The most predominate thought in my mind/heart this week has been the empty room upstairs. Our son Joel has moved out and the last time the room was empty was when we were expecting him over 22 years ago, before we loaded it up with a crib and change table and of course,
the baby. We have literally come full circle. I know the “empty nest” syndrome is as old as the hills, but for me, this is all new territory. The word for the week has been “surreal”.
Don’t get me wrong, Lyle and I are both super happy for Joel (and we even love the quieter house too). His situation in life is good – he’s with a good friend, surrounded by all the support he needs and more, he is resourceful and he is happy. I find myself so grateful for these blessings in Joel’s life, and yet, for me it still feels very weird.
My poetic right brain has begun to reflect on the room upstairs – the silent sunlight that streams in, the new space for my morning yoga. This morning I put the ironing board to use in there, but I almost felt like tiptoeing in this mystery space. So much happened in that room, and now it’s empty.
What will this new/old room become? A meditation room? A yoga room? An ironing room? All of the above? It has been a fun riddle to ponder. Themes of letting go and the silence remaining have been echoing in my heart, gratitude and tinges of sadness mixed up together.
Our friend Cal has been sending out short, daily Lenten meditations by the writer Thomas Keating. Thursday’s quote caught my eye, reminding me of my empty room reflections and I knew I had my blog topic for the week. He wrote that the spiritual journey is not a career or success story. It is more like the clutter of our false self getting cleared out of the inner rooms of our soul. It all “makes room inside us for the Holy Spirit to come in and heal. What prevents us from being available to God is gradually evacuated.”
To use another metaphor (says Keating), the spiritual journey is like an archaeological dig, as layer after layer of our false selves is removed. When do we get to the bottom? When do we get to the empty room? No doubt it is the process of a lifetime, but hopefully we are getting close and closer to the centre of who we really are.
Over the past few months, I have begun to become aware of a room of mine that has been very cluttered for probably my whole life. I could name it as the room of “feelings”. I normally consider myself a feeling person. I have been known to “tear up” easily and can easily empathize with the suffering of others, but my own feelings are in a blindspot. I was trying to explain it this week to Chris, my friend from work and she helped me express what I meant. “You have lots of feelings, but maybe you’re looking at other people’s feelings, not your own.”
That was exactly it. In my lifelong desire to be accepted by others, I direct energy towards what others need, but I have often ignored my own needs or feelings. My friend and pastor Paul has often given me the Bible verse, “Cast all your cares on God, for He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7) I could list a million cares from the world, but my own heart? It has been a challenge for me to even know what to say to God.
I noticed a shift in me this past Christmas. Paul has often told me that my headaches are perhaps more psychological in nature, and after hearing this maybe 100 times over the last 30 years, I decided to practice “casting my cares on God” more. For me this has meant simply becoming more aware of disturbing emotions and giving them to God. That’s it.
To use Keating’s metaphor of an archaeological dig, layer after layer of emotions are just sitting there, waiting to be uncovered, and it’s a messy business! I pray and give these emotions to God, and it’s kind of like handing over dirty rags – fears, anxieties, angers, resentments.
I honestly don’t know what to do with them other than humble myself and hand them over to God the healer. Caring for others might make me look good, but giving my own cares to God makes me realize I am not as good as I thought. I have to trust that God means it about unconditional love. I’m loved not because I’m good, but because I’m a beloved daughter. (Or, to put it another way, “God does not love you because you are good, you are good because God loves you.” -Richard Rohr)
It’s now March and I don’t know if it’s a coincidence, but my headaches have lessened. I know because my headache medication has been lasting longer. Last Saturday, on the day we moved Joel, I woke up with a lot of aches and pains, much more than usual and they stayed with me all day. At the end of the day, it dawned on me that maybe this was just about saying good-bye to Joel. I wasn’t even aware of sadness, but my body was. I prayed about this too and felt a lot clearer the next day.
Praying about these dark places goes against what culture normally recommends. The moment we feel these things, we are encouraged to do something about it – shop, eat, call a friend, have a bath, have a coffee… these are not bad in themselves, but sometimes they keep us from the heart of the matter and ultimately, they do not satisfy us. They keep our rooms full to the brim. Going back to Keating’s words, the distractions can keep us from being available to God.
I know I have so much more “false self” that needs to be excavated – anger that still flares up, worries about being accepted, the pride that says “Look at me”. I pray to remain open to the lessons God has for me in the tough times. God, keep the heart of my room empty for you to fill.