Presence in an Empty Room
There’s an empty room at the back of my house. White walls and hardwood floors, we haven’t filled it yet.
I didn’t ask or deserve for this part of the house to be built — I did not build it with my own hands, I did not fund its completion. I watched as the old was torn away, as men cleared the earth and laid a foundation and built up, layer by layer, the sturdy shelter I find myself standing in now.
Sometimes this room feels like a picture of my life — beautiful and made new, built up strong from a new foundation where before there had been nothing, had been rot. It was built beautiful but then, something slowed.
There are as many things I could do with this room as there are dreams for my own life. I have millions of visions for what it could become and how beautiful it will be when it’s filled:
Furniture and artwork, a space made safe and sweet for people to gather
Guitars and keys, a space to worship and sing out all the things inside, making plain and open the struggles and celebrations the same
But for now, we haven’t been able to afford to do much. For now, the room is usually home to just myself, barely awake, stretching and reaching on a mat at the start of the day. For the better part of this last year, this has been my life as well: often alone, often preparing. Trying my best to stay centered, to stay connected to God. Trying to be diligent in pursuing my health and my dreams, but ultimately waiting for some kind of shoe to drop.
Sometimes it can be uncomfortable for me to sit in the emptiness because it reminds me of the things I feel I cannot have. It reminds me of the problems I cannot solve, the dreams I have yet to realize — I look around at the bare walls and empty floors void of people or activity and recall what’s missing everywhere, in this room and out.
It’s uncomfortable to sit in a room and feel alone or disappointed in the same way it can feel hard to sit inside of my own life, observing the bare walls or empty floors, reckoning with what this says about me or the God I claim to follow. It’s easier to avoid it, not to sit or to observe. To not ask the more difficult questions, to not reckon with Why or How. It’s easier not to sit but instead to just pass through it — just to travel through.
Or I could sit and confront the suffocating anxiety, I could sit and confront the pain. I could sit here — just like this, in leggings and a hand-me-down shirt, hair unbrushed and feel it all — I could sit here, breathing deep and heart beating steady and let myself become opened to what I do not readily see. If I wait, if I settle in the discomfort and every question I do not want to ask, could this room be full of something else even as it feels so very empty?
I could focus on the emptiness but I would miss the miracle of sunlight casting patterns on the wall, the way it moves as the sun travels across the sky, drawing shapes across my floor. I could sit and breathe in and be filled by his presence, and by mine, without the distraction of external decoration, without filling it with tasks or other people. I might find that I could sit in confrontation of everything I do not have — every dream that has not yet flourished, every angry stabbing question mark that tears at my soul and I might find that I could be okay amidst it — I might find that I am not so alone.
Can I find hope and solace, even in an empty room? Could an empty room be filled far more than what meets the eye when I do not choose to pursue it?
Have I forgotten or chosen not to value all the ways that I myself can fill it before the rest of the promises take their place? What of the control I choose to maintain, requiring that it would look one way or another in the first place — were I to relinquish that, would I catch something greater, something better?
Sometimes, I dance in that room. I fill the room by taking space with my body — by carving the air and using everything I have to create something from the nothing of that space. I fill it by living and not just passing through; I fill it by taking deep breaths that fill me to the tips of my toes, I fill it by not making myself smaller to reflect the circumstances I see. Instead I choose to become bigger, I do what comes naturally and I let myself be free.
When my words fail and my thoughts are taunting I use my body to express the truth I know is not hidden, that is mine to have: I can dance upon my disappointment, I can create when I have nothing else in my hands.
How often our lives are directed by urgency — as if the room were burning, as if it were happening to us, as if we must flee. But the real test is how I choose to live within the quiet isolation of stillness and the emptiness that cannot be filled without him — that cannot be filled without me, surrendering to his promise and choosing to rise despite what I see around me.