Before my first book was published, there was this lull where everything kind of…stopped.
After a year of blogging and working and guest-posting and seeing a slow and steady progress on that mysterious, soul-draining thing called author platform, everything seemed to grind to a halt. My agent, a New York powerhouse of a lady, no longer seemed interested in pitching my project or reading my emails or responding to my neurosis (of which there were many).
In the dwindling days of summer, I sat on the balcony of my friend’s apartment in Wrigleyville, drinking coffee and staring at the building across the street. Sprawled across the brick siding was giant advertisement featuring a condo for sale.
The condo was all emptiness and light, and I couldn’t stop looking at it. It felt like an invitation. It felt like a deeply true kind of metaphor. Faith is an empty room, the ad seemed to say, and it wasn’t so long after that that I walked away from that agent, that contract, that imagined future.
It was terrifying and uncertain, and I felt like a fool letting go of a sure thing, a signed something, and walking forward into that empty, unknown space. But that is what I did. And it turned out to be the exact right thing to do.
Last week, was moving week.
Over the weekend, we rented one of those giant metal storage boxes, which they deposited without ceremony on our driveway and into which we Tetris-ed the bulk of our earthly possessions with the help of some friends.
Still, even after we’d packed it full, there were so many things rolling loose around the house: clothes and cleaning products, curtains and clutter, the odd Lego head, the hamster. I drove the 45 minutes from my in-law’s house back to Andover every day, trying to corral the last of our junk. My carefully color-coded packing system fell apart within hours. The last several boxes I packed are labeled Misc.
On Thursday, I was cleaning and tossing stuff into the car right up until 20 minutes before the buyers showed up for their final walkthrough. I barely had time to take a breath, let alone to take the time for nostalgia and introspection and goodbye and closure.
But for one brief moment, I stood still in the empty front hallway, the house stripped of all of our belongings, but still carrying so much of us. The evening light slanted onto the kitchen floor, and the ducks waddled up from the pond, and it felt impossible and surreal and sad and terrifying all at once. Who leaves a beautiful house like this for no house at all? I thought.
Faith is an empty room, the house itself seemed to respond. The hastily washed floors and empty, scuffed walls thrummed with this remembered metaphor even as I walked out for the last time.
On Friday morning, in a conference room at the title company filled with people and paperwork, we closed on the house. The couple that bought it is lovely, and I spent most of the time chatting easily and laughing with the wife while idly signing my name on a thousand million documents.
We left the closing, Andrew and I, buoyed by the feeling that our house had transferred to good, kind hands, to the next right family, and that all was well in the world.
I spent most of Friday night basking in the rightness of it all. But by the next morning when I woke up in not-our-house to a kid who’d wet the bed, the dewy, sparkling feels of the day before had burned entirely off.
I feel grateful for the space my in-laws have made for us; and, at the same time, I have the exact same sense of being untethered as I did when I let go of that first agent five years ago. What next, what next, what next?
In time, I believe that I will look back and see that this was not so much a room as a corridor, leading somewhere new and good and right.
But right now, I find myself again in that empty space, that bare room. The kind where there is infinite possibility but no sense of direction; the room where light streaks through the windows, beautiful and mysterious, but doesn’t illuminate the way.
And it is true that the life of faith is a journey and a road and a walk and a run and a river. It’s a cycling of seasons, a long drive, a tree, a garden, a search for some lost or hidden thing.
And sometimes it’s an empty room.
Sometimes, you are neither walking or running or hiking or searching or even wintering. You find yourself sitting on the hard, wooden floor of some unfurnished, unfilled space, and this is part of it too. This is where we remember that God is both knowable and unknowable, where none of this is a formula, where all we have to go on is that deep bone-memory that God is good.
This is where we lie down, let the sunshine streak warm across our face through the dim, mirrored glass of all we cannot see, and we rest.
When God closes a door, he opens a window, the cutesy signs in the Christian bookstore say. I imagined that I was past all these clichés, but in reality, I was so sure that if I only just let go of this house, the next right space would open up like a miracle, like a sea splitting open to reveal a path.
I am beginning to understand that there is something important about these untethered spaces – the empty ones between the letting go and the receiving. We open our hands, our hearts. We lie on the warm floor. We turn our heart toward the one who is always making a new way.
We listen to the buzz of the emptiness until we start to understand that inside of all this quiet is the most beautiful song of praise.