?” I would assume you've also told a person their painting or drawing or clay pot was beautiful, when really you were thinking, That's awful. Here is the reality when we pretend to like something we don't, only we know we are pretending. Unless, of course, we are bad actors. Regardless of the possibility of feeling empty, we pretend we are full anyway and, in doing so, we show love. Playacting love is not a departure from reality, but rather a journey into the center of it.
How often do I feel empty?
Am I willing to remain empty for God's work? For how long am I willing to feel empty?
May we, when feeling empty from loving others, call upon you, God, for strength to endure. May we love well, whether we feel like it or not. Amen.
Make a list of five ordinary ways to love. After you act on the ordinary ways, rate your level of love during each action on a scale of 1 to 5, with five being full of love and one being left empty. Take note of what feelings you have and why.
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