Spiritual Whitespace

This post is part of the  “Finding Spiritual Whitespace Blog Tour” which I am a part of, along with a group of soulful, journeying kindreds. To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE!

Jason surprised me with white sheets for our bed right around our anniversary this year.

We usually just consider time together gift enough; the pressure to exchange equal gifts was too much, especially since our anniversary falls in the midst of the “gauntlet” of Valentine’s Day, my birthday, and Mother’s Day. But I had wanted white sheets for a while, and since they were something we both would use, it was a perfect surprise.

It was amazing how much of a difference the white sheets made in our bedroom, and the effect that one change has had on me. It’s no wonder all the decorating magazine use white sheets on staged beds almost exclusively.  The white is so crisp and clean, so refreshing to look at. Now I want white more and more places. I switched out our heavy, dark comforter for a cream-colored quilt. I took the drapes off our living room windows, so they’re adorned simply with white blinds. And Jason replaced our interior doors and painted them the same color as the walls, so they disappear into the landscape of the house.

Whitespace is powerful.

I should have known this already. We learned it in the graphic design class I took in college. Our professor held up a sheet of a well-designed piece of promotional material, and some garish ad with callouts and an overwhelming amount of text and photos. She asked us which one we found more visually appealing. It was a no-brainer. The one with more whitespace was much nicer to look at.

I knew this mattered in art. I didn’t think, though, about how much it mattered in my home and in my life. That is, not until I picked up a copy of Bonnie Grey’s Finding Spiritual Whitespace.

“The more fine art a composition is, the more whitespace you’ll find. The more commercial the piece, the more text and images you’ll find crowded in. The purpose is no longer beauty. It is commercialization…. Whitespace is a choice to convey quality and artistic value. Whitespace says we are someone special” (67-68).

This hit home more than I can even tell you. How often have I heaped my plate with more, and more, and more, hoping that somehow that there would be value in me in one of the many things I was giving my time and energy to, when all that I really needed was less? When I chase down a dozen different hobbies, can I really give myself fully to any of them? If I take five cookies, will I take the time to taste them as well as if I only took one? When I speak a thousand words, do any of them carry the weight that they would if I’d only spoken ten?

I couldn’t put this book down. I was compelled by Bonnie’s story, which is so different than the sheltered happy childhood, I grew up in, and the story drew me in and kept me turning the pages. I imagined that reading this book would help me better understand the people I encounter in ministry who come from broken homes, or were abused, or are plagued by anxiety. So I was completely unprepared for the ways I kept seeing little bits of how I’ve refused to rest in Jesus in it. I don’t have any suppressed trauma in my past, and yet I still run as hard after my goals as if I were trying to get away from a heartache-filled past. I never stop to rest.

One look at my spiral memo pad confirms that this is true. It’s list after list after list. I have a list of things to do, a list of recipes to try, a list of things to write about, a list of boundaries to observe around my kids’ TV time, a list of ideas for the kids’ take home devotionals I create for the church, a list of things to buy next time I’m in town, and on and on and on.

I can’t stop making lists. It’s even the way I make decisions. I am a die-hard pros and cons lister. So when I read this, it stopped me up short:

“Are you facing a dilemma? Rather than drawing up a pros/cons sheet, which can separate you from your heart, picture yourself as a little girl. What would she choose and why?” (58).

I’m not accustomed to thinking in terms of what I simply want. In some ways, I know that I cannot simply follow all of my own desires. The Bible insists that the heart Is wicked and deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9), and I know that if I was left to my own devices, apart from Christ’s redemption, many of my desires would destroy everything I hold dear, as sin so often does. But some desires are not sinful. Some things we refuse to reach out take not because they are wicked, but because we are afraid. There are a few things in my life that I’ve been considering – decisions I’ve been wavering one way and then another on for quite a while. I can’t make up my mind because I can’t figure what’s “best” or “safe” or a “sure thing.” But when I framed in the terms Bonnie suggests – what would the childhood Amy want to do? – it’s all super-easy to figure out.

I’m not saying this is a perfect matrix for all important life decisions, but when we are so paralyzed by our adult sensibilities that we can’t even figure out what we really want, thinking back to what we would have chosen at five or seven or nine is certainly helpful.

It’s helping me, at least.

And so is making more room in my life for Spiritual Whitespace.

Lately, I have been spending a portion of every afternoon in prayer, while the boys are napping, And when I say I’m spending time in prayer, I hope you are not imagining me in some hour-long, intense  intercession where I’m bringing a list of requests as long as my arm to God.  As Bonnie says “Rest is not something we engineer, but something we invite” (p. 33).

Sometimes it is a really great time with the Lord. And sometimes it’s me sitting on the floor of my bedroom, feeling a little bit like an idiot, not quite knowing what to say. But I keep doing it anyway. And I think, it’s almost imperceptible, but I just think, just barely, I see the ways in which making more space for God in my life is beginning to change me. It’s not about immediate results, and it’s high time we let go of our addiction to instant gratification anyway. No, spiritual whitespace is simply about making room  for God to do something. He may fill that space with something beautiful. And he may leave it blank to better highlight something else beautiful He’s doing. Either way, we need the space. And just like my white sheets started a chain reaction of putting more and more white in my life, I’m hoping that carving out this small amount of space in my life will cause some other dominos to fall until God chisels away everything except what truly matters in my life.

I hope you’ll join me. And I hope you’ll pick up a copy of this excellent book and let it speak to you, too.

Bonnie Gray is the writer behind Faith Barista.com who wrote a book about her inspiring, heart-breaking journey to find rest, which garnered Publisher’s Weekly starred review. I’m taking the journey to find rest through this guidebook and invite you to read it too.  You can get a copy HERE.

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One thought on “Spiritual Whitespace

  1. Really well said Amy! Your last paragraph is perfect. I want to memorize it, write it on my forehead, carry it around with me wherever I go… Because sometimes I feel like an idiot when God doesn’t fill my space with something amazing. It never occurred to me that he might be highlighting something else that’s beautiful with my whitespace. :)

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