Reclaim White Space (tiny way #2)

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white space white space white space

w h i t e s p a c e
w h i t e s p a c e

See the difference?

Are those spaces between and around and through the letters just blank or do they work in the message?

What about in life?

Does white space serve a purpose in our days?

White space is seemingly unmarked space. It is the space between letters in typeface. It’s the margins that let your eye rest upon the page. It’s breathable room in design, on a book page, in a room, on a canvas . . .

or in your life.

If you think about it, white space and what happens there is what holds the whole kit and caboodle together. I am talking about space to encounter Jesus and then let Him carry me back into my work and my life.

The best definition I've found for white space is "subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful".

In some ways, this is where we might have started this series, POUR: tiny (practical) ways to water your soul, with the subtraction. But sometimes it helps to see where we're headed with our decisions. We might need to see the meaning we want to add before we can see the obvious we must subtract.

We started this series of posts I am calling "POUR: tiny (practical) ways to water you soul" with "Keep Taking Field Trips" (tiny way #1). I hoped a field trip would open our view of what's possible, of what we're really after in filling our souls.

I went to the ocean with a friend. I saw sand, wind and water, ebb and flow, weathering and erosion. I came home with driftwood and a full heart, chapped by the wind.

Any good field trip worth its salt will keep on pouring into life long after you're home, just as my ocean field trip did. Days later, when I finished reading Gift From the Sea, I came across this passage,

"My life . . . I begin to realize, lacks this quality of significance and therefore of beauty,
because there is so little empty space.
The space is scribbled on; the time has been filled.
There are so few empty pages in my engagement pad,
or empty hours in the day,
or empty rooms in my life in which to stand alone and find myself . . .
Too many worthy activities, valuable things,
and interesting people.
For it is not just the trivial which clutters our lives but the important as well.
We can have a surfeit of treasures- an excess of shells, where only one or two would be significant."

That's right where we live isn't it?

I have been working on this making-room-in-life endeavor for years and it is a process that takes grit and determination.

If we want to make room, at some point we have to take stock of what's already there. We do it in the physical world. It's usually a smart move to see what books I have on my library bookshelves before I buy new ones, to see what's in my fridge or pantry before I go to the grocery store and see what's in my toolbox before heading to the hardware store.

We need to do it in our spiritual world as well. We may need to clear a shelf and open up space. At the very least, we might have to slow down and take a closer look at what we've got to work with. At least I did.

Hurry has something to do with crushing white space. I was always a girl in a hurry. I used to rush around from one thing to the next with no space in between. I have been doing that for as long as I can remember.

Back in college, I was the girl who took all of my classes back-to-back with no breaks to get my day done as early as possible, to get to the weekend at the earliest moment. On top of jam-packing every day, I also tried to over stuff every long semester. I tried taking 17 credits along with Design Studio and about killed myself and my soul.

I was in a hurry in every way on every day and within every year, and hurry leaves clutter in its wake, bits and broken pieces as from the motor blades.

I spent my first summer back home working at a local restaurant and trying to find balance and perspective. I had been scattered by my hurried heart. Now I was gathering myself back together. I could feel the centering begin. My own Mama had given me a good childhood pattern of curated commitments and deep restoration. I needed to find that pattern again.

Slowly, I learned to take fewer credits each semester even if it took longer to complete my five-year Architecture degree. It seemed so long. I also learned to make room for my faith in the middle of my studies. We had keys to the Studio so it was easy to fall into the idea that being there ALL THE TIME made my designs the best they could be.

But where did my ideas come from?

Its true I needed creativity to bring to my drafting table, but creativity is hard to find when life's a blur. My work needed inspiration, but also my life, for I am more than my work. I could sense the deep need for inspiration and a working knowledge of my original design. After all, I was a human being with a heart and soul, a designed center that needed room to breath and grow and become whole, a flower that will not be rushed to bloom, the petals of which originate in a center, an eye.

Finding that eye, that awake eye, was for me, yet not only for me, because in finding that eye and opening it up, I realized I was made to worship God and serve hearts other than my own.

At twenty, I got an inkling, no it was stronger than that. I saw clearly that I thrived when I carved out space for more than doing and going, for soul things like deep friendship, worshipping and Sabbath keeping. And of course, for love.

And I wasn't the only one. As an RA in the dorm, I watched freshmen come into fall semester filling up on too many of one thing or another - classes or skipping classes, never sleeping or always sleeping, no food or junk food, every relationship or none at all. They left for Christmas break completely emptied out.

The learning curve was steep, heads were spinning, hearts were broken, souls were cold. The wisest ones took stock of what would fill them up and started slowly building it in. They found deeper friendships and a church habit again, this time with real texture and purpose all their own, not just as it was expected in their childhood.

I was learning the same lessons of deeper friendships, balance, wholeness and breathing room. I took fewer classes, I got good nights of sleep, I started running and eating breakfast. I stayed away from Studio on Sundays.

I bought a blank canvas. I propped it up on my widow sill and let it breath. Eventually, I painted it shades of indigo and filled it with billowy sails. I gave it away to my friend Jeff.

Soon I was spending some of that carved out time with high school girls as a Young life leader. We talked about the boys they adored, the Bible they did not know and their dreams of divorced parents falling in love again. We sat under Live Oak trees listening to their favorite songs and talking about a girl their own age named Mary.

I had found white space and it was full of meaning.

Actually, I didn't happen upon it. I had to look for it, to cut into busyness and carve it out around school and work. It takes a sharp blade, sometimes an axe and other times a boning knife. It was intentional and counterintuitive and even carried with it some fear.

What if I cut out something fabulous? What if something good passes me by? What if I cannot bring excellent work in less time?

I am still finding white space, carving it and reclaiming it for I have learned that white space does not happen naturally. The way life flows, white space must be reclaimed all along the way or maybe that is just me because somehow I get hurried all over again.

I've found I'm always taking back white space after big batches of life - after getting married, after each Whippersnapper was born, after their weddings, after the Wonders arrived on the scene and on my way to an empty nest.

White space is not just left over space, but space with potential and life all its own.

My most recent discovery is that I need time and breathing space, not just in general as a practice (I do), but around and between my commitments. The bigger the commitment (I call this the pouring out), the more intentional white space I require to fill up again (I call this watering my soul). A rhythm of in-between spaces and a slower pace fills me more than fast and furious and off we go.

But life calls for off-we-go sometimes. To maintain some form of white space, I am learning to put recovery time before and after things such as work, travel, speaking, serving and just plain old being out in the restless world. Our bodies out in the fray move faster than our souls. This recovery time from the wisdom of African bush guides who pause on the trail, allows my soul to catch up to my body so I can be whole again.

The space is not always the same quality or in the equal amounts, but it is necessary to absorb events and relationships into what I hope is whole-hearted living. You can see from the letters at the opening of this writing, the ones that run into each another, that they lose their readability and meaning. I'm guessing you wanted to skip over the jumbled letters to the more open spaces where your eye could rest and your mind take in the meaning.

I've started thinking of the people I spend time with and the work I do as stones in a river. My life is that river running over and around the stones. I want to have an underlying peaceful river so I need space between the stones. (And an original source of water.)

The number and size of the stones in the river can change the course and sound of my life's current. There will be boulders at some spots that will make the river rush and cliffs where the water cascades onto the rocks below before forming deep diving pools.

Such is life. Even still waters, have peaceful movement below. Stillness is not the same as stagnation. And white space is not wasted space.

Jesus is both my pattern for white space and the source of my river. He knew well how to carve out space to be with God, His River. Like us, he had a soul that knew both trouble and peace in this life. He knew how to keep a peaceful heart in a troubled world. I think one secret was He understood and practiced how to fill up and pour out, he understood both the how and the where or should I say the Who.

Even in his breath and bone, Jesus was whole, in communion with the Father and holding the Holy Ghost without pockets. In and out of my white space, all I can do is bring my dark, broken and rebellious self to the Light of the world to be filled and poured out, filled and poured out, filled and poured out.

excerpt from Write31Days Challenge*

Assuming your life gets as cluttered as mine and you're thirsty for wide open spaces, or you can never get to the things you dream of doing for how full your schedule is, here are some tiny (do-able) ways of reclaiming white space in your brain, in day and in your life.

Start tiny. Start with material objects before moving onto activities or commitments.

Here's a starting place. Buy a white canvas. Prop it up on your windowsill. Let it breath an appreciate the swath of quiet space.

Let that expanse of unmarked, wide and free space be your reminder that white space has potential, life and possibilities.

This is just a beginning. The tiny ways listed below are the small spaces, the surface ones, where we can reclaim white space that might get us to the bigger spaces, those deep and centered ones. Our first steps are to subtract the obvious. We will slowly add meaning as we go.

Let's start by clearing tiny surfaces.

  • Choose one small spot in your home to declutter (the stuff stuck on your refrigerator door, your kitchen sink bowl, a single bookshelf, a kitchen drawer or the top of your bedside table)
  • Unsubscribe to at least one email list.
  • Drop one disposable thing from your to-do list.
  • Say no to one activity this week. Do it again next week. You'll be saying no a bunch.
  • Stay home at least one night this week and fill up with good stuff: read a book, enjoy the quiet, pray, write a scripture on a card and lean against your bedside table, go to bed early.
  • Add 15 free mins before, after and in-between meetings the next time you schedule a meeting and from now on.
  • Say no to one upcoming commitment.
  • Resist volunteering for any new roles for 3,6 or even 9 months.

I am not talking about shirking responsibilities or being lazy, though some may tell you that. That's the part of this process that is the lie. You are actually being responsible.

Let me stop here and write a note to all the mamas of whippersnappers.

                       * * *

Dear Soulful Mama,

This is a crazy, busy, beautiful mess of a time. Who even has a moment to tinkle when we are raising whippersnappers? We cross our legs and off we go.

Please know you are being brave and strong by reclaiming white space for watering your soul.

You are giving your children a healthy rhythm in their childhood when you reclaim your own white space for soul keeping, and theirs. You must do this on their behalf until they can learn it for themselves. In this emptying out, you can actually be filled. You will have more to pour out to them and others.

You will know the shape of their hearts and even better, they will know that heart shape (and the God who shaped them) for themselves, an invaluable thing before they select a college, choose their major, find their way in the world or fall in love.

A little honesty to strengthen the way. You will meet resistance. Don't expect to have the crowd slowing down with you. You will feel behind in the race. (But ask yourself, "Is it a race?".)

You will feel at first as if you are standing still while the world goes by in a blur. You may feel misunderstood and maybe even disconnected at the beginning, but take courage.

You are actually in the process of connecting with your soul and offering your whippersnappers that same connection, a center they can return to again and again.

Loves to you from another Soulful Mama

                     * * *

We may think that the resistance will subside once we are in another season of life, one without the whippersnappers, but the truth is that the resistance will come from other responsibilities and ultimately it is not only from outside, a good heaping helping comes from within.

Any time you hear, "What do you think you're doing?" or "Who do you think you are?", that is the sound of the Distractor. That is voice of Shame. Put your fingers together and press them to your thumbs in the universal sign for "SHUT UP".

We are saying no to good things in order to say yes to better ones for us. That better may come much later in life which is why we need so much shoring up.

Our attempts to quiet our lives are meant to hear God. We are trying to quench our real thirst, not the faux one, our deep thirst, not the shallow one. We are trying to live whole-hearted, not scattered to the wind.

We are preparing to say yes to our calling and our design. We are clearing out space to say yes to being changed from deep inside by the God we love and choose. We are shipwrecked in the world and looking for driftwood and anchor, that buoyant Anchor who calmed the stormy seas and walked on water.

I am challenging you to be graceful with yourself and those around you by allowing room for your heart and soul to wake up and breathe life. You don't have to defend your no or even understand what will go into that slot of time.

Be ok with not knowing. Ask your friends and family for grace and time to figure it out. But be alright if it is not granted. Get on your knees and ask for Jesus to meet you in the not-knowing until it becomes knowing.

No is such a tiny word and so difficult to say firmly, kindly and out loud.

But you can do it. You must. You are making room. You're actually creating time and space. They said it couldn't be done, but here you are doing it.

It will be a gift to you, your family and your faith. It is not an exaggeration to say your soul depends on it.

My hope and prayer for you is that one space, free and clear, will lead to another, a bigger one. Trust me when I tell you, your life will not shrink. It will enlarge. You will find less is indeed more. I keep telling myself too.

In the space that opens up, you will hear and see and dream and pray and create. You have the opportunity to meet God spirit-to-Spirit, that's what it is for. Done doggedly, fiercely and while being misunderstood, reclaiming white space will bring peace to share in a restless world.

Now go reclaim your white space.

*Last fall I spent the entire month of October writing every single day about white space. If you want to see more of what I learned visit white space -creating space for soul-keeping