lessons in love and emptiness

Few folks on the 19th floor of 42nd and Madison knew I was in California over the weekend. Few of them knew I was gone at all. I handed out hellos and good mornings with my best Monday face, because they all had weekends, too, and I didn’t know what theirs were about either.

Mine was full of lessons in love and emptiness.

I always thought love was about giving away something I’ve got, something that came from the overflow of my abundance. You don’t show up to a potluck without a casserole (am I right, Midwest?) and you don’t show up to love someone without something to offer – even if it’s a shoulder or a bit of laughter or a few tears.

I have often tried to love people that way. But, I think I am learning that love is about being empty. Love knocks on the door without a casserole or an explanation, because my confidence in knocking at all has nothing to do with what I can offer.

And it’s hard to think that love can come out of that, out of nothing. But that is what I was learning this weekend. We can be confident love-givers when we are empty. When we realize our words and gifts and casseroles are not the love message, we are left to just be present.

We are present to not figure things out, to not make things better, to not share wise words. Present to question and doubt and consider and believe. Present to be present and not to give a casserole or eat a casserole or have an agenda.

And all of these lessons in love and emptiness remind me of Jesus. He knew how to be present. He knew how to forget about the commotion and the crowds and the distractions so that he could be present with that bleeding woman, reaching out in faith to touch his robe (Mark 5:25). He was always getting empty of all the things we try to offer others in love so that he could be love by being present.

So, I’m trying to learn to get empty more often. I’m trying to learn to offer myself like Jesus.

Last night, freshly back from California with my new lessons on love and emptiness, Patrick tried to share something with me in our new living room. But I already had my apron on and I was very focused on preparing the apartment to host guests.

My apology sounded like a less-than-empty offering, like a casserole I whipped up to cover the offenses. “Here, just eat this and we’ll both feel better.” But it isn’t the same as being empty. He needed my empty moments, the quiet space of my presence.

So, I’m still learning about that.

if I could make your heart

Sometimes we come to the end of ourselves for ourselves.

We get dried up. We go looking to get filled because emptiness doesn’t feel like the most abundant way to live. And we all want abundance.

But other times, we come to the end of ourselves because an empty vessel cannot fill another. We want to pour out love and grace, but when the glass is tipped there is nothing but air.

I don’t have kids yet, but I imagine I will feel this way often or at least I will fight it on the regular. I will want them to feel loved and blessed and cared for in a special and unique way. And just as often I will feel my limitations.

If you are like me, you imagine what you would do with an infinite vessel. You imagine, with an infinite vessel, you could really love someone well. If your resources were never exhausted, you could really communicate the love that twists up your insides. At least, that’s what I imagine.

Because sometimes it feels like I need too much maintenance to love at all, like I’m so concerned with getting filled up that I can’t pour out love the way I wish I could – with extravagant gifts and slow conversations and donated afternoons/evenings. I feel like every time I tip my glass only air comes out.

This is a nice idea from Azure Ray… that we could make hearts feel always loved, if we are willing to make crazy sacrifices.

But on the days when I come to the end of myself for someone else, I remember it is not my glass that fills their cup.

It is not my gifts or conversations or donated evenings that makes their life abundant. It is another source entirely. God knows about our dry, empty hearts. He knows when we tip our glass and only air comes out.

And He is the One who fills us, for whatever reason we are feeling empty.