As I sipped my coffee, listening to a friend share stories of an abundant life, I noticed the tears starting to flow. She shared that her full life, while appreciated, left her at times, feeling too full.

While her cup was often filled with blessings, she felt overwhelmed. At the moment, her cup was overflowing; she could not hold the pour. Her gratitude for abundance was evident, yet even in her gratefulness, she was simply too full.

Many of us long to be filled, yet our cups begin to overflow quickly. We ask ourselves: What is this feeling of fullness and what are we filled with?

It has been said that a cup cannot be filled with milk if it’s already filled with mud. We cannot be filled with the Spirit if we are already filled with pride, self-will or ego. Grace knows no limits, yet we, as humans, can be limited by our mud.

In the song “Empty Me,” singer-songwriter Chris Sligh shares:

Empty me of the selfishness inside

Every vain ambition and the poison of my pride

And any foolish thing my heart holds to

Lord empty me of me so I can be filled with you.

Emptying our mud can be a liberating experience, creating space for the Spirit to dwell. The art of self-emptying is an act of love that expands our hearts and engages us to look beyond ourselves. In this practice of self-emptying, we do not lose ourselves; we gain a deeper understanding and experience of our true self.

Richard Rohr, Franciscan priest and ecumenical teacher, shares in his teaching on the Trinity: The Trinity is a circle dance of flow, communion, and relationship – which is the very nature of God, it is the template for everything created (see Genesis 1:26-27). Every created thing is the self-emptying of God. If we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and receive infinite grace, love will flow.

During the past several years, my spiritual practice has been focused on self-emptying, as I often awake with a full cup from the previous day.

To prevent my cup from overflowing, I reflect on the prior day, asking myself: What I am proud of? What could I have done differently? What did I learn? What do I let go of? What do I hold onto? How can I reimagine my experience and my approach?

The art of self-emptying helps to create a balance between letting go and holding on. It can be a delicate balance to hold on long enough to learn the intended lesson while also understanding when to let go so we don’t stay too long or become attached.

There’s a wonderful Zen story about a young seeker who desires to be a student of a particular master. He receives an invitation to an interview at the master’s house.

During the interview, the student rambles on and on about his spiritual experiences, past teachers, insights, skills, and philosophies. The master listens silently while he begins to pour a cup of tea.

He pours the tea and the cup begins to overflow yet he continues to pour. Eventually the student notices and interrupts the master saying: “Stop pouring, the cup is full!” The master responds: “Yes and so are you. How can I possibly teach you anything?”

We find it challenging if not impossible to embrace and receive everything life has to teach us and all the possibilities that await us if our cup is full or overflowing.

As a young girl growing up in Catholic schools, I was taught by the Sisters of Mercy to conduct a daily examination of conscience. This prayerful self-reflection, rooted in Scripture, served as a process for self-emptying.

I continue to use this process to pause, reflect, assess, understand, learn, hold on, let go, and move on. It does not mean that I understand everything fully before I let it go or that I will never pick it up again. There are also times when I choose to hold on to things as I am not ready to let go yet.

The art of self-emptying can become a natural flow in our spiritual practice to ensure we are filled with milk instead of mud, to ensure our cup is not overflowing, and to ensure we have space for the Spirit.

As we finish our coffee and my friend dries her eyes, we understand there are many ways to self-empty, and pouring our hearts out to friends is one of them.

Teresa Schulz is a spiritual director, author, retreat facilitator and health care chaplain. She is the founder of Tools for Intentional Living and Transformation (TILT) and co-founder of MaineSpiritus. She can be reached by email at: [email protected]