Offer Empty

As I considered applying for the Anam Cara Apprenticeship, I asked a friend about her own training in spiritual direction. “It’s about me getting out of the way,” she said. “This is about what God is doing, not me.”

Do you know how difficult it can be to get out of the way? Personally, I keep tripping over my desire to be helpful to my now directee’s. 

This has me thinking about a woman in the Scriptures who was in dire need. Her husband died. Her debts were due. Her sons would soon be sold as slaves. Destitute, this woman cried for help to the prophet Elisha who offered what appeared to be a very strange piece of advice. Learning this woman had nothing of value in her home but a wee bit of olive oil, Elisha said: 

“Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars—and not just a few” (2 Kings 4).

When I read this, I immediately scoffed, “Empty? Seriously? How about instructing this poor woman to go around and ask all her neighbors for full jars!? And while she’s at it, for bread, spare change, and a job or two for her and her boys?” At first glance I found Elisha’s advice overwhelmingly unhelpful (which may have been the point …). 

But the prophet-of-God’s instructions were clear: what you need right now, from your neighbors, your friends, and your community, is an increase of empty. Ask them to offer you empty.


Enter the whole get-out-of-the-way theme my friend was talking about, because if my neighbor came to me in dire need, like this widow did to hers, I would move into action. In full fix-it (I want to be helpful) mode, I might just take over – gathering & giving whatever I could and piling it into her arms as if I knew what was best. It wouldn’t matter if that wasn’t what she asked for or needed.

Oof! I feel the weight of that last sentence. 

What if my friend is asking for the empty? Seeking specifically for it? I realize it’s a hard thing for me to offer. It takes great trust to offer empty.

Offering empty is not the same as offering nothing. The neighbors did not shake their heads, close their doors and turn this widow away. No, they gave, but they gave empty, enlarging the space for an outpouring of grace. For along with those empty jars, I believe they gave hope, they gave belief, they gave holy anticipation and expectation. They were with her in the wonder and the waiting.

If you’re familiar with the widow’s story, you know her small amount of olive oil miraculously stretched to fill each and every one of those borrowed empty jars. It wasn’t until the last jar was filled that the oil stopped flowing. The woman was able to sell the oil, pay off her debts, and live off the rest.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe we are to clothe the naked, feed the hungry & share our resources. But sometimes people will come to us in need of empty – in need of an enlarged space into which the Spirit can flow in ways we never could have imagined or orchestrated. Sometimes, what is needed is for us to pull back on fix-it mode and offer our empty – as much of it as we can possibly muster – and to do so with great faith, hope, and love. 

As the apostle Paul says, “In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!” (Romans 5:5 Message). 

Offer Empty.

Ponder: What is the difference between offering nothing, and offering empty?

Practice: Read this gorgeous poem by Christine Lore Webber about being hollowed out and emptied by God. 

Pray: Ask God to enlarge your empty, making you ready for whatever He’ll do next.

– Jenny Gehman