Why Do I Feel So Empty?

Last Sunday afternoon, I blew up in anger at my kids. I am not telling you that to give you an example of good parenting, because it wasn’t and I am not proud of what I did. I am telling you this to show you how to diagnose when there is something wrong in your life, and what to do about it.

The way that it has been explained to me is like this. All of us have within us an invisible bucket of love and a ladle. We use the ladle to take love from our bucket and pour into the lives of others. As long as our love bucket is refilled as quickly as we draw from it, everything works out well. We go through life on an even emotional keel. Our relationships tend to be healthy and we can handle the minor frustrations of life without much concern. 

But what happens when we take from our bucket and give love to others faster than our bucket is being refilled? Pretty soon our bucket will be empty, and that’s when life becomes a series of overwhelming frustrations. You find yourself erupting in rage when you stub your toe on a chair. You raise your voice in anger with others over things that are not their fault. You get upset when other people don’t do the things you expect them to do, even though you didn’t tell them what your expectations were. These are all symptoms that relate back to your love bucket and how it is being filled and emptied.

It would be easy to say that the solution is for us to look for new ways to get our love bucket filled up, like going for a walk in the woods, hanging out with friends, or reading a good book.  While those things can be helpful, I am suggesting to you that our problem is much deeper and more fundamental than that. God made us for relationship with him, but we humans tend to look elsewhere for the love that we need to fill our buckets, things like human relationships, pleasurable experiences, success in sports, school, work or business, as well as food, alcohol or drugs. Whenever we make a good gift from God into our main source of love, we twist the way that God designed our lives to work upside down. Those good things God gave us were never meant to bear the weight of being our main source of love. God is the One who does that for us. We damage ourselves because our unfulfilled hunger for love drives us to becoming addicted to our love sources. We hurt others because we are essentially manipulating them to get the love that we need. Worst of all, no one can ever really love us for who we are because we never have enough love in our hearts to simply be who we really are. And therefore, they don’t really know us.

So the question that I am asking you to think about today is: How do you get your love bucket filled up? This is an important question for us to consider because the way that we answer it will not only impact how we function in our everyday lives, it will also determine our trajectory into the future. For how we receive and give love shapes who we are now, and sets the foundation for who we will be in the future.  

  To guide us as we reflect on this question, let’s look at a passage from the Bible, Mark 12:28-34. As we begin, one thing that you need to know is that our passage is describing an event that happened in the midst of conflict and turmoil. A day or two prior to the event described in this passage, Jesus rode into Jerusalem in a triumphant procession on the first Palm Sunday. Then he cleaned out a Farmer’s Market that had been set up in an area in the Temple Courtyard where non-Jewish people were supposed to be able to gather and pray. This led to conflicts with the Jewish religious leaders who questioned Jesus’ authority to do what he did. They tried to trap him with tough theological questions, but Jesus overcame their questions with wisdom and pointed them to the promise of resurrection life that God gives.

Then one of the religious leaders who had been observing this debate, stepped forward to ask Jesus a question of his own: “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” (Mark 12:28) This is not an insignificant question. The Jews believed that there were 613 commandments given to them by God through Moses. 365 of these were negative, that is, things that people should not do, and 248 were positive or things that people should do. The Jews believed that some of the 613 commandments were more important and others less so, and they would often debate which of the commandments were the most important and whether there was one commandment which summed up all the rest.

Jesus reached back to the foundation of the Jewish faith for his answer. He began with what is the core prayer of Judaism, the Shema. Found in Deuteronomy 6:4-5, it reads,  “Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. (Deut. 6:4-5). This prayer is the centrepiece of Jewish morning and evening prayer and it is spoken at the start of every synagogue service. It is a confession that declares that Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, is God and that he is God alone. There is no being as great or as good or as loving as he is. Because of his goodness, greatness, and love for us, the best thing we can do is to love Yahweh in return. 

The religious leader Jesus was speaking to would have immediately recognized the Shema. But Jesus expanded the significance of this prayer by adding one key phrase. In ancient times, the heart was viewed as the location of the human will, the soul was the wellspring of our emotions and “strength” referred to our bodily powers. But Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’  (Mark 12:29-30). Did you catch it? Jesus added that we are to love the Lord our God with all our mind. But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He goes on to say, The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” (Mark 12:31)

Jesus is calling us to declare that Yahweh is the one, true God and that he is our God, the only One that we worship. Because He is a God of love, the only proper response is for us to love him in return in a way that involves our entire being. We love God with all of our will and the choices we make. We love God with all of our emotions and the feelings we feel. We love God with all of our body and with all the things that we do in our body. And, with the words that Jesus has added, we love God with all of our mind and the thoughts that we think. Then we are able to focus on the true and best Source of love for refilling our love bucket. Then we are better able to be a source of love for others.

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