Yesterday, a friend was telling me about her training to be a spiritual director. “It’s about me getting out of the way,” she said. “This is about what God is doing, not me.”
Do you know how difficult it can be to get out of the way?
I’ve been thinking lately about a woman in the Scriptures in dire need. Her husband died. Her debts were due. Her sons would soon be sold as slaves. Destitute, this woman cried for help to the prophet Elisha who offered what appeared to be a very strange piece of advice. Learning this woman had nothing of value in her home but a wee bit of olive oil, Elisha said:
“Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars—
and not just a few.”
(2 Kings 4)
Empty? Seriously? How about “Go around and ask all your neighbors for FULL jars? And while you’re at it, ask for bread, for spare change, or for a job for you or your boys???”
But no, the prophet-of-God’s instructions were clear: what you need right now, from your neighbors, your friends, and your community, is empty. Ask them to offer you empty.
Enter the whole get-out-of-the-way theme my friend was talking about, because if my neighbor came to me in dire need, like this widow did to hers, I would move into action. In full fix-it-mode, I might just take over, gathering & giving whatever I could, piling it into her arms, as if I knew what was best. It wouldn’t matter if that wasn’t what she asked for.
Ooof! I feel the weight of that last sentence.
What if my friend is asking for the empty? I realize that’s a hard thing for me to offer.
I wrote the following in my journal:
People will come to you, and they will have a big need. But what they are coming to you for is empty. They have need of your empty. Jenny, can you provide empty places and spaces where God can do what only God can do to restore, replenish their supplies, and provide for them?
In other words, Jenny, can you get out of the way?
It takes great trust to offer empty.
Offering empty is not the same as offering nothing. The neighbors did not shake their heads, close their doors and turn this widow away. No, they gave, but they gave empty, enlarging the space for an outpouring of grace. For along with those empty jars, I believe they gave hope, they gave belief, they gave holy anticipation and expectation. They were with her in the wonder and the waiting.
If you’re familiar with the widow’s story, you know all turned out well. Her small amount of olive oil miraculously stretched to fill each and every one of those borrowed empty jars. It wasn’t until the last jar was filled that the oil stopped flowing. The woman was able to sell the oil, pay off her debts, and live off the rest.
“In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!”
(Romans 5:5 Message)
Friend, don’t get me wrong, I believe we are to clothe the naked, feed the hungry & share our resources. But sometimes people will come to us in need of empty – in need of an enlarged space into which the Spirit can flow in ways we never could have imagined or orchestrated ourselves. Sometimes, what is needed is for us to pull back on fix-it mode and offer our empty – as much of it as we can possibly muster – and to do so with great faith, hope, & love.
Offer Empty: Our Little Life Words of the week.
- What is the difference between offering nothing, and offering empty?
- What does it look like for you to “round up containers” for God to fill?
- Read this gorgeous poem by Christine Lore Webber about being hollowed out and emptied by God.
- Our song of the week is: Waymaker by Michael W. Smith with Vanessa Campagna & Madelyn Berry.
- Ask God to enlarge your empty, making you ready for whatever He’ll do next.