By: Meghan Swartz
As I’ve tried to slow down, I’ve noticed how much we are conditioned to consume and at the same time conditioned not to notice it. It’s one of those things that just is: the radio is always on, the super Walmart is always open, the Starbucks, in all its caffeinated glory, is around every corner. Consumption is always an option, and it’s always easy. But is it leaving us empty and brittle instead of full?
Slowly, subtly, painlessly, we have drifted into a state of comatose consumerism. We’re all contributors and we’re all victims, searching for what will make us feel whole, duped into striving for convenience. And let me be the first to say: I am so, so guilty of this.
In a season of uncertainty and vulnerability, my response was to fill myself with, well, crap. I fought silence with Netflix, emptiness with endless snacking, and topped it all off with plenty of caffeine and social media. In moments of stillness my brain scrambled to think of the next thing I could ingest—quick! Grab the remote, your phone, your laptop. Make coffee, and zap some chips and cheese in the microwave—voila! Nachos. And nevermind that I’m not actually hungry! There was a different hunger within me, but I didn’t quite know what it was for and I didn’t want to give myself the chance to find out.
Shauna Niequist puts it perfectly in her book Present Over Perfect: “I feel like I’m driving a car 100 miles an hour with music blaring out of open windows. I screech into a parking lot, throw the car in park, sprint into 7-Eleven, and race to the back of the store. I throw my head back under the Slurpee machine, and I fill my mouth with red Slurpee, tons and tons, running down my face and neck. I just keep gulping and gulping, sticky red corn syrup-y sludge, more and more, until I stand up, smeared and dripping, and race back for the car, on to the next big thing, jamming the car into reverse, music at mind-numbing volume.”
There’s a particular hunger inside each of us, and it’s good, but we have to know how to feed it. Long ago, Jesus told his disciples, “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you… I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
Not knowing how to feed my own hunger, I registered it as emptiness. I gave it my best with what I thought were the right tools: the fast and easy ones that left me with a red, syrup-y brainfreeze.
The things we consume usually can’t satisfy our hunger for more than a moment. We fill ourselves with waste and disconnection rather than the fullness that comes from pursuing a life alongside Jesus, who has already shown us how to be satisfied.
So how do we get filled back up? I think it requires creating something instead of constantly consuming, using our gifts in ways that are good for us and for others. It’s filling, and also, I’m realizing, it just makes sense: we were made to create—after all, the Creator made us in his image. I’ve started to wonder if this hunger isn’t my body and soul crying out to serve their intended purpose: to create, anything. To write a letter to an old friend, to grow a pot of basil and save myself a few trips to the grocery store, even to start a neighborhood softball league.
Hour by hour, I’m giving myself space to focus on what I love and where God has gifted me. I’m learning to give myself grace, recognizing that I might face a learning curve. I’m starting with something I love, even if it’s not really creative, strictly speaking—like getting coffee with a friend, or going for long runs—and making it grow. I’m learning, practicing, and forgiving myself when I don’t do it consistently enough. I’m finding the things that make my soul sigh and I’m doing them, however badly it seems to go at first.
With each moment I spend catching up with a friend, journaling, or watering our little basil plant, I get a little more filled. The deep hunger begins to fade, and even more so when I remember that each stroke of the pen, each conversation, is a gift from the God who created me to create.
Begin there. Begin with the One who created you and see what it is He wants you to create. Sit in the stillness and the uncertainty and see it for what it is: not emptiness, but space and time to learn how to be full again.