The Empty Place
By Rod Nichols (Rod@RodNichols.com)
Growing up, I was the skinny kid who wore glasses and was the brunt of many jokes. I was the average student who just got by. I was the kid with the empty place inside. In my youth I tried to fill it with athletics and was an above average athlete with grand dreams of being a professional baseball player. However, when I graduated from High School at 5í8Ē tall and weighing 135 pounds, my professional baseball dream died, but I still had my empty place.
I left home to attend college and found new ways to fill that empty place Ė parties and alcohol. I was a party animal my freshman year, but realized that if I didnít focus more on school, Iíd be back home digging ditches or working in a bread factory (a horrible job I once had). I focused my attention on school and graduated with a degree in business. A week after graduating I married my college sweetheart and a month later started an excellent corporate job. Surely a great marriage and career would fill that empty place.
Within in a few years of working in the corporate world, I realized that it wasnít quite right for me. Even with some outstanding successes and quick promotions, I still felt empty inside. So, I quit my management level job to start my own business. I was convinced that the freedom of owning a business would fill that empty place.
Two years later I was divorced, my business had failed, my car had been repossessed, and I was sitting in a 900 square foot apartment doing something I had never done before Ė contemplating suicide. The empty place had grown into a huge gapping hole that made me ache daily and I was not sure I could go on. I thought about the various ways I could do it and what they might feel like. Then I considered the affect it would have on my young daughter and my parents and my friends. Something rose up inside of me that kept me from going forward with my plans to end my life; it was hope.
I had never been a religious person. Oh, I grew up in church, but turned away from it when I went off to college. I couldnít stand the hypocrisy of organized religion. I believed in God, but not in religion. I know now that it was God who was there with me that awful day and gave me hope.
I didnít end my life that day. Instead I began looking for a job. I would dress in my only suit and ride the bus to interviews. Soon, I secured a job teaching marketing at a technical college and things were looking up again. I also, had a great new relationship and soon we were married. Again, I was hoping that this new career and relationship would fill my empty place.
The job went great, but the marriage was tumultuous at first. I was expecting my wife to fill the empty place, but she was unable. I turned to my job, but it could not fill that place either. So, once again, I turned to business. I quit my job to start another business. This time the business was very successful and produced something that I had never experienced before Ė both financial and time freedom. Surely, money and free time would fill the void inside of me. But it didnít and I continued to be empty. I cried out for what would fill that place inside me; for what would complete me.
After watching the changes in my wife and children after a year of attending church, I thought that perhaps I was missing something and church would fill the empty place. I started attending a Sunday evening service and although it was wonderful, I was still empty and struggling with life.
One Saturday evening we attended a dramatic performance at the church and at the end they called people forward who wanted to receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior. I thought that this might be the answer, so I went forward and went through the motions of repeating the prayer of salvation. But nothing changed in my life. I was still empty and struggling.
In 1997 I attended a Promise Keepers event and stood in the Seattle Kingdome with 52,000 men singing songs about God. I was moved to tears and my heart broke that day. I stood and wept for the first time since I was a child and through that brokenness, God began to fill that empty place. Not all at once, but a little at a time.
I came back from Seattle a new person. My wife and friends noticed the differences. I had opened myself to God and was truly a new person.
Although I had been attending church for a couple of years, I had tried my best to blend into the large congregation. This changed after my Promise Keepers experience, as I got involved in Menís Ministry and started an accountability group with three other guys. Over time I continued to grow in my understanding of the Bible and God. The more I grew, the smaller that empty place got.
A few years later, I felt directed to attend a class at our church. That was where I met an incredible teacher. In just a few weeks I learned more about myself and my relationship with God than I had in the previous years of my life combined. The teacher and I became great friends and spent many hours talking about our futures. We met weekly with a group and all went on out of town retreats. It was an amazing feeling to have that many close friends who were all traveling on the same spiritual path.
Out of that God birthed a church, pastured by the teacher. My wife and I were part of the founding team and within six months I felt called into the ministry and became an associate pastor. I used all the talents and skills that God had given me to help the church grow and prosper. As I gave of myself as a servant, the empty place continued to close up to the point where I rarely even thought about it.
Recently I was called away from full-time pastoral ministry to to focus more on writing. I have loved to write since I was sixteen years old and now I am doing what I was put on this earth to do. I have a wonderful marriage, five incredible children, and three amazing grandchildren (and another that will be born in April of 2005). Life is good and the empty place is gone. Donít get me wrong, I still have life struggles, but I always know where to go if I start feeling empty.
For years I tried to fill that empty place with activities, alcohol, friends, relationships, business, and success. All along, our loving God was right there guiding me. Even though I didnít recognize or acknowledge Him, He was there. I know that it grieved Him to see me suffer through all those years and Iím sure He was there by my side patiently waiting for me to open myself to Him.
It saddens me to see so many people traveling the same road I did. They are empty and trying to fill that empty place with drugs, alcohol, money, sex, relationships, travel, religion of various types, and spiritual paths and beliefs. If they would just realize that there is only one way to fill that void. It is a void that is there when we are born. As a baby, we cry out for our parents to fill the void; as children we cry out to our friends to fill the void; as teenagers we cry out to our peers to fill the void; as adults we cry out to the world to fill the void. Instead, we should be crying out to God to fill that empty place, because it is shaped exactly like Him.
Rod Nichols is an Associate Pastor at Truth and Grace Foursquare Church in Tacoma, WA. He is also a published author and accomplished public speaker and teacher. Rodís latest articles and books can be found at www.RodNichols.com. Rod is married with five children. He and his wife Karen live in beautiful Washington State. Rod is available as a freelance writer. If you'd like to hire him, e-mail Rod@RodNichols.com.