Empty Spaces & Full Hearts
by Lainee Stidham

Have we convinced ourselves that full is positive & empty is negative?

Like with the glass half full or half empty analogy. Any chance we've gotten it a little backwards in some areas of our lives? We fill, and fill, and fill some more, worried that someone might see that we’re empty of time and energy, but we try to appear filled no matter the costs. As moms, have we applied this process to our calendars? To our school years? To our summers? Every year there seems to be more than the last year…more full. But is more "full" always a good thing?

I substitute teach in a local school system a couple of days a week, and it’s such a gift. For these teenagers, spring is a great time, but it's also an awful time of year. I see these kids trying their hardest to make it in life. They’re trying to make their parents proud, prove to their teachers they deserve the good grade, and win the favor and confidence of their friends.

Exams, proms, play-offs, SGA elections, driving tests, end of year fundraisers, performances, tryouts, spring training for fall sports, registration for classes next year, summer interviews for jobs...the list goes on and on. These students haven’t even closed the chapter of spring yet, and they’re already one foot into summer and fall.

Life is great. Life is full. Life is a lot.

I recently asked what would help them to end the school year well? Some of their answers might surprise you. One of the most telling was that they needed/wanted some empty space in their schedule. Empty space.

Using the water-in-the-glass analogy again—full is good, and full to the top is even better. But that’s not what our teenagers are saying. Isn’t that interesting?

I think I agree. Having some empty space makes room for opportunities. During seasons that ramp up and are super busy for families of all ages, empty spaces offer us permission to slow down when we realize that we need the rest. Many times, we interpret "no room" as a signal to pull up our bootstraps and bear the burden at all costs—even when we'll be disappointed with the results.

Okay, I can see that teenagers need empty space, but I’d even go as far as to say that children of all ages might need the same thing. As we wrap up this school year, our family of six will finish a chapter in seventh, third, second, and our final lap in the first grade. Honestly, I can tell that even they want space. They want quiet. They want rest.

This became crystal clear to me a couple of weeks ago. My third grader is gifted in athletics, so when the annual track meet popped up on my radar, I immediately registered him to participate. A short time later I realized that the Collide Musical was also scheduled for the same day.

"It’s fine… we can do this."

I emailed the coach, got him signed up for the earliest events of the day, and kept on truckin’. I was already making plans in mind on how to accomplish this task. I would pack the bags and haul everything to the high school so he could compete. Then, we would race to the car, get to the church, change clothes and freshen up, all in time for the musical. The day was going to be a whirlwind, but no one would miss out. My kids would be thrilled with dinner-in-a-cup from Smoothie King, and all would be well. As everyone bounded into my car after school that day, almost immediately my third grader announced, “Mommy, I don’t want to do the track meet today. I already told my PE coach I won’t be there.” Hmmm. Something must've happened at school. His competitive edge is too fierce. He also gets impatient with haughtiness from others his age. I imagined that a PE game had gone wrong or something happened at recess that he wasn’t in the mood for at the track meet. I asked him to please tell me what happened. His answer blew me away.

“I’m going to feel really rushed and I’m going to get to the musical all sweaty and out of breath and I won’t be able to sing well or do my best. I just want to skip it so we can have a good afternoon instead.”

Okay. How did this third grader learn what I still have trouble doing four decades into my life? I make commitments, and I bow to the commitment, at all costs, no matter what or who suffers to make sure I do what I said I would do.

Yes, it's very important to uphold commitments, but ultimately, it’s more important to steward myself, and my family, well. Sometimes that means backing out of something when it no longer serves the purpose it was intended to serve. This track meet was supposed to be fun. I’m sure it would’ve been great on another day, at another time. However, the musical was an incredible worship experience for all of us, and I’m so glad that my son had the perception to take care of his responsibilities to give his best. His 9-year-old heart was an example to me.

As parents, this is a great reminder to keep having those conversations with our kids­—even when they don't have a lot to say. Ask them if they’re happy with what they’re investing their time in. Ask them if there’s anything they want to stop. Ask them if there’s anything they want to add but haven’t had the time (or confidence) to pursue. Then help them with that. Before we know it, those elementary aged-kids will be graduating seniors. Helping them understand the value of time and how to use it well is a valuable life skill.

Ultimately, any empty space that you are able to create for yourself and your family is a gift. Reading on the front porch, laying on the hammock, strolling through the woods, whatever that looks like for you. Use it as a time of rest and restoration. My experience has always been that using time for Bible Study, prayer, or worship will leave you refreshed and "filled" in all the very best ways. My hope for our family this summer is for more empty space­—with a­ little less juggling, but a lot more Jesus.
Jesus said to them, “Come away with me. Let us go alone to a quiet place and rest for a while.” (Mark 6:31)

Lainee Stidham and her husband, Judson, have four children, Judson Jr, Lucas, Georgia Kate, and Zachary. Dawson entered their story the day after their oldest son was born. She is still amazed at how relentlessly faithful God continues to be in their lives.