The rise in depression and anxiety signal to me that many do not know how to fill the emptiness inside themselves. And I want to note that there are as many different kinds of emptiness as there are people. And, point in fact, many choose emptiness over the alternative. Being vacant can be a significant defense in our hurting world. Much of the emptiness that we suffer is actually avoidance, a refusal to face the pain we are sure awaits us.
The other major source is simply the endless drain of our energy and emotion that life imposes. Children, work, spouses, church, and even our expectations of our own selves can deplete us until we are giving out of an empty cup. In the inner healing world, another kind of emptiness occurs when we separate our hearts and minds from one another. Dissociation keeps us numb, living a life apart from our own souls.
And yet the list of our attempts to fill up the void goes on endlessly. We seek after pleasures to fill our lack of joy, but it only lasts a little while. Those of you who read my blog on occasion know that I rarely go for the easy answer. Of course, Jesus is the answer to emptiness but that is an answer without application. How does one get filled with the fruit of the Spirit? How does one grab ahold of real joy and love, particularly if trauma or neglect is present? Here are some tried and true practical answers.
Know what you lack.
For many of us, the self-awareness needed to understand the source of our lack is simply not present. It takes some serious introspection and perhaps counseling to surface the hidden broken cisterns in our soul. Do you suffer from a lack of approval? Or perhaps you do not receive enough affection. Did you not attach properly to a parent and now feel emotionally stranded in your life? Each of these is a specific need and must be addressed individually. You cannot begin to fill a ditch if you are blindfolded.
Learn to express your needs specifically.
I like to use an emotion chart on occasion. Mad, sad, and glad only cover the surface emotions. For most of us, our emotions are complex and mixed together. When we learn to express our emotions accurately, the pain is diminished. This really works for most people. The moment we make the connection between our emotions and appropriate language, our brain can stop circling around. A lot of cathartic relief resides in facing and naming our emotions. See here: Emotional Chart
Activate your spirit.
In the hierarchy of the human, the spirit has authority over the soul, which has authority over the body. Feeding your spirit means taking in good things like the Word, inspirational books, worship music, and intimate times with God. The stronger your spirit, the more that the appetites of your soul will come under the authority of your spirit. Remember, the spirit of a born-again Christian is always in the presence of his or her Father in Heaven. Delving into that mystery on an experiential level will open up your spirit to more fullness in Him.
Increase your love quotient.
Learning how to love and be loved is a lifelong course. We do not necessarily have the neural pathways from our family of origin. We each need love from other humans. But remember, another human cannot fill the void inside you. Christians like to say that we each have a God-sized hole in us, but filling our emptiness with God is not a straightforward process. God is relational, not a substance which can be squeezed into the holes in our psyche. Sometimes we need to have people in our lives who can demonstrate what love looks, sounds and feels like.
Face down the void.
Our fear of the emptiness is often worse than the actual emptiness. One of the truisms in life is that we must move towards pain in order to move past it. That emptiness that you feel is shared by every other person on the planet at one time or another. The fear of it leads us into all kinds of self-destructive behavior. But in the end, feeling empty is an emotion, nothing more. That emptiness is there to tell us that we are missing something. We don’t need to be afraid of it. We just need to heed its message.
Look under the rock.
Often, the feeling of emptiness is a cover-up. Just like anger sometimes is a shield under which hurt hides, emptiness often covers grief. If you have a significant amount of loss in your life, then you may need to learn how to grieve more effectively. I wish I could give everyone a timeline for grief. But each person’s experience with grief is unique, just as their losses are individual. If you suspect the gap in the middle of your chest is unresolved grief, maybe it is time to begin to process your losses.
Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude.
Think of gratitude as laying down train tracks. Each length of track must be fitted to the last. It takes time to lay enough track to get anywhere. But once you have laid down enough track, you have a ticket straight out of wherever you feel stuck. Every single minute you spend being grateful lays down a track that will get you the heck out of emptiness, depression, and anxiety.
Use your sanctified imagination.
In prayer ministry, we often ask the people who come to see us to remember a time when they had a heart to heart experience with the Lord. We call these 5-bar moments, like when you have full reception on your cell phone. Regularly go back to that good time you had with God. Relive it. In fact, expand on it. You will find He is happy to meet you there and interact with your heart. It is on such memories that our relationship with God is strengthened. The Bible is filled with stories of people having 5-bar moments with God. Be like them and seek Him out!
I think often of Proverbs 14:14 which says that a righteous man is satisfied from himself. I believe that this is talking about the person who has faced down that emptiness, whether it stems from fear or grief. We learn to live out of who we are, settled in our identity in Christ, from the inside out. Nothing from the outside will fill the emptiness inside. It all comes from within, from who God made us to be in cooperation with His presence in us. Don’t turn a deaf ear to the emptiness within or throw worldly things into it, expecting to be filled. The Living Water which heals that inner thirst must come from Jesus within us. That partnership alone will begin to heal the void which haunts us all.
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