When I stop trying to fill my empty spaces, I leave room for glory. – Christie Purifoy in Roots and Sky
Yesterday in the late afternoon sun, I sat on the log bench that my father made for our memory garden. It sits perched on a mound that was once the slave quarter here, and it gives the person who rests there a view down into our pasture toward the spring that becomes a creek right here on our land. It’s like witnessing creation, that little meander of water.
I sat there and read Roots and Sky, and I listened to the wind chime that Philip and I got on our honeymoon. I watched our neighbor Glen drag chain across his field to break up the cow piles, and I smiled – because Glen is someone who makes me smile with wry joy.
Meander and Mosey, the hound dogs, were chasing each other in circles through the manure that Dad and I had spread over the first garden bed earlier, and the air was golden with a slanting sunlight.
In the back of my mind, I carried all the things that I had not gotten done as planned, the edits, the reading, the answers to emails, but for this one hour, I shoved that niggling voice to silence and just sat.
Oh my soul needed that hour.
A couple weeks back, I decided to say NO to almost every thing that did not fit into part of the five most important things in my life – my family, my friends, my writing, my business, and my farm. Everything gets a simple “no.”
This is hard for me, very hard, because I’m a people-pleaser, for sure, AND I also really enjoy new things, new learning, new people. I’m kind of a “new” junkie. When something I’m already doing gets hard, I look for the new thing. . . for me, it’s easier to start something than it is to continue something. My crochet and cross-stitch projects are the exemplar of this behavior.
But here’s why I started saying No. . . I was exhausted, amped up, and overwhelmed. Absolutely overwhelmed. When I start crying audibly at TV shows, I know I’m overwhelmed. My emotional capacity for everything is just full, and I have to let it out somehow.
So NO is my answer to most questions these days, and since I’ve made that decision, I’ve found affirmation for it over and over again. This weekend, Nadia Bolz-Weber had 600 Southern, Christian women say NO out loud together. If you are a Southern, Christian woman, I suspect you know how the foundations of our culture shook with that statement. It felt a bit like some women were scraping their throats raw with the need and the taught resistance to that statement.
Then, I finished Roots and Sky and read Purifoy’s thoughts on emptiness, how it’s the emptiness that gives us room for glory and growth. We don’t need to fill it ourselves – instead, gracious Hands will fill it with goodness for us if we give them room.
Yesterday, I talked with a friend who has found herself filled up to capacity, overwhelmed, too, with special days that require special outfits for her children and travel and commitments. She’s so much overwhelmed that the book she wants to write is embryonic on her computer.
As we chatted, I thought of all the writers I know who talk about the importance of empty time. Kathleen Norris and Becca Lawton take walks. Anne Lamott lays on the couch and stares. Most of us who do our writing work well find ways to build in open spaces because we need those spaces to create.
I’m not one to make pronouncements about how other people SHOULD write, so I just offer this up as a gentle suggestion: we need at least twice as much empty, open, not-doing time as we do time in actual creation. We need time to let our minds wander, our experiences and ideas digest, our emotions and energies percolate. We need space – wide-open, unscheduled space – to let our creativity flourish.
If we are over-scheduled, over-committed, over-whelmed by what we have to DO, our creative work grows thin and paltry, feeding on the meager scraps of energy we have left for it.
I don’t know about you, but I want to give my creativity – my CALLING – my best energy, the good stuff that is robust like the spring’s first radish – peppery, crisp, tangy with earth. I don’t want to feed my writing the radish that I find in the bottom of the veggie drawer when I’ve eaten everything else to fuel a lot of doing.
So maybe we all need to say no to so much doing – to email responses right now, to one more small thing the church has asked us to do, to the obligation to make a perfect dinner every night. Maybe we need to, instead, say yes to nothing. To long walks and staring out the window. To rest.
Maybe we need to just stop trying so very hard to become and instead, as my friend Tom says, relearn how to simply be. Because we, we already are beloved and precious just as we are right now.
Maybe our writing would flourish if we believed that as much as we believe in productivity.
What are you feeling about your schedule these days? Are you overwhelmed? Feeling good? Are you finding you have enough empty time to create well? I’d love to hear about how you are in the comments.
In July, Shawn Smucker, Kelly Chripczuk, and I are hosting a writing retreat here at God’s Whisper Farm. The weekend is open to anyone and everyone, no matter what kind of writing you do and where you are on the writing journey. We will have lots of empty time to rest and reflect, to take walks and visit farm animals. I hope you’ll join us. To get more information, check out this link – http://andilit.com/writers-retreat-at-gods-whisper-farm/