I spent three days in the city worshiping and listening, then another three wishing I could be back in that place of joy and inspiration.

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I invested hours reading and writing about a movie and book I never intend to consume, but which consumed me as I fretted over the pain and confusion they cause.

I joined in a revival that’s spreading through my community, and I rejoiced over lives changed and churches united.

And today, after all of this, I wandered the frozen valley that is my world — lost and empty and hungry and not knowing why.

Standing with the sun to my back and cold biting my cheeks, I spotted tiny footprints criss-crossing the snow. Rabbits show up at our house every morning, a half dozen or so, in search of food where they find little more than snowbanks and cold, hard earth. After their slippery journey from the underbrush to our yard, they gather beneath our copper beech tree for a sparse feast on seed pods, fallen during autumn’s shedding.

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Rabbit tracks to nowhere and everywhere. The primal search for food and filling.

Don’t I know just how that feels?

Every good and difficult thing that I choose in walking out this journey toward Christ and His filling feels like a sparse feast some days.

Not enough. Never enough.

But I make tracks and I do good things, good for others and for my soul. I dispute the distasteful and I embrace the beautiful. I stretch myself to join hands to love the lost, and I receive the prayers of a needy little old man in words I can barely understand.

I make tracks, only to find that I am still more than a little bit distasteful and lost and needy myself. And empty.

Shaking off the chill of my walk through winter, I realize this: I’ve been taking joy sideways.

All the good and important things that have been filling my days and my heart aren’t the straight-up food I need to fill this “God-shaped vacuum” in my soul. That phrase, one I’ve repeated often (attributed to the 17th century writer Pascal) actually reads like this:

“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself”

“…..in other words by God himself.”

I may be inspired by man’s words and by worship to our God, and I can feast on the satisfaction of pointing others toward His truth. I can even indulge in the goodness of work well-done and prayers well-intended.

But they are little more than joy taken sideways, when what I need is joy straight-up.

It’s the kind of joy I have known only when I spend time quietly in His presence, in conversation and worship that only He and I can hear.

I once painted these words from Psalm 16:11 on the walls of my house. They’re etched in the wall of that vacuum only He can fill:

You will show me the path that leads to life;
    your presence fills me with joy
    and brings me pleasure forever.

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