I was familiar with the experience of a “fertile void” when Nancy, my spiritual director, mentioned it. I just didn’t know it by that name. I’ve known seasons when all seems quiet on the surface of my life, but there’s a subtle commotion brewing beneath the quiet; a place where things are composting; where my inner life is being turned over, my psychological structures broken down in order to become more deep and real and whole.
I think I’m in one of those seasons right now. I don’t feel completely at home. I struggle in the waiting—feel uneasy and wonder what I should do or how I should get involved in what’s happening. Yet experience has taught me the futility of trying to mess with or hurry along the decomposing and reconstituting of my inner life and soul. The invitation during a fertile void is to rest in it and trust the process of it.
I learned that the term “fertile void” comes from Gestalt Theory and was developed by a psychologist named Fritz Perls. He described it as an experience where “meaning-making ceases and being begins.” I’m far from understanding all that Perls meant and may even have it wrong. Yet, I’ve been drawn to this strange paradox as a way to describe God’s work right now in the hollow of my heart; a paradox through which I’ve found hope.
A fertile void describes the active but hidden work of God that I’m unable to participate in, manage or control. It goes against the grain of my constitution as an activist who favors involvement over passivity; fidgeting over resting. I want to understand the meaning of this work; participate in it; practice a spiritual discipline, read a book or master a prayer about it. All my instincts and efforts signal just how much I like to manage my own spiritual life and growth. A fertile void makes me uncomfortable. Yet, as Perls explained, it’s an experience where meaning-making ceases and being begins. That’s a good thing.
And there’s another good thing. Being in a fertile void gives me hope. It’s made a seemingly empty time one of anticipation—a “hope does not disappoint” time. I know that good things happen when a field is allowed to go fallow. Like a farmer who can’t see God’s work or manage it or help it along, the thought that fruitful things are happening underground has given me greater confidence to trust the interior and mysterious work of the Spirit.
So, as I look toward the New Year from this helpless and hopeful place, here are a few things I find myself thinking about:
Are you in a season of a fertile void or have you experienced one before? What have you learned? Where did you or do you find hope in this place of barren fruitfulness?
Beth Booram has been a lifelong vocational minister in parachurch and local church settings, both mainline and nondenominational. She is an author, spiritual director and healing prayer practitioner, as well as a congregational consultant. She speaks around the country at conferences and retreats on topics related to spiritual formation and Christian leadership. Beth understands the issues that confound many people today and offers a message that is authentic and original; absent of clichés and formulas, while full of wisdom and insight. She is a disarming communicator who draws from a deep reservoir of compassion through her own healing journey and profound encounter with Christ. Beth's presentations are highly creative, often utilizing artistic elements, contemplative exercises, and engaging interaction. Her next book, Awaken Your Senses: Exercises for Exploring the Wonder of God will be released in February with InterVarsity Press. Beth has also written The Wide Open Spaces of God (Abingdon Press, 2007) and Picturing the Face of Jesus (Abingdon Press/April, 2009).