The Gift Of Undesignated Space

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“Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land. The Lord Almighty has declared in my hearing: ‘Surely the great houses will become desolate, the fine mansions left without occupants. A ten-acre vineyard will produce only a bath of wine; a homer of seed will yield only an ephah of grain.’” Isaiah 5:8-10

“And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Luke 2:7

Our house is decorated for Christmas. The process began almost immediately after the Thanksgiving holiday and continued for about a week. But now all the decorations are out, the trees are lit, ornaments hung and everything seems in its place. I’m sitting here looking at walls that once had paintings or other artwork on them that now have evergreen branches or elaborate wreaths hanging from them. In fact it seems there is even more to look at on the walls than there was before the Christmas season. I’m always amazed at my wife’s skill in decorating the house and somehow taking all the random decorations and gathering them together in a meaningful way. There is a lot to take in and experience.

One of the things that strikes me about this time is how little opportunity there is to appreciate the Advent and Christmas season because of all the demands of the schedule and the long list of things to accomplish before Christmas day arrives. It can easily turn into a frenzied attempt to get it all done that eventually exhausts me. All the anticipation, wonder and joy regarding the blessed hope found in Jesus can quickly dissipate into a hope for a speedy conclusion to the whole Christmas celebration. It seems that when we decorate the context of this Christmas season we leave little space to pause and enjoy it.

I think there is a tendency, at least in my life, to imagine that if a little is good, more will be even better. If a few lights hung around the door of the home look festive and inviting, a whole bunch of lights covering the house would be spectacular. But with each light I add I decrease the space a bit more and the whole effect is just a blur of light and color rather than a beauty defined and distinguishable. Decorations can easily digress into clutter.

In the spiritual life this becomes crucial to acknowledge, for when I have filled and decorated all the space of my soul there may be little room for Jesus to enter and shape the dynamic of my life. It is hard not to let my agendas and “to do” lists encroach upon the space of my life. If there is time and space available I am prone to find ways to fill it up. I just am not that comfortable with blank walls and empty space.

This seems to be one of the things of concern to the prophet Isaiah, as well. He spoke of adding houses and joining field to field in an effort to expand and fill in all the space with their projects, accomplishments, agendas and such things. But the result was relational isolation. The accumulation of houses and land had left them alone in the land, and eventually it would impact their fruitfulness, the very thing they were attempting to capitalize on and prolong. Filling in all the space didn’t enhance their experience of life, but instead diminished it.

There is a gift that I believe God is calling me to receive from Him this season. It is the gift of “undesignated space”. I strongly believe in pressing pause so that there is space in which God can act. But it seems my tendency is to press pause and then fill the available space created with my own agenda and plans. In embracing the gift of undesignated space I am leaving room for the unexpected ways God might intersect my life with His own. Where there is undesignated space there is the possibility of being surprised by God’s presence and His words of direction, love and grace. When I have set aside and protected some undesignated space in my life I am less likely to resent the interruption to my agenda and plans. The very concept of undesignated space allows for the undesignated and unexpected interruptions.

In this season of Advent, I believe it is especially important to embrace the gift of undesignated space. It is so easy to miss the variety of ways God might make Himself known because all the space has been used up, filled in and spoken for already. Practicing the embrace of undesignated space allows for the unexpected and surprise encounters with God all along the journey to Christmas.

There was a particular inn in the city of Bethlehem, whose greatest claim to fame was that there was no room, no space available. When Mary and Joseph went to find lodging they were turned away and found the only available space was the nearby stable. There amongst the rest of creation looking on in wonder, Jesus was born. The only undesignated space at that time was an obscure stable with a small manger. Though it was not glamorous, that small bit of undesignated space became the place of God’s glorious presence. It required space for Jesus to be born, to accommodate something truly remarkable, the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us. In the undesignated and humble space of this world the Messiah was born and every day we have the opportunity to encounter Him again, not only in designated and well-decorated places, but also in the undesignated space and ordinary interruptions of life.

As you continue through this season, let me encourage you to practice receiving, embracing and protecting “undesignated space” for Jesus to enter and abide in unexpected and surprising ways. Here is some music to encourage you in this season of waiting, expectation and the surprise of the unexpected.

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