Updated: Feb 15, 2020
Our days are so full. We stuff and stuff and stuff them. We don’t want to miss anything. We don’t want to forget something. We have to get it all done.
And in the mad rush of noise and activity, we lose our purpose. Everything’s too muddled and mashed together. Nothing has its own meaning, and we take no time to find it. Our days are just flashes of tasks and appointments and even entertainment.
There is no silence, no down time, no white space. And that’s what I want to talk about.
What do I mean by white space? Let’s talk about it from a design/art standpoint.
White space (sometimes called negative space) is the space between the other design elements: pictures, text, etc. It’s easy to think of white space as just the empty parts—not very important. But listen to how it’s described in Wikipedia:
“White space should not be considered merely "blank" space—it is an important element of design which enables the objects in it to exist at all; the balance between positive (or non-white) and the use of negative spaces is key to aesthetic composition….. A page crammed full of text or graphics with very little white space runs the risk of appearing busy or cluttered, and is typically difficult to read.”
Our lives, crammed full of to-dos and activities, also become cluttered, difficult to read—difficult to understand. What do they even mean? What are we even doing?
When we leave our minds and our hearts and our souls no white space during which to make sense of all the images, feelings, and expectations of our lives, we are starving them of a much-needed resource.
Studies show that kids do better if they have free, unscheduled, non-screen time every day. Their brains have time to consider, contemplate, enjoy, create. I haven’t seen studies on adults, but I know for me, if I don’t have it, I start to feel anxious, unmotivated, uninspired, and exhausted.
When I make sure to incorporate time away from technology, tasks, and even hobbies, I’m more creative, more engaged when I return to my activities, and I have more clarity about what I’m doing and why I’m doing it.
I think a lot of the reason we overschedule and overstimulate is because we don’t want to hear that still, small voice. It’s the same reason people drink or always have to have the TV on. Being a Christian, I know too often my to-do lists and busy-ness drown out not only my own conscience, but the still, small voice of God. Even if you’re not a person of faith, you have that inner voice of conscience that pushes you when take the time to listen. The one that says: Write that book. Call your friend. Apologize to your mom.
For me, it’s also true that I’m most likely to be filling my days from start to finish when I don’t want to hear that voice—when I want it to leave me alone and let me be lazy or unfulfilled or at the very least, passive. But that’s also when I’m the most dissatisfied, disgruntled, and frustrated with life.
We need the white space. We need the still, small voice. We need to be able to step back from the forest and look at the trees. I’m sitting on my sunporch right now, and if I stare through the low trees, I can’t see much of note. It’s winter, so it’s all a wash of brown and gray, and one tree is barely distinguishable from another or from the layer of leaves on the ground. When I look a bit higher, though, the tops of the taller trees extend up through into the sky, and I can see each branch clearly, the background of the sky setting it off, making it separate. If all we ever do is fill every moment, nothing will stand out on the backdrops of our lives. It will near impossible to discern the urgent from the important from the essential from the if-you-don’t-do-this-you-will-always-regret-it.
Take time. Take rest. Leave your soul some space between—that white space to wander in—and heed the still, small voice.
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