Usually, feeling empty is bad—like a hungry stomach or a heart vacant of love. But when is feeling empty a good thing?
The Potter’s Purpose
Sometimes, it’s good to be empty. Jeremiah’s passage about the potter illustrates this concept well. Jeremiah 18:1-6 says:
The word which came to Jeremiah from Yahweh, saying, “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will cause you to hear my words.”
Then I went down to the potter’s house, and behold, he was making something on the wheels. When the vessel that he made of the clay was marred in the hand of the potter, he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it.
Then Yahweh’s word came to me, saying, “House of Israel, can’t I do with you as this potter?” says Yahweh. “Behold, as the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, house of Israel.
Romans 9:19-20 says that a vessel’s usefulness depends on its willingness to fulfill the maker’s purpose.
You will say then to me, “Why does he still find fault? For who withstands his will?” 20 But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed ask him who formed it, “Why did you make me like this?
The Virtue of Emptiness
In both ancient Greek and Chinese philosophies, the virtue of a thing is found when it is used for its purpose. The virtue of a chair is sitting. The virtue of a lamp is shining. A pot’s virtue, or usefulness, is found in its emptiness. You can’t use a pot very well if it’s already full. The Tao Te Ching says, “It is easier to carry an empty cup than one that is filled to the brim.” In the same way, the usefulness of God’s people is in their emptiness, their willingness to be a vessel that God can fill.
There is a lot of value to be found in emptiness. I’m reminded of the life of Joseph, in the Hebrew Scriptures. The pivotal moments of his life took place when he was in the empty well, and when he was in the depths of his prison. Both of these represented emptiness in Joseph’s own life. It’s in those times when we feel empty that we often discover our purpose.
The Value of Open Places
A window or doorway contains both substance and space. The frame is substance and the space within is emptiness. While both are necessary to make a door, it is the empty quality of space: openness and vacuity that make the door what it is. The virtue of a doorway is in passing through. Only when the door is open can it possess and employ its virtue.
The Temple in Jerusalem was filled with people, filled with activity, yet it was the emptiness at the center of the sanctuary, the Holy of Holies, that gave the Temple its meaning. It was only in this emptiness, this quiet place, that God would meet with the High Priest. In the life of a person like Joseph (or yourself), you need those moments when you can be open. Open—like a door for the Spirit to pass through. Empty—like the Holy of Holies, where you can meet with God.
When is Feeling Empty a Good Thing?
It’s a good thing to fee empty when it means there’s breathing space inside your heart. In Matthew 6:6, Jesus says,
But you, when you pray, enter into your inner room, and having shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.
The word “room” has been translated also as “closet,” but I prefer the term “inner chamber.” Rather than a place where things are stored, it refers to the room where a host would receive guests who were more like family. In the house where I grew up, we had the formal living room but we also had the comfortable den. Only the most cherished friends gain admittance to our messy place. This “inner chamber ” is where we meet with God.
And, of course, Jesus is really talking about the messy inner chamber of your heart. Only when your inner chamber is open to the Way, the Truth, and the Life, can you find your virtue, your purpose, and your flow. I pray that you’ll find that the open and empty spaces in your life are worth exploring. I pray that your heart will remain open and receptive to what God wants to put there.