Carmakers must assume that drivers tend to run on empty. That’s why they install warning lights and tones to alert us when we need to refill our gas tanks.
Running on empty is a popular metaphor for the hectic pace that so many of us keep in our daily lives. Studies tell us that sleep deprivation has reached epidemic levels. The once common family meal has nearly disappeared because everyone’s schedule is too full to sit and eat with each other.
Many people report feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. All the time.
But I’ve started to think that our deep issue is not that we are running on empty. Many of us are running from empty.
We want our lives to be significant. We yearn to matter. We are desperate for approval, success and affirmation. Some experience a vague emptiness. Others feel burdened by their faults. Still others remain haunted by past failures and humiliations.
We just don’t want it all to have been in vain when we look back at the end of the race.
And so we run from empty. We chase a romantic other, a fulfilling career, social status, thrilling experiences, and material possessions.
Some say that we are trying to fill the God shaped hole in our hearts. And I suppose that this is true in some cases. But I’ve come to suspect that most of us are just running from emptiness.
This is the place where you’ll expect me to say that finding God will fix this. Well, you’re wrong. In time our relationship with Jesus Christ will fill our emptiness, but entering into relationship with God will not immediately fix us.
There is no better biblical illustration than Jacob.
Jacob was the younger son. His elder twin Esau would receive his father’s blessing as his birthright. In other words, Esau would get the lion’s share of the inheritance. Besides, their daddy Isaac had an unmistakable preference for his oldest boy. (Genesis 25:19-28)
Who wouldn’t feel diminished? And how did Jacob handle this? He stole his brother’s blessing. He tricked his old, blind father into believing that he was Esau so that he could snatch the blessing right our from under his big brother’s nose. (Genesis 27:1-29)
And a fat lot of good that did him. Jacob had to run for his life with nothing but the shirt on his back. Esau would certainly have killed him had he stayed put. So off to Uncle Laban he goes. (Genesis 27:41-45)
On the road, he had a remarkable dream (Jacob’s Ladder) and learns that he has God’s blessing. God himself favors Jacob. Now you would think that this would change everything. Jacob should start to feel all loved and significant and comfortable in his own skin. Right? Not so much. (Genesis 28:10-22)
When he arrives at his uncle’s house he lays eyes on Rachel. He is instantly ready to give himself to seven years indentured servitude to have her. He’s still running from empty. Somewhere in his fractured heart he hopes that she will make everything okay. She will make him okay. Acceptable. Whole. Beloved. (Genesis 29: 9-20)
Those familiar with the story know that things didn’t work out as Jacob planned. Laban was an even sharper manipulator and conniver than Jacob. He gave Jacob Leah in Rachel’s place and managed to get another seven years work from Jacob in exchange from Rachel. (Genesis 29:21-30)
And so began the heart-rending story of Leah’s loveless relationship with Jacob, the tension between conflicting wives, and the massive, murderous dysfunction among what would eventually be twelve brothers.
We are not so unlike dear old Jacob, we Christians. Even when we have begun a relationship with Christ, we make mistakes and create catastrophic messes.
Some promise that following Jesus provides a formula for worldly success, physical health, award-winning children, and storybook marriages. As best as I can tell, that’s not what Holy Scripture says.
Jesus died on the Cross. He didn’t do so in order to shield us from the trials, heartaches and disappointments of this life.
Instead, he died for us so that the changes and the chances that for all the world seem to lead to the dead end of death will in fact lead to a whole new, unexpected kind of life. The kind of life that only God can imagine and only his son Jesus Christ can grant.
When Jacob lay awake at night listening to his wives bicker and his sons argue and fight, he probably didn’t recognize the birth cry of God’s people. Israel. But God did.
And followers of Jesus Christ can rest in hope that even in the midst of our biggest blunders and ugliest messes, our Lord is making us a new creation. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
(The image above is Cary Grant running from a crop duster in Alfred Hitchcock’s film North by Northwest.)