For When Your Soul Needs Whitespace

With only a few days left of school, I’m planning to take some time off from writing here on the blog beginning next week. For now, I’ve started a list of things I want to do while I’m taking a break and one of the first things on that list is to finish painting the walls in our living room white. We’ve started, but we haven’t finished, as you can see here.

my living room

Having a plan to finish painting is a normal thing but it is also revealing. First, I’m making a list of things to do during my rest. 

It’s true, doing things around the house is restful for me. But I am also aware of my ability to completely waste a purposeful rest by planning it out like it’s my job. And by the time the “rest” is over, I need a rest from it.

The second, more subtle revelation is this: one of the things on my list is to paint my walls white.

It’s like my eyes are trying to tell my body – You need whitespace. But my body is too literal to speak the poetic language of the soul, so she says, Alright then, get me a paintbrush. Let’s paint something white!

And I think this will help, the white living room walls. But ultimately I need a different kind of whitespace, the kind that fills up the inside – whitespace for my soul.

When I hear the word “whitespace” I think of Bonnie Gray. I first met Bonnie at the (in)courage writers beach retreat in September 2011. I knew her a little before I met her, as I had read her blog for a while and we were both regular contributors for (in)courage. If I had to put my first impression of her into three words, it would be these: tiny, confident, faithful. Here was this little woman with a great big presence. She was like a walking oxymoron and I liked it.

Bonnie & Ann

Ann Voskamp with Bonnie Gray :: 2011

During those few days we were together at the beach, Bonnie got a call from a publisher offering to publish her first book. The publisher was Revell, the same publisher Holley Gerth and I have. And so Holley and I and all the girls celebrated together with her, right there in the beach house, as she was finally going to write her book. It seemed  to be the beginning of something beautiful.

And it was. Just not the kind of beauty she would have chosen.

Any author will tell you the process of bookwriting is hard, much harder than you think it will be for reasons you may not foresee. But for Bonnie, writing her book proved to be a trigger for childhood trauma she had yet to face, ushering her into an unexpected, terrifying time of experiencing PTSD. All while writing a book about finding spiritual whitespace.

Talk about an oxymoron.

Bonnie Gray & Ann Voskamp

As I’m reading her book, I’m getting to know a new Bonnie, someone whose confidence worked against her for a little while, as evidenced in her words here:

“I believed my faith buried my hurt in the past, but I was using faith to hide from the past . . . What’s worked for me since I was a child – staying strong, reading more Scripture, praying more fervently, exerting more self-discipline, applying greater optimism – isn’t going to solve this problem. Jesus has been whispering one phrase into my heart — follow the current downstream.

I’ve rowed my boat upstream for so long, I didn’t know if I could stop.”

Bonnie Gray, Finding Spiritual Whitespace

While our stories are different, as I get to know Bonnie, I am also getting to know myself.

purple flowers on the beach

My journal I use for morning pages (when I do them) is nearly to the end. I’ll need to start a new one soon. Flipping back to the first pages, I noticed the date: June 2, 2013.

As I read over my writing that first day one year ago, it all sounded so familiar — a longing to be united in my body, soul, and spirit in all things, a longing to move out from a secure place within, all written somewhat urgently — jagged edges and blurred focus.

I smile a little when I read it, recognizing the triggers then as I do now.

The jaggy blur doesn’t indicate a need to simply “take a break” (especially with my tendency to over-plan my breaks). It speaks of something deeper, something Bonnie addresses here:

“Finding spiritual whitespace isn’t about carving out an hour of time to escape the things that stress us. It’s the opposite. It’s getting away from everything we do to distract ourselves from all the hidden pieces — in order to nurture our soul.”

FInding Spiritual Whitespace by Bonnie Gray

I’m going to keep taking this book to the pool with me this summer, keep reminding myself of the importance of whitespace, keep honoring that desire alive within me that wants to clear the clutter so that I can see what’s most important.

Bonnie Gray is the writer behind Faith Barista who wrote a book about her inspiring, heart-breaking journey to find rest, which garnered Publisher’s Weekly starred review. Her book releases today (woot!) and I’ll be following along on her journey to find rest and learning about my own along the way. You can get your own copy of Finding Spiritual Whitespace here.


  1. says

    I’ve always loved the thought of whitespace, but like you, I have trouble getting there sometimes. Since I work from home and my husband works at a company he’ll own one day, it’s so easy for both of us to do “just one more thing” and never sit still. In college I used to take time to just be. I need to get that on my schedule again.

    I hadn’t heard of this book before, but it sounds like the perfect read for me this summer. Thanks for sharing!

  2. says

    White walls are us. That’s where I’m heading, too, for the whole house. I can see it. I can feel it. I just can’t quite get there. First I’ll buy a paintbrush. I just have this sense that external whitespace will help clear my internal clutter, too. Enjoy your rest.

  3. says

    Thank you so much for holding your hand out to your friend Bonnie and bringing her forward to introduce her to your readers. So loving. So honoring. Such a beautiful picture of community. Finding #spiritualwhitespace is indeed a journey both downstream in our soul and away from our preconceived notions about the invitation of Jesus to come away and rest. Thank you for encouraging us to read, seek & find rest for our souls.

  4. Sarah says

    What are you taking a break from? Not writing on your free blog? Not writing for your blog that costs people? I’ve stopped coming here for good reason, and wont be back. Also, ive never understood why bloggers cant take the small amount of time it takes to actually thank the ones commenting and leaving encouragement.

  5. says

    When I was an English teacher, I used to tell my students about the perfect White room – it was a vision in my mind of the perfect spot to get away from it all. One day, when I walked behind a dividing shelf that formed a walled of corner in the room, one of the student’s remarked that I had gone to my white room. That became out little inside joke that year. If I was frazzled etc, I needed to go to my white room. One of my students told me recently that she used this analogy with her youth group girls to explain to them that it is important to have time away with God. Of all the things she could have picked up from the two years I was privileged to teach her, I think that concept is the best. I still long for that white room some days. This post reminds me that I need to do something about that. Thanks!

  6. Katherine says

    Ah! My copy of “Finding Spiritual Whitespace” arrived today just before I read your blog post! How exciting!

  7. says

    Wow, your description of Bonnie’s journey as she wrote her book rings true with me. “But for Bonnie, writing her book proved to be a trigger for childhood trauma she had yet to face…”

    I’m currently in a season where I can see God opening doors for me. As I’m excitedly thinking about all the possibilities, there are also some doors opening that I really want to shut and not deal with. Stuff I’ve buried in my past. In my heart, I know that in order to get to that new level in Him, I have to face step through ALL those doors, bravely.

  8. says

    one of the things i like best about you is that while everything within social media tells us the way to “reach” people and be successful within this realm is to post often and constantly be promoting ourselves.. you do the opposite. step back. sit quietly. and remind us to do the same. that’s it’s okay. that it’s needed.

    thanks for being so NORMAL! :)) enjoy your whitespace time. xo

    • says

      Thanks for that Amber! Glad you see it that way.

      I’ll actually be posting this Saturday and Monday – and then will take some time off after that. I look forward to it!

  9. says

    ne from the things i love best regarding people will be that will while every little thing inside of web 2 . 0 conveys to all of us how you can “reach” people and become prosperous within this realm is always to write-up typically and also continuously always be advertising themselves.. you need to do the opposite. stage rear. sit down softly. and also advise all of us to do the identical. that’s it’s acceptable. that will it’s desired.
    Thanks :)

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