Book Review - Filling the Empty Places

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While Filling the Empty Places is intended for all women, I find that it is particularly well suited to those in midlife. The empty nest, the aging body, the sensibility of unfulfilled dreams—all of these things cause us to pause and reevaluate our lives. This book provides some good direction for doing so.

I have to admit, I had not read anything by Beneth Jones in some time. My familiarity with her writing was confined to the style I remembered in Sunshine on the Soapsuds—replete with pithy object lessons, humor, personal vignettes, and tales of “Herkimer” the imaginary husband. In this book, she employs some of these same tools. Her writing style is filled with imagery, metaphor, and colorful word choices, which can be a distraction for me, though maybe not for others.

Chapter 1 (addressing the “Nature of Emptiness”) begins with Ecclesiastes 11:4 (“He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap”) as a jump-off point. The metaphor of “winds” is carried throughout the book, with selected verses from Ecclesiastes heading each chapter. Mrs. Jones skillfully contrasts these Scriptures with various portions from Proverbs throughout the book. At the onset, she dispels the notion that these voids or “empty places” are felt because of what God has withheld from us, stating, “Emptiness became a human reality through humanity’s own wrong choices” (p. 17). Addressing the chief need of every heart, she paints a narrative of Eve’s experience in the garden:

The only immediate sensation [upon partaking of the fruit] is something never known before—emptiness in her heart. It marks the yawning grave into which perfection has fallen. (p. 19)

In fourteen chapters Mrs. Jones attempts to demonstrate that these many facets of emptiness (“perceived needs” is her poignant term) really boil down to one thing: lust. In the concluding chapter we are reminded that this identical struggle continues to prevail in the hearts of humankind:

We persistently want more. God in His grace has literally loaded us with benefits (Psalm 68:19), but we hardly see them because our eyes are set upon things beyond, better, or above. Aren’t we, then, in God’s terms, lusting? (p. 222)

Mrs. Jones moves on to examine various types of emptiness. Of mental emptiness (ch. 2), she observes, “The human mind craves to understand, and when it encounters impenetrable matters, its natural tendency is to balk and object, to argue and resent” (p. 37). Throughout the text the seemingly complex struggles we face are repeatedly honed down to basic Gospel truths. Will it be self, or the Savior? Faith, or self-reliance? “Faith must step in to fill our cerebral empty places and to clothe our spirit in humility. Winning an argument is not important; rightly representing Jesus Christ is” (p. 37).

In the fifth chapter, the topic of “natural emptiness” is discussed. A common plight of women is diagnosed, in that they are “especially conscious and critical of themselves; loath to recognize their gifts, they readily see their lacks” (p. 54). The “all important, controlling monstrosity” (p. 56) of self image is brought into the spotlight. Is this life really “all about me” and my attainments, or am I going to strive to be what Beneth Jones in numerous places calls “magnetic” for the sake of the Gospel—choosing to be others-centered? Further, will I determine to use even my divinely appointed weaknesses as stepping stones? What about past failures? What do I do with that baggage? I appreciated the fact that Scripture is applied frequently throughout the book, in detail, rather than just given as a parenthetical reference. Readers are challenged to live their lives scripturally and therefore purposefully, because “most believers today are walking heedlessly—paths of the past have not added learning [that wisdom from Proverbs, toward which she continually focuses attention], present pathways are empty of spiritual intent, and future routes are left to chance” (p. 68).

Mrs. Jones continues by addressing emotional limitations. She clarifies that emotions are good and God-given, but that our adversary is always on the prowl, looking to attack at our points of greatest weakness. One means that he utilizes is to incline us to “tighten our emotional focus while loosening our emotional control” (p. 72). Ecclesiastes 7:26 is provided as instructive regarding the potential of the feminine heart. About this, Mrs. Jones writes, “When self reigns in our emotions, it creates the emptiness of grasping, discontent and misery” (p. 73). Truly, there is no satisfaction apart from our abiding in Him—a focal point of the final chapter. Appropriately, many Scriptures on this theme are offered throughout the text.

In following chapters, some losses that present themselves specifically to women are put forward: loss of position (when a woman has held a place of prominence and influence and now feels herself relegated to a mundane life of homemaking), barrenness, loss of a husband through death, and loss of a husband as a result of divorce (some keen insight here). Relationship struggles with co-workers, friends, siblings, parents and spouses are carefully examined. Really, there are some heavy-duty and very needful items discussed in these pages that make me wish the book had been further developed into a series. She does allude numerous times to other books she has written. These apparently provide further treatment on some of these weightier topics.

Chapter 11 was a breath of fresh air. In it, Mrs. Jones takes on the topic of singleness. This is a topic about which more needs to be written, I believe. Reading her insightful observations made me wish I had had this in my hands years ago, as an “older” (married at 30) single gal. Statements like these made me want to jump up and down:

Our unintentional elevation of coupling as a must actually plays into the hands of Satan, who is using that ‘must’ propaganda to destroy lives wholesale. (p. 163)

It is sad to see how we marginalize single women, fail to minister effectively to them, and fail to encourage them to serve the Lord with their unique capacity to do so. Although our treatment of singles as second-class citizens may be unintentional, it’s nonetheless a major failure in caring for all members of the body of Christ. (p. 165)

We need to awaken to the fact that singles are the fastest-growing segment of American society…. Why aren’t we doing a better job of addressing their needs and using their gifts? (p. 166)

The reader is then encouraged to consider the life of Anna, the prophetess, and how she went from emptiness as a young widow to a life of dedication and service.

Emptiness in marriage is the final facet to be considered. Wives are exhorted to be sure they are offering respect as they should (the lack of which is disobedience and can result in a lack of favorable reciprocation on the part of the husband), and comforted and instructed regarding husbands who may neglect or withdraw. Some straight advice is given for those whose husbands have subjected them to verbal, emotional or physical abuse.

Prior to the concluding chapter, Mrs. Jones seeks to help the reader understand what biblical fulfillment looks like in the face of emptiness. She suggests that while the Proverbs 31 lady provides a daunting, seemingly unattainable example, the Shunammite woman was just a common woman like you and me, someone to whom we can more easily relate. Chapter 13 is given to discussing the two scriptural accounts in which we become acquainted with her. Mrs. Jones traces this woman’s emptiness first to the root of an unspiritual husband. From the context of the verses, I can see how she could perhaps derive such an opinion, but I came away from her detailed description of this husband/wife relationship feeling much of it was supposition. True, the husband does not seem very proactive—at least not in black and white—but there are varying opinions among the resources I perused regarding many different aspects of this account. Was her husband a “good-for-nothing” and “cold hearted” as Mrs. Jones suggests, or was he simply laid back, while his wife was more of a take-charge kind of woman? For better or worse, I know some marriages like this. Certainly, there is a wealth of truth to be gleaned from the testimony of the woman of Shunem regarding God’s sufficiency in the empty places of barrenness, losing a child, losing a spouse, as well as losing a home. Her faith was great, and she demonstrated uncommon wisdom, discernment and resourcefulness. She is a wonderful example of godly hospitality as well. About the other matter of her husband’s spiritual dearth, though, I think much is conjecture and arguing from silence.

In the final chapter, Mrs. Jones invites the reader to meditate upon the simple phrase in John 15:4: “Abide in me.” She writes, “Where any heart address other than ‘In Him’ applies, our heavenly Father must sigh His disappointment over the empty places we create for ourselves by choosing the wrong dwelling place” (p. 228).

And further, “He tells us that He extends to us all grace [citing 2 Cor 9:8]. Yet, how consistently I miss that supply because He delivers to only one address” (p. 229). She observes that “[w]e are accepted in the beloved at the instant of salvation, but we abide in Him by a heart choice moment by moment” (p. 225). Time is devoted to considering the unity that ought to be present in the body of Christ, the unity that He prayed for in John 17. No doubt gleaning from her extensive exposure to church ministries across our country, she recounts the dire manifestations of focusing upon our “perceived needs”:

personal polarizations that damage church unity, undercurrents of disagreement and criticism, gossip outside the church that harms the public’s trust and the church’s testimony, dissatisfied church members playing church hopscotch, wounded church members changing to liberal denominations, gossip-battered church leaders opting out of further service, embittered young people throwing over all respect for and connection with the church…. (p. 227)

These maladies are found all too commonly in our congregations today. I agree with Mrs. Jones that the only cure is for each of us to proactively abide and continually fill that God-shaped void in our hearts with the only thing that will completely satisfy its longings: God Himself. Filling the Empty Places is not only beneficial for personal spiritual enrichment, but will also increase readers’ effectiveness in the body of Christ, as we study to become “magnetic” individuals who draw others from self-generated emptiness to the all-sufficiency of the Savior.

Diane Heeney is a stay-at-home mom, who enjoys some freelance writing, blogging, and speaking for ladies’ retreats and functions. She received her BA (Church Ministries) in ‘85 grad from Bob Jones University and went on to serve at BJU as a secretary in the Extension office and later as Director of Girl’s Extension Ministries. Diane and her husband Patrick have helped a number of churches in the past 16 years, and are now assisting the ministry of a growing church in Lander, Wyoming. They have three children: Erin (breathlessly awaiting 13), Michael (all camo, all the time at 9), and Kate (their sweet surprise, now 3 yrs old).
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