The Gift of Absence

Mar 3, 2024 | Writer's Blog | 0 comments

“One who is full loathes honey, but to one who is hungry everything bitter is sweet.” Proverbs 27:7 ESV







None of these conditions sounds attractive. It’s easy to miss how important they are. How can we ever appreciate bounty if we’ve never experienced want? How can we fully grasp the gift of satisfaction if we’ve never experienced hunger or longing? We don’t have a framework for gratitude if there’s never anything lacking in our lives. And any artist can tell you about the importance of “negative space”—the emptiness that’s essential to the composition of any good work of art. Here are some of the ways I’ve seen “the gift of absence” at work.

Our friend Annette grew up in a big city in China. She moved to the US in her 60’s and told us, “Now I know what clean air smells like!” I’ve never walked out the door, taken a whiff, and thought, “Clean air smells good!” And even though I’ve lived in a highly polluted city, I still couldn’t describe the fragrance of clean air. But the absence of clean air gave Annette the ability to perceive something that is beyond most of the rest of us.

In my childbearing years, I went through a season where I had trouble getting pregnant and then suffered at least two miscarriages. When I finally got pregnant, I was in an auto accident and threatened to miscarry again. Ultimately, I was able to carry our son Alex to full term, but he ran into life-threatening medical difficulties at birth that landed him in the neonatal ICU for the first two weeks of his life. When we finally brought Alex home, his little nerves had been frazzled by his traumatic birth and the medical procedures he’d endured in the ICU. He’d wake up, smile for ten minutes, then cry for two hours before falling back to sleep again. I nursed him constantly, trying to settle him, which wasn’t easy considering I also had an active 3 1/2 -year-old to chase after! It was a challenging season of motherhood, to say the least. But I’d waited so long to have Alex and then almost lost him at birth; I was more than happy to provide whatever he needed. Temporary barrenness gave me greater appreciation of the gift of motherhood.

I’ve lived in urban or suburban areas for most of my life, so I relish every opportunity I have to get away from the city lights and observe a starry night sky without light pollution. But I’ve never seen so many stars as the time Nick and I were taking an overnight bus across Laos. The bus broke down in the middle of nowhere, and while the driver was making his repairs, we stepped out for a while and looked up into the night sky. The number of stars was literally dizzying; I had vertigo as I tried to take it all in! The absence of light provided a breathtaking view of the heavenly host that I’ll never forget.

Some of us have chosen some sort of “absence” as part of our observance of Lent. There’s the traditional abstinence from meat on Fridays. Some people refrain from talking for certain periods. Others may limit their screen time. But whether there’s an absence of food, sound, screens, or something else, there’s a gift to be had in those experiences of absence.

To Ponder: What does absence or lack look like for you right now? What gift might Father have for you in this place?

Prayer: Lord God, please help me to recognize the gifts that come with absence and emptiness in my life. I welcome You to fill these voids with Your goodness. Amen.

~ Kathryn Kircher, writer and painter

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