I think all of us, at some time, have experienced that great empty, hollow feeling.
It’s a little bit like James Cameron’s solo sub dive to the Mariana Trench last weekend. He dove to the deepest part of the world’s oceans, and he described the event like being on another planet. Being seven miles underwater, he said he felt very isolated. I thought of him today.
It’s hard to describe, though. You have this perspective of goodness before your eyes. Favorable situations. You are surrounded by those who love you. Those moments are great. You consider those in extreme need, and you are shaken to the core that life may not be that bad for you.
Yet, when you refocus your perspective, and you still see your life played before you like clips from great movies, there is a deep longing that doesn’t seem to be satisfied. It borders on the edge of pain. It resides with wandering and lostness, and you feel that you may just be walking a tightrope, and though you have the skills to stay on the rope, you fear a great wind that would cause you to lose balance.
It’s that hollow, empty, gut nausea that causes great evil. Disillusionment. Purposelessness. Lost. Doubt. Emotions that could never be judged as evil before a jury, yet they border on treason. Treason, because belief in God requires a high degree of constant faith in a skeptical world, and once you join the side of the believers, to even sway — to even dangle in those thoughts of God’s absence — is an extreme betrayal. Yet, you are there. And the depths of emptiness that seem to burrow in your heart just aren’t able to be filled.
I am a worship leader. I love songs of worship, and I am very selective about the lyrics of such. I want songs that declare an allegiance, and I want melodies that are easy to sing, that almost disappear when you contemplate the words themselves. I plan worship around those thoughts. Yet I wonder if anyone pays much attention to these stark declarations and confessions that slip from their voice in the shape of musical notes.
I also regularly minister to students. And I fear for them. I almost feel outmatched. They are bombarded, and don’t even know it. Our culture worships achievement and stamina and creativity, and feeds it to them through the venue of personal success, rarely caring to mention that gifts and talents are to be used for the kingdom first. Many times I feel completely unworthy — frozen, even — when I consider that the surest way to an enriching relationship with God is to retreat, withdraw, and spend time in disciplines such as prayer and meditation and fasting and reading the Word. It is challenging to teach these when America sees those disciplines as formula conversations and memory verses and abundance and verse tweets. In other words, the disciplines should be engaged just enough.
And, I also spend time with dads and families. Racked with great pressure, a failing economy, and children involved in several activities at different times, “dad moments” are all but gone. Fathers engage fatherhood through authoritative decisions that must be made quickly. We’ve celebrated social interaction, at times, over family community, and dads seem to bear much of that decision. Moms do too, but I spend lots of time talking to lots of dads.
So when I write about an empty feeling in my heart, it’s from these things. It’s from an isolated inadequacy that is chagrined by my very faith. I know better. You know better. Yet I feel very discontented. Our world is so broken. Hearts hang in the balance. Families survive in the midst of stress and distress. Children bear the stress of their parents.
So what’s left, then?
Listening. A time of listening.
This morning, I read this from the book of Job. Elihu, in the cast of characters, is a young guy who had enough of the extreme opinions of Job’s older friends. I love that spunk. Young guys have passion. Elihu has it, here, in Job 33, and these are his words about what happens when you have that hollow, empty feeling, and you feel God isn’t even listening to your cries:
For God does speak — now one way, now another — though man may not perceive it. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on men as they slumber in their beds, he may speak in their ears and terrify them with warnings, to turn man from wrongdoing and keep him from pride.
I’m beginning to think that we talk way too much to listen. I’m thinking our lives are way too crowded to hear. I think we give our attention to an incessant amount of things, and we’ve decided that the voice of God is too mystical of an idea to consider. We disregard dreams, and we disregard intuition, and call them crazy or coincidence. We fear that listening to God’s voice is a really big, fat ordeal, that will ultimately lead us to things that take us far away from normal.
And maybe that hollow feeling in our hearts is there by our own doing, or because plans are going awry. Either way, God still talks. And He talks to us through the changing circumstances of our environment. And his perspective is greater than ours. His words may dictate direction, or may not, but they will always be words of protection.
We have been lulled into a moment of extreme selfishness. Our world exists to serve us. We sound a bit like Job. Tragedy may pull us from that, but ultimately, there is always a Redbox ready to take you somewhere else. We can salve our wounds with noise and sound, so we can ignore any leading by God.
Maybe God is taking us to the depths, though. So we must go. And we must listen.
We must listen to God, for God, even in the depths. Even when life is certainly difficult, and when all the good of our personal world is screaming for us to see what the hand of God has already done in our own lives. God may want us to experience the silence, so can hear him most clearly.
But in the meantime, when the days are long, and the heart is pale and heavy, and the moments are paralyzed, and God’s voice doesn’t seem to be strong, heed these words of George Mueller. This is how this great man of faith survived the depths, and ultimately listened to God.
Thus, through prayer to God, the study of the Word, and reflection, I come to a deliberate judgment according to the best of my ability and knowledge, and if my mind is thus at peace, and continues so after two or three more petitions, I proceed accordingly. In trivial matters, and in transactions involving most important issues, I have found this method always effective.
The depths are often visited, but are no good for a prolonged stay. We have all been there. And we are all in good company.