Let Them Be Empty

“Quietude, which some men cannot abide
because it reveals their inward poverty,
is as a palace of cedar to the wise,
for along its hallowed courts
the King in his beauty deigns to walk.”

-Charles Spurgeon


We went camping over the holiday weekend and as I sat in our campsite on Friday night I felt agitated.  A little edgy.  We had arrived mid-afternoon, taken a long walk, had a leisurely dinner and the requisite s’mores, settled the boys in the tent for the night and then… there was nothing to do.

The dishes were done, my cell had no service, I was miles from my laptop and laundry and ‘to do’ lists and I found myself irritable and mildly cranky.  All this empty space stretched wide before me and I felt panicky in the face of it.  What, pray tell, was I supposed to do with all this free time?!



View from our campground in the Northern Cascades
View from our campground in the Northern Cascades

Busy!  Busy!  Busy?

I realized as I sat by the water and tried to get a freaking grip on myself that I’m used to filling every single spare space in my life with something.  Most days I feel like I’m checking things off of a non-stop, ongoing, ever-growing list of things that need to be done.  Work, writing, meals, laundry, school drop off, school pick up, community group prep, library runs, grocery shopping, volunteering at the school, you get the idea.

Here’s the thing, though.  I’m not actually all that busy.  Not really.  It’s just that in between all these things, when I get a spare minute, I’m really quick to fill it with something.   When Jason puts the boys to bed, I clean up the kitchen but I also try to catch a snippet of a show or a podcast while I’m at it.  Or last week, when I had ten minutes before I had to pick up Isaiah from preschool, I queued up an episode of Grey’s Anatomy on my phone and did a speed clean of the guest bathroom before running out the door.  Gotta get while the gettin’s good, right?   And c’mon, when else will I get to watch Grey’s Anatomy?  I mean, really.   Some things are important.

So as we settled into the woods for the weekend and I was faced with this endless expanse of spare minutes, I didn’t know what to do with them.  I was restless and uneasy because I was without my usual props and distractions.   I had gotten out of the practice of filling my spare moments with… nothing.  This weekend was a crash course in (re)learning how to let them be empty.

Always On Call

It was harder than I thought it would be.  I thought I had a handle on how to rest.  And we’re the Rusts!  Camping is our thing!  But it’s actually been awhile since we’ve been out there and I realized this weekend that one day a week of mostly shutting things down and kinda sorta resting isn’t actually enough.   I need to practice more.

I’ve been re-reading Simplicity Parenting this month and the author, Kim John Payne, says that it used to be that only physicians and a few select others knew what it was like to be “on-call” from time to time.  But now, with our smart phones and high-speed wifi at all times and in all places, we are all  “on-call” all of the time.  This, he says, means that “most of us are in a slightly anxious, arrested state most of the time.”   Getting a phone call while we’re driving or feeling the buzz of a text message during dinner means we are constantly vacillating physiologically between a moderate and a hyper-aroused state and it can be difficult to calm our minds down.

Palace of Cedar

So what did I do with all that spare time this weekend?   I drank tea by the river one evening.  I sat quietly in the afternoons and looked out at the trees and the mountains.  I read books.  I wrote an entry in my “giving thanks” journal which now has exactly 2 entries.  I had a really good conversation with Jason as we lingered by the campfire on our last night.  I even used Isaiah’s water colors one afternoon and tried my hand at painting.    In short, not much.  But I felt an unfurling of sorts; an unclenching of fists and a freedom from my usual frenetic pace.  I also felt a nearness of God that I don’t normally feel.

I’m hoping that I will be more intentional now that we’re home and push into those spaces of quiet more often; that I will let the spare moments in my day be empty instead of constantly and frantically filling them to capacity.  I want to work on quietude.  It’s going to take some effort, though.  Today when I picked Gryffin up from school I was a few minutes earlier than usual and I immediately turned on Grey’s Anatomy.    Ah well, I’m a work in progress and it had been three whole days.


More pictures from the weekend…

View from Phelps Creek Trail
Taking a breather during one of our hikes
More from Phelps Creek Trail
Jason had to carry the boys across the rushing water a few times. This is the spot where I voted to turn back.   Jason: 1, Nance: 0. When he was carrying Isaiah, Jason could hear him whispering, “Please don’t let me die, please don’t let me die.”
Mornings around the campfire
We camped at Shaefer Creek near the Chiwawa River – about 20 miles from Lake Wenatchee. Probably our favorite spot in Washington yet.
The boys practiced and perfected this move on our last morning. Gryffin could hold him like this for about 20 seconds. An impressive feat considering the weight ratio!