The Space Between




It was the opening play of the football game. Ten men lined up on the line of scrimmage instead of the usual eleven. The space between the center and tackle was left purposefully empty with no one stationed at right guard. They stood silently honoring their coach who had lost his battle to cancer only two days earlier. There would be a penalty called but they didn’t care. The statement being made for their lost comrade was all that mattered in this moment. [1]


In life there are empty spaces left that we don’t understand. The seats normally filled with loved ones during the holidays that are no longer here. The white crosses lining the military graveyard marking those brave men and women, many who gave their lives fighting for our freedom.


These spaces are powerful. They are emotionally moving. And in so many cases God uses the emptiness to show us something beautiful hidden within the space that we can’t see yet.


The Power of Empty Space


Living through the pandemic in 2020 has shown me that while occasionally I have more time, I rarely have more space. The days seem both long and fast simultaneously don’t they? You’re up prepping your kids for their “Zoom school” and scrolling through your email at breakfast and before you know it the sun is on its way down. If we don’t fight for the space in our lives then we are simply letting it slip through the cracks of an overcrowded day of busyness.


Josh Waitzkin, child-chess phenom and the basis for the book and movie “Searching for Bobby Fischer”, recently shared the story of his most memorable failure.


In the last round of the Under-18 World Chess Championship in Szeged, Hungary, Waitzkin was tied for first place with a Russian player that offered him a draw. Gunning for the win, he lost. As he recalled the match later he realized that his failure to remove a defensive piece in front of his king actually led to the fatal attack. The piece, rather than an empty space, provided fuel for the final move and check mate.


This left a profound impression on him on the power of empty space and the importance of responding to aggression with a void. Now a world champion in martial arts he has used that lesson to transform himself outside the chess board as well. [2]


Chasing the Void


My family has had our own challenges with loss over this past season of life. When my wife’s dad passed last year I remember asking my mom-in-law how she was coping with the loss. “Honestly Brian, I am just chasing the void” she shared with me.


And aren’t we all chasing a void in some way right now? Yes there are blessings abound even in this hard season but it doesn’t mean it’s not hard to miss how life was before. I miss my daily commute. I miss saying hi to the people who ran the salad counter by my office. I miss hugging my parents. I miss worshiping God and singing in Church. I miss my Grandfather who I never got to say goodbye to. Void. There is so much to chase.


A Space for Hope


After the first play of the Kentucky versus Vanderbilt football game, Landon Young, the “eleventh man” jogged onto the field wearing the number 65. It was the same number Coach John Schlarman, who had died just two days prior to the game, wore as a player at Kentucky. Landon wore it that day in his honor as his fellow Wildcats won the game 38-35. The players still felt the void of the space Coach Schlarman left behind after losing his battle with cancer but they also rejoiced in fighting to keep his memory alive both on and off the field.


God can use voids, spaces, and loss in ways we can’t understand. He did it when he sent His Son to die for our sins. Jesus’s disciples were overwhelmed with sadness and panic over the death of the Messiah. But God used an empty tomb to provide salvation for a broken world.


Use the empty space to power you through the grief and the stress of harder days. Honor those who are no longer here by living your best day for them today. I pray God will use those spaces for a new beginning in and around you even if you don’t see His next powerful move yet. Allow the space for God to meet you there.



[1] https://www.si.com/college/2020/11/14/kentucky-honors-late-coach-john-schlarman


[2] “Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice from the Best in the World” Timothy Ferriss, page 223

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© 2017 by Brian Catanella. 

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