Friday, March 13, 2009

The empty moments

We all have our empty moments, those days or hours when our best plans or efforts come to nothing; when we are constantly interrupted or simply struggle to finish our allotted tasks, and then end the day feeling totally unproductive, frustrated, regretful and empty - as if our whole day, all the energy and effort we spent on it, has been a complete waste.

Such moments are bearable when they pass quickly. But they can last too long, overwhelm us, even become a lifetime of boredom, shame and regret, creating in us an enduring sense of emptiness and a nagging doubt about the overall meaning of our life. This week again I met someone who was trapped in a false and artificial life for many years, discovering only now for the first time who she really is and what she ought to have done, but never did. What a shame, what a waste, what regret - these are the feelings that often plague her today.

Another person told me the sad story of her father, a highly talented and creative person who for different reasons never managed to fulfill his real potential. Returning from work in the late afternoon he would often go into a passive mode, have a drink and then retire to bed early. It was as if, in her words, at this specific hour, an empty space, almost like a dark gaping hole, suddenly appeared in his life - one which he struggled to fill with meaningful activity and which often left him restless, frustrated and moody.

How do we cope with these feelings of emptiness and waste? How do we overcome a lifetime of shame, guilt and regret?

In a wonderful meditation on the Kingdom, Anthony de Mello first of all invites us not to deny or shy away from this fragile part of life, but to constantly see and embrace life in all its brokenness, uselessness and wastage. In his words:
“Contemplate this - all those seeds that never germinate; the wasted struggles of millions who aspire to be actors, writers, statesmen, saints and fail; the wasted hours of boredom, useless conversations, unproductive planning, fruitless undertakings, neglected talents, etc. - not with sadness, not with guilt, but with patient understanding, because you wish to love life as much in its failure as in its success”.
Recalling the parable of the sower (Mark 4:1-20), De Mello also reminds us that something of the brokenness and apparent wastage is part of and visible in the way God’s Kingdom operates in the world. In fact Jesus himself, as the vital sign of God’s reign, was also broken, so that our wasted lives can be redeemed and restored. It is from this belief that De Mello finally invites us:

“Look at the saviour on the Cross, symbolising in his broken body and his unsuccessful mission the drama of life in general and my life in particular... Love Him too and as you press Him to your heart, understand that somewhere, somehow, all of this has meaning, all of it is redeemed and made beautiful and resurrected”.

This must surely be one of the most profound and consoling thoughts during this time of Lent. No wonder that someone also remarked that since the coming of God’s Kingdom through Christ we may live with the assured knowledge that time is no longer empty…because it is now permanently filled with the loving and forgiving presence of God.

Carel Anthonissen

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