The post-present purge has begun in our home. Despite the fact that we try to stick to a handful of modest presents, I always find myself overwhelmed and cramped the day after Christmas. Three wise men with a present each, three Joseph boys with three presents each and three stuffed garbage bags to Goodwill. This seems to be our holiday tradition.
But the need to purge and simplify goes beyond our cabinets and closets. Just as the junk drawer gathers odds and ends at an unnatural rate, my heart gathers guilt and fear and anxiety at an inordinate rate.
Each Christmas G’Joe and I think of a gift we would like to present to Jesus that year, a thoroughly abstract practice that has some practical applications. I have given my body during pregnancies, our home when we were moving, and many other desires or fears throughout the years. This year as I sat down to process my gift in a stolen moment during the beautiful chaos that is holiday travel, one word kept coming to heart and mind. Space.
I am a runner. Actually, allow me to clarify. In a former life, I ran many miles many times a week. Now I run a few miles a few times a week but not enough to earn the title runner. That said, I still have a lot of runner in me. You see, I have a tendency to run away from empty space and stillness and to fill it with busyness, projects, errands and such. This year, I sense God asking me to lean into the empty spaces with Him, to leave spaces for Him to show up in unexpected ways or to ask me to do things that were not on my original agenda. Space in my schedule, space in my thoughts, space in my soul.
In a more practical vein, I know that the gift my boys need more than a tiny drum set or a K’Nex Catapult is the gift of space. They may not ask for it explicitly, but I hear it implicitly when they ask to go play over at friends’ houses more often. I see it when they look at me with desperate eyes needing some time away from my hawk-eye parenting.
They need space to be silly. They need space to mess up and get into fights with each other. They need space to work out those fights in their own snail-paced, boyish way.
They need space to be bored. Now this is one they most assuredly don’t ask for. In fact, they fight me tooth and nail, but they need me to keep track of their screen time. They need space to learn how to play creatively and think critically.
When I was thinking about space, I immediately thought of my Catholic middle school dance days. We had a love/hate relationship with a nun-instated law called the cinder block rule. This rule stated that there was to be enough space for a cinder block between you and your dance partner. This was a life-saver when dancing with an awkward boy with a minor case of body odor, but a stumbling block when dancing with the class heart throb you had your eye on.
The cinder block law existed because another law exists in the human heart. When we love someone or something, the space between us and that person or thing naturally diminishes. We may start a cinder block apart, but when we love someone, we end up in a tight embrace.
I see this law played out in my relationships with my husband and children. From time to time, I realize that my heart, my hopes, my identity have become too tightly wound to those that I love most deeply. In those moments, I need to give them space, I need to put the cinder block back up between us and allow them space to be themselves, to fail, to grow.
The only way that I am able to give them these much needed spaces is to run to the one relationship where the cinder block rule need not apply, my relationship with the Lord. This is the one place where the less space, the better, where the more I love Him, the more tightly wound I become with Him. When I am wrapped up in Him, with few spaces in between, I am free from my need to be compulsively busy or to over-parent my beloved boys.
Here’s to a new year marked by spaces.