The Common Good

What To Do WIth Empty Space

"Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!" - Luke 1:45

Image: Empty space, © Leszek Glasner /
Image: Empty space, © Leszek Glasner /

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I'm thinking about promises this morning. Conceptually, that is — I've not yet progressed to specifics.

At church Sunday, the sermon was on joy. The pastor noted how much of our joy is anticipatory: we feel joy when we get great Celtics tickets, even though it's weeks before tip-off and we have no idea how the game will go. He described the joy he felt in waiting at the alter for his bride, even though he didn't know how their marriage would unfold. What we have in these moments, he said, is the promise of something we're excited to witness and be part of. And we have joy in those promises.

I have all kinds of promises from God, both the ones in the Bible and the personal ones He whispers in my ear. It's hard to believe these promises sometimes. (I tend to have more confidence that the Celtics will show up and play than I do that God will.)

And so I wonder: What would it look like for me to let myself be filled with the joy that comes from anticipating God's promises? Over the years, I've gotten rather "realistic," as the ways I can imagine God coming through have blown by. It feels more responsible to pursue acceptance instead, acknowledging that what I see today is the life God has given me, and if I can't find joy in that then I'm a faith failure.

What I love about Sunday's sermon is that it gives me a Biblical way out of this messy patch of lies. The Bible doesn't tell us to accept our sorry plight, or force ourselves to be happy. Instead, it says, "LOOK AT ALL THESE PROMISES!" and suggests that we believe, and let anticipation of what God is rolling our way cause us to wiggle with joy, like little kids on Christmas Eve. Just because we don't know how Santa will get those giant presents down the chimney does't mean he won't.

As we were driving to school this morning, Princess Peach and I were listening to the Ryanhood song, I Didn't Put Anything Into Your Place (listen here). She was singing along in the backseat, while I was navigating a traffic circle and thinking about how the lyrics remind me of Advent: the struggle to wait and hold the space for God's promises, rather than filling it up with other things.

Some drink in coffee and some think of shopping

Some get new lovers and some get new drugs

I wrote you to say that it must have been grace

I didn't put anything into your place

This is my prayer today:

Dear God, help me anticipate Your promises. Help me feel joy as I trust that the holes in my life will be filled with Your good gifts, and resist the urge to fill the space with placeholders. 

Trish Ryan is the author of He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not: A Memoir of Finding Faith, Hope, and Happily Ever After (Hachette 2008) and A Maze of Grace: A Memoir of Second Chances (Hachette, June 2010). 

Image: Empty space, © Leszek Glasner | View Portfolio /

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