In American culture, being empty is usually considered a bad thing.
If someone sees the glass as “half-empty,” it means that person is a pessimist. If someone says they feel “empty,” then their loved ones want to cheer them up. If a resource runs empty, that means that someone has to work to replace it.
For us, being empty indicates the need to fill that void– and fill it as quickly as possible!
But what if being empty is not only a good thing, but also our calling from God?
Jesus Emptied Himself
There is a concept in Christian theology called kenosis (from the Greek root meaning “to empty out”), and it comes from the “Christ Hymn” in Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, Chapter 2:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8, emphasis added)
Jesus “emptied himself” in order to be both human and divine. He removed those things in himself that would stop him from fulfilling his calling.
Being empty is something that Jesus had to do– and his emptying himself directly affected what happened on the cross. Emptiness literally saved the world.
And because we are called to have “the same mind in us that was in Christ Jesus,” we too are called to empty ourselves.
There is a long tradition in Christian spirituality of three stages in the spiritual life:
The root of the word purgation is to purge. If you’re like me, the first thing you think of when you hear the word “purge” is the act of vomiting– but I promise you that expelling the content of one’s stomach is NOT the only definition of purging!
Purgation is simply the act of removing impurities. In the Christian spiritual life, this specifically means getting rid of those things in ourselves that keep us from God. Sins, bad habits, unhelpful thoughts, inordinate amounts of fried food– whatever is holding us back from fully experiencing God (through illumination and union) must be purged.
The three stages of the spiritual life are not necessary done only once and moved through linearly; someone may move back and forth between them as needed throughout their spiritual life.
But what is really fascinating is that the Christian spiritual life starts with purging. We must first purge ourselves, empty ourselves, before we can really meet God with our whole selves.
In order to go deeper in our relationship with God, we must purge– or empty– those things that hold us back from spiritual understanding and connectedness with our God.
Empty Like Jesus
We are called to empty ourselves just like Jesus did– to participate in purgation. When we empty ourselves, we are getting rid of those things that keep us from God.
This emptying is exactly what Christian minimalists aim to do. In order to focus on what matter most, we intentionally remove everything else. This includes removing material possessions, unhelpful demands on our time, and the need to work for worldly fame, fortune, and accolades. We empty in order to focus on our Triune God and spend our time, talents, and treasures on that which God calls us to.
And because Jesus emptied himself, he helps us to empty ourselves. Jesus is right beside us and helping us as we participate in this important purgation of anything that keeps us from him. And when we empty ourselves with Jesus’ help, we become more like Jesus and make more room for God to fill us where we need it most.
How is God calling you to empty yourself?