02/11/2013 04:58 pm ET

Recognizing the Importance of the Space Between

Beyond the row of uneven fence posts, under a blue Wisconsin sky, lay a seemingly-endless open field. As my eyes attempted to locate a sign of life, there was nothing in clear view but the vantage point where the sky and the field met. This scene was particularly enchanting to me, as the majority of my life I have lived outside of major cities where a house or a building is the only thing to entertain as picturesque. I soaked in what was before me, and I noted the sense of peace I felt, and yet almost simultaneously, a sense of emptiness. There was quiet, and yet a broken record of thought patterns, recycling questions regarding the purpose and functionality of this space.

Back at home on the outskirts of bustling New York City, it seems to me as if this image of open space may have more profound implications as I note the growing urges in our society to fill every possible second of open time and space with something. There is almost a fear or avoidance, in many cases, of the notion of not having something to do at all times. This could be seen in simple scenarios, such as the inability to go for a minute, hour, or day without checking or watching something (e.g., cell phone, computer, TV, etc.), or in more complex cases where time and space may represent boredom, uncertainty, lack of self worth, or pain. Our eyes are always down in technology or fixed to a program. Thus, there appears to be a loss of space for our minds to embrace anything that is not immediately gratifying to our senses. I begin to wonder if we are moving farther away from the ability to know how to handle time and space and perhaps losing the notion that it can provide any sense of peace or hopeful growth.

I will never forget, in my graduate studies, my professor asking us to observe a page of text that had no margins or spaces between the lines. My head was dizzy, and my eyes hurt after reading one paragraph. The point of her lesson was to show us that margins and space are necessary to creating a readable page. Similarly, a person without margins or space will burn out or suffer from a number of symptoms eventually leading to more serious conditions. As a clinician, I have seen that correlation repeatedly as clients present a page of text that is void of any space to produce readable life giving pages of their story.

If time and space are necessary to our being, and the implications of not having them could be detrimental, it is important to provide insight on how to embrace the emptiness without immediately attempting to fill it, and to cast a vision for what it might eventually produce.

In the open field that I noted above, the thoughts of functionality that plagued my mind might have led me to either leaving the space or, if it were my field, trying to put things in it that would gratify my visual cravings immediately. Suppose I fill the ground with superficial relationships, and the field feels full. I see the results immediately, yet what is in it comes and goes, and I spend a lot of time looking for something that in the end is transitory.

Then, I decide to find "stuff" to fill the field. I have TVs with shows to watch, decorative items, money, clothes, cars, alcohol, etc. This stuff all looks appealing, provides visual consistency, and temporarily feels good. However, after awhile, I might note that the feeling never lasts, the stuff is not "alive," and the reward in just sitting there is limited. Thus, I am again consistently going after more to fill.

There may be other examples of things that could fill the field. On the particular day that I looked out onto the seemingly-blank field in Wisconsin, I was soon approached by the farmer of that land. He looked out onto the field and noted beauty in the emptiness, as it was perfectly designed to grow a harvest. He told me about the long days he would look out into what seemed like nothing but feel comforted knowing that he had taken time to plant many seeds that would soon grow in abundance. He walked me over to a field of corn that was just beginning to come up. Little green sprouts just blossoming, barely visible, and yet absolutely amazing.

So efforts to fill the space seem to be futile, temporary, and eventually lead to more emptiness. However, meeting a farmer gave me perspective of a purpose in the field that would last, though I could not always see the results immediately. It takes time for seeds to grow. I propose the notion that if we knew God we may see the fields in our own lives with the same order and design that He created the rest of the natural world. When plowed to the point of emptiness, there is then room to plant seeds that open up possibilities for fulfillment, nourishment, and more growth. Though it takes time for seeds to grow, the peace in knowing they are planted, and will soon be abundant, provides hope while waiting.

In conclusion, I wonder if plowing all of the "stuff" off of our fields, embracing open space, and being connected to the notion that the Creator has designed something beautiful to grow would lessen fears, anxieties, and exhausting efforts to search for fulfillment. I wonder, if we stop trying to fill every second of our lives, if there might not eventually come a rest and peace in the unoccupied time.

In a simple effort to digest this concept, I decided to not check my cell phone or email for one day. These two devices tend to be things I have grown very accustomed to using and checking in any pocket of open time. I wanted to note in myself the urges that I had for quick fulfillment that took me away from what God might be attempting to plow or grow in my life. The first few hours were excruciatingly hard, as I first had to defeat the nervous tic to check something, then embrace the anxieties that came with me not being in control of what would fill my day. When this subsided, however, some interesting things happened. I found myself available to play with my children. I actually talked to some people in line while I was waiting at the store. My thoughts were less filled with hurried responses and open to new ideas and ponderings. My day was dictated less by what came through my phone and the computer and more through actual encounters with people and the world around me.

At the end of that particular day, the seed for this blog was planted. I wait with my eyes set across the open field of my own life and hope for growth for me and many.

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