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 Compassionate Emptiness

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross. Philippians 2:5-8

 Most days, my life is very full. I wake up early, eat breakfast, and read the newspaper. I drive to work and enter a whirlwind of meetings, phone calls, emails and, well, work. In the late afternoon, I drive home, where there is yet more to be done. Evenings go by in a flash until I can no longer hold my eyes open. I fall into bed, exhausted. Many of the people I know feel the same way. With such full lives, how can we make room for anything beyond the urgent, pressing demands of the moment? Unfortunately, many things of critical importance will not demand our attention, such as spending quality time, in sufficient quantities, with our children and our spouses. Spirit-building activities like spending time with God in prayer, contemplating scripture, and immersing ourselves in silence, are among the common casualties to a busy life. That which seems urgent will crowd out that which is truly important, unless we are intentional about our priorities. We may not realize what is of greatest value in our lives until we find ourselves in crisis.

Even when we make time for others, we are often so distracted that we are never actually present with them. When our minds are occupied by reports to write, phone calls to return, and the image we present to others, we are unable to fully attend to the emotional needs of those most important to us. We may hear the words they say, yet never catch the feelings behind the words. If my cup is already full, how do I make time for others? How do I put myself in a position for God to speak to, or to influence me? To truly listen to another means I am willing to be influenced, willing to allow my mind to be changed. If we cannot sufficiently empty our minds to allow new ideas and insights to enter, we close ourselves off from being influenced, improved, or blessed by others. At the same time, we deprive others of the opportunity to be blessed by us.

I first heard the term Compassionate Emptiness in a class on Servant Leadership. The context was that we must empty ourselves of all distractions, worries, and thoughts in order to be fully attentive to, and to understand what is on the mind or heart of another. That type of emptiness is compassionate because others desire and deserve our full attention. In the context of our relationship to God, we must empty ourselves for God’s love and compassion to enter us. Either way, emptiness is a prerequisite for compassion.

Come home to church this Sunday. Empty yourself and be filled!

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