The women on both sides of my family loved to play cards. My grandmother and my aunt introduced me to all sorts of fun games. Most of them I’ve forgotten, but I do remember that my favorite was War, and my least favorite, by far, was Old Maid.
I don’t remember if we had one of those vintage versions in which the Old Maid looks sinister (rather than the more modern goofy version) or if I merely projected that onto the Queen of Clubs. I do remember though that I hated getting that card, even as a child. As I grew older and understood what it meant to be an Old Maid, getting dealt that card seemed even more unpleasant—who would want to be the one without a pair—to be single, alone, and without anyone to love?
For many years it was my biggest fear that God would make me stay single. I wasn’t sure which I really wanted—to be married to a man or to God—but I felt strongly that being alone was an emptiness too painful to comprehend. I imagined married life as Hawaii—filled with romance and beauty and adventure (with maybe a few volcanoes or sharks here and there), and I could imagine religious life as some sort of spiritual equivalent. But single life, by definition, seemed to be a Land of Lack—like Narnia under the spell of the White Witch in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe—always winter and never Christmas.
It is that Lie of Lack that I wish to address. The Opposition Voice always wishes to deny Gift by highlighting what we don’t have, what is missing, what we think we need. When we find an empty space in our hearts or in our lives, we submit to the greater lie—that we are abandoned, unloved, unlovable—and that we never can or will be filled.
But Caryll Houselander in the Reed of God, speaks of these empty spaces differently. Like the virginity of Our Lady, it is not meant to be a sterile emptiness but rather a space prepared to receive, a space made for something.
It is the emptiness like the hollow in the reed, the narrow riftless emptiness, which can have only one destiny: to receive the piper’s breath and to utter the song that is in his heart. It is the emptiness like the hollow in the [chalice]; shaped to receive water or wine. It is the emptiness like that of the bird’s nest, built in a round warm wing to receive the little bird.
– Caryll Houselander
We know that in Our Lady, this space was perfect. For the rest of us (in whatever state of life we find ourselves) these spaces are a bit messier. Perhaps they were formed by sin or by tragedy; perhaps they need cleaning out because we’ve attempted to fill them up with other (wrong) things. Or perhaps they are directly a gift from God—a space hallowed out by the All-loving God, precisely for Him to come and dwell in intimate communion. But if we are to be honest, there is very often suffering in the forming of these spaces.
It doesn’t matter what winter we are living in, or how these empty spaces were fashioned. Because Christ has come to be born in every heart—there is for humanity no such place as a land of never-Christmas. Every empty space is designed for a gift to be received. Sometimes the gifts are still unopened or even unseen; sometimes we seem to be on a treasure hunt for them, or we may be anxiously waiting their arrival. Occasionally it feels as though they’ve been misdirected by the Post Office. But the Giver of all Gifts does not exclude anyone; nor is Love limited by a Naughty or Nice list. There is no Land of Lack in the kingdom of God.
I often laugh when I imagine how younger me would perceive the life I am living now. From the outside, I seem to be living in the Land of Lack: I have no husband, no children, no job, no paycheck or title; even the house I am living in does not belong to me. I don’t even have a plan; I am trusting God to lead me in the steps I need to take.
But rather than a witch’s winter in Narnia, the life I am living is much more like the springtime adventures with Aslan. I’ve had some crazy adventures, seen some crazy miracles. I’ve experienced deep love, and deep joy. I often feel that l I am, like Lucy and Susan, riding on the back of a wild lion—with no idea where I am going, but safe with the One who carries me. It’s a crazy ride, but I wouldn’t trade it even for a house in Hawaii. (At least on good days).
It is not always easy. Even after Aslan’s arrival, there is still a battle to be fought. Sometimes those fighting seem to be alone. Sometimes evil seems to be winning. There is still death, and loss and pain. Those fighting don’t always know exactly what he is doing—after all, he is not a tame lion.
I think sometimes when we talk about Vocation or calling in the larger sense, we forget that the literal meaning of “calling” implies a Voice, a Person doing the calling. This voice does not speak only once in time, to be heard or missed or perhaps even thwarted. Rather this voice speaks to each heart in every moment—in various ways. This voice knocks, seeking a space to enter. We are thus invited to consider whether what we see as an empty space, or place of lack, is in fact an opening for a Person. An unsatisfactory spouse, or the lack of a spouse, infertility, an empty nest, unemployment, financial anxiety, or even the loss of a loved one in death—could these in fact be the very doors through which He asks to come in?
So—even in seasons of winter and quiet, of seeming lack and emptiness, we are invited to wait in trust and listen for the sound of a sleigh with bells.
Image courtesy of Unsplash.