These past few weeks have been emotionally draining. As a result, I’ve been short-tempered, I’ve shed a few tears, and I’ve shut down on a few occasions. As one who enjoys analyzing my feelings, I have been trying to figure out why I’ve been like this. I’m a generally upbeat and positive person, so for me to express feelings of apathy and irritation is quite uncommon.
I was sort of going through the motions until a guy cut me off on the way home the other day. I’d given him the signal that I was changing into the left lane, and since he slowed down, I figured he was letting me cut in front of him. As soon as I made it into the left lane, however, he suddenly honked the horn at me, swerved around me, stopped quickly enough to ask me “WTF (spelled out) is your problem?”, and then proceeded to cut in front of me. As if he could hear me (or even care that I had an answer), I shouted back, “I was trying to turn left to get onto the parkway, but then you decided to change your mind and almost get both of us into an accident!” I realized in that moment that there was no reasoning with a guy as angry and irresponsible as him, especially since he was already out of earshot. I spent the twenty-minute car ride angry that someone would treat me like a roadblock, like an object that was simply in the way. I impatiently stopped at every light, desiring more than anything just to make it home. I was spent, I was finished, I was…empty.
In the busyness of this life, it is easy to believe that we are filled. We turn down plans because we have such a full schedule that we cannot bear to have just one more hour-long activity tacked onto our week. We roll our eyes at the mounds of dirty dishes and the mountain of laundry waiting to be cleaned, because our living space is full of our possessions (especially when you’re living with a spouse and you both brought items from your childhood into your tiny apartment and you have nowhere to put anything). We grab our phones because it our message inbox is full, and we need to contact our friends. We eat so much, that we are full for about an hour, but then we indulge in even more food. But when we stop to think about it, what is our life filled with? Stuff. Not things. Stuff. A disarray of unnameable items that don’t have a distinct category. Everything (friends, family, time, ministry, work, possessions, marriage) all ends up in one pile of stuff. And when we don’t deal with the way this stuff affects us, it creates stuff in our hearts: bitterness, anger, greed, and insecurities.
You see, the problem with the driver was that he brought up stuff in my heart. He brought up my insecurity about driving, my inability to stick up for myself, and ultimately, my insecurity of not being good enough. This is stuff that I had buried deep within my heart, that I could not deal with because of my other stuff: my busyness, my responsibilities, and my lack of energy.
I wrote this post because, quite honestly, I’ve dealt with a lot of stuff already. I’ve prayed and grieved through many circumstances that have happened in my life as well as sins that I have committed. I’ve asked for forgiveness from God and others for past mistakes, and I have accepted forgiveness for what others have done to me.
So…where is this other stuff coming from? Was it always there? Did I not pray hard enough when I prayed to get rid of that stuff in the first place?
Jesus taught His disciples about keeping our souls free from stuff. In Luke 11, Jesus explains that when an unclean spirit leaves someone, the spirit looks for another place to go. When it doesn’t find any place, it goes back to the person it left. If the spirit finds the place clean and tidy, he will go in and call several others to dwell there with him (see vv 24-26). We think that we have to clean up our lives in order to be free from sin. The reality is, we just need to be filled.
God uses trials and various circumstances to reveal to us what is truly in our hearts. When I thought God was revealing my lack of forgiveness or my insecurity, He was revealing something much deeper…
He was revealing that at the depth of my core, I am an empty cup just waiting to be filled.
The Bible describes humans as vessels, containers that are meant to be filled, that are meant to contain something. That’s why we strive to be filled, since we are aware that there is an emptiness deep within our soul. But God is not the only one that can fill us. We can also be filled with junk. We can be filled with the greed of this world, with complaining, with habitual sin, and with overindulgence. Just because we are filled does not mean we are content. The Holy Spirit is the only “soul-filler” that can truly satisfy; the other things we chase simply leave us empty after a while.
The events, people, and attitudes we encounter may seem good, but if God has not called you to them, they just become white noise in the background of your crazy life.
My week is typically filled with laundry, washing dishes, working 9-5, food shopping, women’s conferences, church meetings, catching up with friends, eating dinner with family, and lots and lots of driving. I used to look forward to the weekend because that’s when I would get a break. Now I’m just praying for a break to show up somewhere!
My attitude this week reminded me that I need to cut back from some of the stuff that I have on my plate. This week, I am making a conscious effort to pray about where God is leading me. That may involve making my schedule more empty. That may involve making my friends list a little more scarce. That may involve simply developing a more eternal perspective on the tasks God has given me. That may even involve taking part in different activities that I enjoy, instead of activities that drain me. Whatever happens, removing the stuff from my life will allow more room for God to move in my life.
What is the stuff in your life? I challenge you to take time each day this week to do a heart check. Is there an area in your life where you are feeling dissatisfied? Ask God what you need to surrender to Him. Is there an attitude, a sin, unresolved conflict, or unforgiveness that you have been storing in your heart? Be honest with God about how you feel (even if you have to confess that you don’t want to change your behavior, deal with the conflict, or forgive the one who hurt you). Giving up the stuff in your life will be risky and very possibly uncomfortable, but when you finally let go, that is when God can fill you with His ever-satisfying love, peace, and grace.