I’ve practically grown up hearing the phrases, “Jesus fills the void” and “Be satisfied with God.” They’re not bad things to say, since they point to finding contentment in the present moment. They also point to a truth of our faith, that God is one who provides for our every need.
But in my current season of life, these statements don’t fly with me.
Actually, hearing them makes me angry.
In my walk with Christ, I’ve found that such band aid phrases like “Jesus fills the void” and “Be satisfied with God” are superficial. They’re cute little sayings that claim, “Do this and everything will be better!” — as if being a Christian means that, once we accept Christ, it’s happily ever after and we’ll never have to feel empty or restless again. But this is only very slightly true.
The deeper truth is actually this: Jesus doesn’t just fill the emptiness. In certain seasons of life, He sometimes widens it.
You can imagine why so many people who have a relationship with Christ feel complete disillusionment when they find themselves suffering unbearable loneliness and the dark emptiness which every human experiences. It doesn’t help that those of us who claim to know Christ almostnever talk about this sense of emptiness, this inner void that comes with experiencing a burning desire for something more. And if we do ever mention it, someone usually tells us, “Be satisfied with Jesus” and leaves it at that.
But telling ourselves we should “just be satisfied” to try to squelch or ignore the emptiness is not the answer. We know we should look to Christ for our needs — but we won’t be completely satisfied until we get to heaven. While we’re on earth, even having a deep relationship with him, we’ll still feel empty sometimes. Trying to write it off with a band aid phrase not only sells yourself and the people you say it to short: It sells God, and who He is, short too.
Still, this experience of emptiness is actually a wonderful gift — not something to be wished away.
Fr. Thomas Dubay, a great modern writer and expert on the spiritual life, says in his book Fire Within, “Love [for God] is perceived not as pleasant, but as a painful yearning for what one seems not to have. Because painful, it is often perceived as no love at all, and yet it may be deeper…”
In other words, it seems like we’re missing something — so we have this painful desire, but we’re not even sure what for. (Deep down, it’s God.) It often seems like God is gone when we feel this way — but He’s actually closer than ever.
Here are some things to know when you experience emptiness:
1. Emptiness can help you recognize your soul’s truer desires. It is good to desire. We shouldn’t be ashamed of it. But our temptation is to fill it with some thing — anything. We’ll want to fill it with eating, drinking, smoking, Netflix, people…you name it. But these things are only temporary fillers that often feed into the emptiness itself.
When I feel empty, I know it is because my soul is expanding by the hands of the Divine Surgeon so I can be filled with more of Him. And in that gaping emptiness, I come face to face with the raw, real desires within me: the superficial ones like the above along with deeper desires. These desires are to serve Him with a certain career/vocation and to give of myself to others. We can be tempted to think that we want certain things, but I’ve learned to be still as He rearranges my desires within and shows me which ones are true and good.
2. Emptiness and restlessness are supposed to be there. Fr. Thomas Dubay says that, according to St. John of the Cross, “One must encounter a vast inner void.” It doesn’t mean we’re doing something wrong if we experience it. It means we’re human. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, we were actually created with this emptiness that literally nothing in this world can fill. And to be fully human means to allow ourselves to feel and experience that emptiness for the truth of what it is: a hole made for Christ Himself — a dwelling place for Him within our heart.
In his book Time for God, Fr. Jacques Phillipe says, “[Emptiness] purifies our love for God…the Lord never permits us to experience a time of trial unless he intends it to bring more abundant graces once it is over. Do not be discouraged. Persevere.”
So that brings me to the next question: What do we do in the meantime, in the midst of walking with Christ in that emptiness?
I have no solid answer for this. Instead, I have suggestions that have helped me.
Here are five things you can do:
1. Spend time with the Lord in Adoration. I’ve found that silence, weirdly and paradoxically, fills the emptiness. Because silence isn’t an absence; it’s presence.
2. Spend time with those who bring joy to your life. Family, friends, small groups and Bible studies, etc.
3. Invite Christ into your relationships more. Acknowledge His presence in every moment, whether you’re alone or with others; pray together more; etc.
4. Ask God for deeper trust. It is SO hard trust God in these experiences. Doubting is okay, though, if we bring that honestly to Him. He can and will use that to bring you to a place of deeper trust in Him.
5. Just be. This is THE hardest thing to do. To just be in the emptiness, not running away from it, not trying to fix it or fill it. Letting Him love you and do the work He wants to do in you. In the meantime, you can reflect within yourself: What is Christ trying to teach me during this period of emptiness? How does Christ want me to grow from this experience?
The only way through this season is…well, to go through it — to acknowledge it and talk about it with others, which gives them permission to admit their own emptiness within.
You need to know that if you experience emptiness, you’re not alone. Countless saints went through it. You’re on the right track.
Know also that wrestling with this and asking questions in the midst of it is indeed heroic. Admit to God, yourself and others in the world that you are living out the dying and rising of Christ within you.
Because if you surrender to this beautiful gift that this emptiness is, you might start to realize that, while you could fill yourself with the world, in truth you can choose nothing less than Christ — even though that choice is painful and only widens the void within, as He desires to fill that with Himself.
He promises to give you and me everything, as we surrender everything we are and have to Him. I stake my life on this promise.
The only thing you need to do right now is to rest in knowing that you’re in good company, and just be. Be still and let God do His thing.