Now that we are back in the land of eternal summer, it is easy for me to forget that many of you are pulling out your jeans and sweaters and consuming pumpkin-spice everything while building your social schedules around football on Sundays. And yet, somehow the desire to decorate for Christmas is slowly taking root in the back of my mind…
A couple of weeks ago, I heard a sermon that made me think about what it means to be a vessel. The Bible teaches that we are made by God for a purpose like different vessels or containers are made by a potter for different purposes. That was not a revelation to me. The revelation came when the person giving the sermon (I have no memory of who it was or what he said, exactly…) said something to the effect of, “A vessel is of no use unless it is empty.”
Now, if you have talked to me lately (and if I was being honest), you know that I have been feeling pretty empty since ’round about mid-April. Chris was sick, I was working and volunteering, we were trying to get return-to-PNG shopping done, we squeezed in some last-minute family visits, we packed and cleaned, Chris had surgery, we went on a road trip, we flew back here, we moved to a new house, we visited the tribe, and we started school and full-time jobs. I’m sure many of you had busy ends to your summers and can relate! It makes you feel empty, right? Tired. Drained. Empty of energy. Empty of motivation. Empty of patience.
And as the school term progressed, I just kept feeling emptier. Here among a community of over-worked missionaries, I wore it like a badge of honor. Something worthy of my holy complaining! I was one of the crowd–emptying myself in the service of Christ. But then I realized that I had become empty of grace for others. Empty of joy. Empty of kindness. Empty of gentleness. I had become someone I wasn’t happy with, and that’s when I realized my mistake.
A pot or a bowl or a dish or a vase starts its existence empty. “Empty” is the state in which a vessel has the most potential. In fact, it is useless unless it is empty. I can’t put anything in a pot if it is already full of something else. But while I was smugly congratulating myself on being emptied out through my service to God, I gradually began to understand that the “empty” I was experiencing (being constantly tired, impatient, graceless, unkind, etc.) wasn’t equivalent to me being useful to God. In fact, I felt “empty” because I was too full to be useful. I was full of my own plans, my own opinions, my own judgments, my own ideas and insecurities.
I’m thankful that we serve a God who never empties of patience for us. I’m thankful that He is willing to be gentle even when teaching me a lesson that I should already know. But most of all, I am thankful that the answer to my trouble is not that I must try harder or do more, but that I must empty myself and allow Him to fill me.