Four Things I’m Learning in a Hard Season: Giving Out of Emptiness

This is the third post of a series about what God is currently teaching me about walking with Him in a hard season. You can read the first two posts using the links below

  1. God gives the grace I need for each day, not a one-shot lifetime supply.
  2. This is the race that God has marked out for me.
  3. There is joy in giving out of emptiness.

A knock at the door woke me up from a groggy, post-surgery nap. I heard my husband thank whoever was there and eventually brought myself into the kitchen where I was greeted by cake and a card. Friends who had walked through a very similar hard season two years ago had sent their love tangibly even though they now live hundreds of miles away. They too are facing hard decisions related to our current struggle, but even more so, they were mere days away from a major surgery for their toddler who had already endured so much. These friends have been through the ringer in a way that few people I know have. They have endured great pain and hardship all the while clinging to God’s promises and looking for ways to tenderly love others through it. The fantastic cake was really a metaphor of what it means to suffer well, a picture of what God has done and is doing in their life.

I think there is a myth I often believe that in order to go through challenges I need to insulate myself from the pain of others. It’s easy to believe that suffering is a time for us to withdraw, to check out, to take a break, to focus on us. Certainly there is wisdom in setting boundaries and surrendering to some of the limitations that hard seasons can bring both physically and emotionally. Sometimes, though, I think there is a real temptation for me to wallow in my own stuff in a way that yields nothing but self-pity and self-absorption. Sometimes these things can exhaust and drain us in a way that’s more powerful than the original pain itself. We like to say that “time heals all wounds,” but time by itself doesn’t do that. Most of us have people in our lives where time hasn’t healed, but has been replaced by bitterness and gall.

In her book Seasons of Waiting, Betsy Childs Howard writes,

“Whenever I was able to see beyond my own loneliness to someone else’s, God would begin to work. When I focused on a need that wasn’t my own, the pain of being alone would start to subside. Someone who lives with unmet desires is uniquely able to identify with and comfort others who live with unmet desires, even if their longings are of a different sort. If we wait to reach out to others from a position of fullness, we will never do it. If, on the other hand, we love others out of our own emptiness, we will—paradoxically—find we have an abundance of love to give.”

The Gospel is full of paradoxes. Losing your life to find it–it sounds so counterintuitive but as many of us have experienced, it’s true. It’s true because this is the way of the cross—love that is costly, not convenient. Love that is hard and painful, not easy.

Many of the people who have loved me well during this hard season have given out of their own brokenness. Sometimes it is because the pain they’ve experienced is the same, but more often it is not. They’ve let God take their own hard things—divorce, trauma, miscarriage, cancer, undesired singleness, a wayward son or daughter, etc… and asked him to redeem some of the hurt. They’ve let him do the hard work of growing tenderness rather than bitterness. They’ve given generously out of their emptiness and have found that there really is an abundance of love to give.

William Carey is often referred to as the father of the modern missionary movement. Many people are familiar with the work he did in India, but fewer people are familiar with his sister Polly. Polly was almost completely paralyzed for fifty-two years and could really only do two things—write and pray. That is exactly what she did for her brother William and those he worked with. William recounted Polly’s encouragement and support as what enabled him to do the work God had called him to do. In many ways, William’s impact for the Gospel is also Polly’s.

Oh to love others with chocolate cake and bedridden prayers. To give not out of abundance, but out of emptiness. This is where true joy is found.

Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly,
Thou has brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold
Thy glory. 

Let me learn by paradox
that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells,
deepest wells,
and the deeper the wells the brighter
Thy stars shine;

Let me find Thy light in my darkness,
Thy life in my death,
Thy joy in my sorrow,
Thy grace in my sin,
Thy riches in my poverty
Thy glory in my valley.

-A Puritan Prayer from Valley of Vision-

One Comment

  1. Judy Sheppard said:

    “Well done thy good and faithful servant.” I agree.

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