The Gift of “Emptiness”

February 25, 2015 at 8:29 pm

Hand in Hand

When those three  pennies fell from her hand into his, Pastor Jonathan clearly remembered hearing a still, small Voice within him saying, “Come to me… and let Me teach you.”   (John 11:28a, 30b )


written by Debbie Allen

Pastor Jonathan juggled his brief case and a steaming cup of coffee on his way up the crumbling, cement steps of a quaint little Presbyterian church on Maine Street in Olde Towne Littleton, Colorado.  His church.  His second home for the last twenty years.  With some difficulty, he turned his key in the rustic lock embedded in the hundred-year-old oak, forming its beautiful, arched entryway door.  Placing a weary shoulder up against its cross-sawn planks, he gave it a hefty push until it opened.  Once inside the foyer, he secured the door again; knowing it would be a couple of hours before anyone else would enter the building.

Heading for his office, a set of double doors opening up into the small sanctuary behind him drew his gaze.

“Hmmmm…someone must have left the lights on last night,” he reasoned, heading for  the switch inside the doors.

Poking his head inside the double doors, his jaw dropped.  Hundreds of tiny strands of morning’s first-light streaming in through an eastern exposure of stained glass windows splattered an array of color across the entire sanctuary in kaleidoscopic beauty.  In the midst of this rare display of quiet splendor, Pastor Jonathan’s eyes remained fixed on his pulpit.  It had been beautifully transformed into more of a pedestal of hope.  Stretched out across the top of it, lay a perfect, smiling reflection of the little Baby Jesus.

“Good Morning, Lord.” Pastor Jonathan uttered, smiling back.  “And thank you.  Thank you for giving me such a beautiful picture to dwell upon this morning.”

Sipping on his coffee, he lingered a moment longer in the sanctuary and then added softly, “I know You surely must mean this as the replacement thought for that dreadful image of the empty green chair that haunts me every morning.  But…my heart, Lord,it’s still so tender.”

Pastor Jonathan continued in silent prayer, walking down a narrow corridor leading him into his study.  He looked upon this early morning refuge as more a place of solace than of duty.  Lately, these early morning hours provided him a much needed hiding place to escape those unwanted thoughts of the empty green chair back at home.  It was his wife, Lorna’s, chair.  The one sitting so silently in a corner of his living room.

“Only six short months ago…” he thought aloud, shaking his head.

That’s when the cancer stole her away from him so suddenly.  Every morning since then, he tried to turn his eyes away from the chair as he passed by it, but, the image seared his thoughts as if it had been branded there.  Plagued by the thought of it, Pastor Jonathan made his way over to his desk and sat down to try and focus on Sunday’s sermon. Opening his Bible, he read quietly for the next hour and a half.  Then his eyes fell upon these words in Ecclesiastes.

“Everything is appropriate in its own time.  But though God has planted eternity in the hearts of men, even so, many cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.” he read aloud.  (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

His Bible still in hand, he rose to walk a few steps beyond his desk to bask in a shaft of warm sunlight, streaming in through a cathedral window.

“Everything is appropriate in its own time.” he repeated again.

“How true this is, Lord.  Even as a man of God, I can barely see my way past one green chair in my life. E-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.  No doubt this word includes my emptiness, too,” he commented in a more reflective tone.

Glancing up from his book, Pastor Jonathan caught sight of a group of small children waving at him from the courtyard below.  He couldn’t help but smile; watching them giggle and run away the very minute he acknowledged them.  In a remote corner of that same courtyard, he spotted a young couple almost hidden by a maple tree reaching over them like an enormous umbrella.  Studying them for a bit, he shook his head sadly while he watched the young man storm off in another direction, leaving the girl sobbing in the corner by herself.

“Emptiness again, Lord.  It is in every corner of our world these days.”

Returning to his desk, he picked up his pen.  Eyeing a blank page in his journal before him, Pastor began to write.

Monday…Oct. 4, 1998       Concerning emptiness:

A blank piece of paper.  The silence of a song whose melody remains unwritten.  A green chair where no  one comes to sit any more.  The strained beating of a heart steeped in the pain of a broken relationship…  

All of these are but reflections of the shadowy side of life.  They each speak of a hidden void which eventually seeps into every human soul, as we encounter our battles in life.  Each in its own way reeks of the cruelty of emptiness.  But, Lord…is it ever possible for emptiness to present itself as a ‘gift’ to this world?”

By now, his two deep-brown eyes sought refuge under the precipice of his great brow.  Spidery creases ran throughout his forehead like little tributaries that had been cut there by a swelling river of concern for the needs of those all around him.  In the midst of wrestling with life, Pastor Jonathan glanced up to find three-year-old, Jenny, standing silently in the doorway just looking at him.

“Well hello , Jenny,”  Pastor said, still  surprised to see anyone standing there.

Jenny was among the children who had waved to him from the courtyard a few moments earlier.

“Just what is it that brings you in here today, little one?” he asked, approaching her and kneeling down to her eye level.

Jenny immediately flashed a million-dollar-smile back at him before giving him her answer.

“Mmm…nuffing, Pastor Jonafin,” she managed to say before shrugging and looking down at her feet in her own shy way.  “Mommy is parking the car.  She said for me to wait here…an…ummm…I jus have sumfing for you.”

With these precious words, Jenny opened her tightly crumpled fingers revealing three shiny, new pennies.

“For you,” she repeated, her eyes sparkling like diamonds as she spilled them out into his giant hand.

Carefully, she folded his fingers up around the pennies, pushing his hand gently away from her.  Even though her hand was empty, Pastor Jonathan could see that her heart remained as full as any three-year-old’s heart could ever be.

You see, as Jenny stood in the doorway of his office earlier, she studied the look he wore on his face.  Every line…every grimace…every fold troubled her.  Though she could not begin to understand the reason for them , somehow, in the wisdom of a little child, she knew she needed to do something to bring back his missing smile.  The smile she so loved seeing on his face.

“Thank you, Jenny…thank you.”

His heart still melting inside his chest, Pastor reached up and pulled her face into his gaze.  Finding himself at a loss for words, Jenny seemed perfectly content with the ear-to-ear grin he could not hold back.

Upon seeing his smile, Jenny shrieked, “It wooked!”

Then she reached up to bestow one of her own special bear-hugs on Pastor Jonathan. Right away, she remembered the joy she’d felt when her Mommy placed those three pennies into her own hand that morning.  Immediately, visions of pink bubblegum began to dance in her head!  And…in the mind of this three-year-old visionary, the same miracle just worked for Pastor Jonathan too.

Watching her skip away from him, Pastor Jonathan sighed, feeling as though he’d just been given a Bear-Hug by God Himself!

“Who ever thinks to look for the answers t o some of the world’s biggest problems, in some of the world’s smallest places…in the hands of a little child?”  he marveled silently.

With pen-in-hand, he again sat down to write.  Seeing the three shiny, pennies stacked before him on the desk continued to warm his thoughts; filling up his heart like the warm waters of a sweet tea descending into an empty cup.  Closing his eyes, he pictured Jenny’s little hand laying in his own giant palm.  When those three pennies fell from her hand into his, he clearly remembered hearing a still small Voice within him saying, Come to Me…and let Me teach you.”

Inspired by Jenny’s generosity, Pastor Jonathan’s thoughts flowed faster than his ink could form the words on paper.  “Truely”, he wrote, “…even emptiness is appropriate in its own time.”   Within the next thirty minutes,  he completed Sunday’s sermon.  He entitled if,’Unselfish Giving’.

The following Sunday, Pastor Jonathan delivered this message to his congregation.  Not one dry eye remained in the sanctuary by the time he finished speaking, including his own.  As he stepped from  behind the podium, a man intercepted him before he could reach the foyer.

“Here you go, Pastor. These are for you!” the man said, through a toothy grin, as he dropped three quarters into Pastor’s hand. “There’s one for each of Jenny’s pennies.” he went on to explain.

“Thank you.” Pastor responded, still somewhat taken back by such a gesture. On his way to the foyer, another member of the congregation stepped forward and placed three one dollar bills in his hand.

“Powerful message!”  the lady said, still daubing her eyes.

To his astonishment, one of the choir members intercepted him in the parking lot, handing him three one hundred dollar bills!  Watching the man walk away, Pastor Jonathan sat humbled and speechless in his car.  He was overwhelmed by the generosity and response of so many in his congregation.

“How could I have ever doubted what You are able to accomplish through the hand of a little child, Lord?” he pondered on the drive home.

And so it went throughout the next week.  Every morning when Pastor Jonathan entered his study, he continued to find new stacks of donations in a pile on his desk.  After giving it much thought, he decided he needed to do something special with the money.

“Janice?”  he cried, peeking his head out the office door in search of the church secretary.  “You know that drinking fountain we’ve been wanting in this foyer for so long?”

“Yes, Pastor,”  she replied in a hopeful tone.

“Go ahead and have it installed.” “Oh…and one more thing.  I need you to have a bronze plaque made with these words inscribed on it,”  he added, walking towards her.

Her brow scrunched, Janice picked her way through the scribbles written down on the little piece of paper he handed her.

“JENNY’S THREE-PENNY FOUNTAIN,”  she read aloud, a giant grin of approval overtaking her frown.

“That’s right, Janice. I want to dedicate the fountain to little Jenny. I want it to be a constant reminder to those of us who pass through this foyer of how God takes such small beginnings and turns them into a much greater end.

“I’ll give her parents a call, too.”  Janice  added, picking up the phone.

That following Sunday, Pastor dedicated that new drinking fountain to little Jenny.  Slipping her small hand into his own, they both approached the fountain together.

“Do you know what the sign says, Miss Jenny?” Pastor inquired, pointing up at the bronze plague hanging above it.

Tilting her head to one side like she’d been reading since birth, Jenny  recited, “Jenny’s Thwee-Penny Fowtain.”

“That’s exactly right…and now you get to take the first drink from your fountain.”  he said, picking her up so she could reach the spigot.

“Mmmmm, the water’s just prefit!”  she said in a very grown-up way , wiping the over spray from her cheek.

Pastor smiled, knowing she’d meant to say ‘perfect’.

“Indeed it is, Jenny. Prefit in every way!” he added , letting a mouthful of the cool waters tumble into his open lips.

Waving good-bye to Jenny, he watched her walk away with her parents, still wiping water from her face.

Bending down to sip again from the fountain, something else occurred to him.  The Greatest Blessing that this world has ever known also entered into this world through the emptiness of a little Child’s Hand.  God’s Child…the Baby Jesus.  From the emptiness of a manger, His little Hand reached out into the darkness of this world.  Those tiny Fingers contained the price of One life, which He willingly spilled out into the hands of this world to purchase a Fountain for His Church.

Pastor’s eyes fell upon the bronze plaque once more.  Running his fingers across each individual letter, he whispered softly,

“Lord…Your plaque would have read, “Jesus’ Fountain of Living Water.”

Touched by this thought, Pastor Jonathan continued to marvel at how many ways that God had chosen to weave the story of Jenny’s Three-Penny Fountain into his own emptiness.  Heading into his office for the last time today, he sat down at his desk to make one final entry into his journal for the week.  Eagerly, he wrote the answer to his question from the Oct. 4th entry:

Sunday…Oct. 16, 1998

Concerning the gift of emptiness:

So…I ask the question again,  “Is it ever possible for ’emptiness’ to present itself as a gift to this world?”  From the perspective of both a Pastor and a child of God, all of the wisdom that is needed to answer this question still lays in the Hand of a Child.

If you find yourself staring into an empty page…let His Words fill in the blanks.

When facing the unbearable emptiness of a big green chair…know that His Shoulder is waiting there for you to cry on.

If it is a song in life you lack…the melody has already been written for you.  It is His Love Song, written especially  for you.  The Melody of this Song can always be heard; above even the loudest pounding of your broken heart.

Whatever you  find to be the emptiness in your cup…allow the Hand of God to spill its Love into your own hand.  Let Him sweeten your life and fill your cup with the Waters which flow from His Fountain.  It is a Fountain that will always flow with the unspoken and unforeseen blessings found so unexpectedly hidden in the emptiness of a little Child’s Hand.  Though sometimes we can’t see it, nonetheless it is there.  God put it  there…perhaps as a reminder to each of us of the “Blessedness of Emptiness!”

“Come to Me… and let Me teach you.”

(John 11:28a, 30b)