Filling the void

When I was young my mom would select all the items we needed to go on vacation. My dad would be responsible for packing it into the car. There was always the challenge that mom wanted to take more than the car had space for. Five people in a mid-sized car does not leave a lot of room for stuff. And my mom liked to pack with contingencies in mind. You never knew what you were going to need…

Watching my dad pack was fascinating. I absorbed his lessons to this day. He always put the things that were absolutely necessary in first. Then came the items some of us thought were necessary and some of us thought should be left behind. Always there were items no one but my mom thought were needed for the trip. These items did not make the trip but if there was ever a moment on the vacation when one of those items might have come in handy my mom would never let us forget it.

The other day I was driving with a man who had recently retired. I asked him how he was doing “filling the void” left now that he not working. He told me he was busy, attending to tasks as they came up but he felt there was definitely something missing. As he was speaking I was thinking of my dad’s packing strategy and what would have happened if he had packed each item for the trip as they came to him. If he had done that some of the most important and necessary items would have been left out.

I think that is precisely what happens when we retire or find ourselves in a place where we are not working and don’t need to work. Suddenly the void needs to be filled. Our instinct is to do what arrives on our lap, as requests come in we respond. But often there is no thought to the deeper needs we bring to our time, what is it that we feel called to do and be? Granted there is another type of person who can get caught in that process as well, spending day and night discerning what is important but not getting to the doing. These folks usually need to “jump in the deep end”, at some point just start in on what the heart is telling them is necessary.

But most people are reactive, responding rather than discerning. There is only so much room in the trunk, not all items will fit. The same with our lives, there is only so much time in the day, so much time for healthy living, and the sooner we get on with the necessary and important things the better. I talk to a lot of people at the end of their lives and what they tell me is looking back they feel satisfied when what they felt was important was actually accomplished. There is pride there but also a sense that their lives had meaning, made a difference. When there is regret it is often less about what they did than what they did not get around to doing. And it is not the tasks of everyday life, what these folks lament is not getting to the things they felt were necessary and true.

Staring at the empty trunk, looking at the items in the driveway we think we will need and thinking on how it’s all going to fit. Filling the void.