“I just feel hollow,” a dear one confessed to me this week.
“Like every part of me is being shaved away.”
The words hung heavy between us as we sat quiet on the couch together.
I understand hollowness.
I know what it’s like to be emptied of me, to be poured out day by day until I wonder if there’s anything left of who I am.
Or who I was.
If it’s nothing else, motherhood is a scalpel.
Right from the start, God uses a seven-pound bundle of drool and coos to whittle away at a mama’s heart.
Selfishness? It’s excavated piece by piece every time that newborn cry pierces the silence at 2 A.M. and at 4, and 6…
Vanity? It’s shaved sliver by sliver as spit-up decorates our favorite dresses; as our stomach muscles refuse to slide back in place, and as we throw that baseball hat on again and hope that nobody at the grocery store notices that we haven’t had a shower in two days.
Perfectionism? It can’t survive the mess of potty training or the thrill of finger-paint fun.
I never knew what lurked in my soul until God used a toddler to call it out.
I didn’t realize the depths of impatience; wasn’t aware of the pride, didn’t recognize the selfish ambition until I walked through motherhood’s fire. And mess. And monotony.
I stared at my dear friend and felt the emptiness. Knew the emptiness.
And then I remembered this crazy little activity that the kids and I had done one Sunday morning when blizzard winds and icy roads had kept us home from church.
And as I recalled the mess at my kitchen table, I realized that the simple object lesson had really been for me.
Maybe for the one next to me on the couch, too.
That impromptu lesson could have been titled “Hope for the Hollow.”
The mighty forerunner of Jesus said it first—
He must become greater; I must become less (John 3:30).
And I’d wanted my children to get that, to understand that we must empty to be filled.
So we’d taken a squash and cut it wide open.
And I’d asked the kids how much water they thought that veggie could hold just as it was.
We’d guessed, poured, and tried to estimate how much water pooled around the seeds.
We’d guessed far too high.
When we’d poured the water back out and measured the collected drips and drops, the accumulation seemed insignificant, less than two ounces.
A squash full of itself can’t hold much else.
(Neither can a person).
So, we’d decided to dig a little, to reach into the guts of that squash and excavate some gunk. Hannah had gotten her hands all gooey carving out the middle. And Maggie had tried to eat a stringy seed, only to promptly spit it out on her brother’s open palm.
I’d nearly given up then, as squash glop splattered all over the table and the littlest big brother screamed angry at the spitter.
But I’d needed that lesson.
So, we’d pressed on.
And the next time we’d filled the scooped-out squash with water, that shell held a puddle worth measuring.
But we weren’t finished yet.
Becoming an empty vessel doesn’t happen all at once. A forty-year-old mama longing to be filled full knows that well.
So, I tried not to think about how we were going to have to clean up that mushy muddle dotting the kitchen table; instead I posed a simple question.
How could this squash could hold even MORE water?
Josh had studied the shell and then raced with gusto to the silverware drawer.
He’d returned to the table with a butter knife and a determined gleam in his green eyes.
“We need to cut out all the guts!” he’d declared as he applied silver blade to veggie.
Big sisters had watched his dangerous excavation and had jumped in to help.
Soon that squash was completely carved, its mushy innards scattered all across the table.
We’d stared at the shell that remained.
The squash was hollow.
All of our scooping and scraping and digging had turned that veggie into a water-holding goblet.
Lizzy had grabbed the measuring cup once more, and we’d watched amazed as she’d tipped over the squash and poured out an entire cup of water.
I’d asked Hannah for an explanation, and my third-grader had kept it simple.
Less squash=more water.
And this mama who’s never been stellar at math added her own quiet equation.
Less of me=more of Him.
I’d brushed seeds off of my hands, pulled out the Bible, and read aloud John 3:30.
Then I’d asked one final question.
How do we get MORE of Jesus in our lives?
My question had hung over the guts of the chiseled squash, over the slimy seeds and the mess on the table.
The kids had stared at that hollowed vegetable and remained quiet.
And, finally, I’d put voice to the notion that had been brewing within me the whole time I’d watched my clan cut and whittle and scrape.
“Do you think that if there’s less of me, there can somehow be more of Jesus?”
Six-year-old Josh had lifted his head and suddenly connected the dots between our strange kitchen table excavation and John the Baptist’s sage words.
“Hey! It’s kinda like when we scooped out the squash stuff. Then we had more room for water.”
I’d nodded and prayed for truth to stick to our hearts like those squash seeds clinging to the table’s edge.
It’s hard to offer Living Water to a thirsty world if we’re too full of ourselves to hold it.
That thought makes my breath catch in my throat.
What if the gunk inside of me is keeping me from receiving all that Jesus wants to give; not just to me but through me?
If Christ is going to become GREATER within me, then something has to go.
Something has to move out of my crammed-with-self soul so that my Savior has room to grow His nature right there in my own flawed heart.
Only then can He somehow use my life to spill Himself across this parched and aching earth.
It’s ridiculous, really, the way I cling to all the pieces of myself that crowd Him out, the way I fight to hang on to myself when the gospel says it so clearly:I need to shrink so that Jesus-in-me can expand.
Still, I complain about all this emptying.
And I find myself wanting to hang on to the very pieces of me that my patient Savior is trying to extract.
To be honest, I’m not sure that I want to get rid of her; the striving me and the prideful me; the wanting-things-to-go-my-way me and the demanding me.
Though I’d sound far more holy just to keep this to myself, the truth is, some days I don’t really want Christ to scoop out the what’s-in-it-for me-me and the I-deserve-a-break me.
I’m not sure I want Him to sanctify the loving-with-strings-attached me and the seeking-the-easy-road me.
After all, what will be left when the carving’s finished?
Surrendering to the Spirit’s scalpel is an act of faith.
I think of all of this as I sit silent with my friend on the couch.
And I pray. For both of us.
Then I whisper these words of hope, wanting to believe them for myself as much as I want to offer them to my friend:
What if you’re feeling hollow because Christ’s at work in you?
What if He’s actually using the mess to extract the stuff that hinders?
What if, when these trials pass, you can hold more of Him?
We sit quiet, wondering.
And I picture that silly squash filled with water, and I thank God for the offbeat reminder that hollow can be hallowed if we let Living Water fill our empty spaces.
Counting as He carves…