Perhaps it's time for a little Spring cleaning.
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
told by Deborah
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Don’t make a big deal about your faith in order to be noticed by others; religion isn’t performance art: it is a living prayer to God.
When you give alms, don’t make a big production out of it so others will be impressed by your generosity. Instead, be discrete; make your giving a secret between you and God.
And when you pray, do it privately. Go off by yourself, as if to a clandestine meeting: a tryst between you and the Beloved that no one can interrupt or overhear — and your reward will be great.
And when you pray, don’t chatter endlessly as though demanding to be heard. The Eternal knows your heart and the yearnings of your soul before a single word has passed your lips.
And when you fast, don’t fill your mouth with complaints. Go through your days and your nights as always; don’t let anyone else know that you are fasting. Hunger for God, not for attention.
Don’t focus on worldly treasures that break down, fall apart, and go out of style; things that thieves and robbers can steal. Instead, set your sights on heavenly treasures that last forever; riches that can never be taken from you. Understand: what you treasure reveals where your heart lies.
By now most of us are familiar with Marie Kondo’s method of “decluttering” our living spaces. This charming professional organizer has become a part of our popular culture through her books, lectures, television series, web presence, and the repetition of the phrase she uses in helping her clients to determine an item’s perceived worth: “Does it spark joy?”
That’s an intriguing question; one that is quite profound, particularly if applied to those aspects of our lives beyond the linen cupboards and closet shelves. What parts of our lives “spark joy”? Which ones bring us happiness, satisfy our needs, or serve a useful purpose? Conversely, what are the impediments that slow our progress, depress us and drag us down? Which things kill joy?
It can be hard to answer those questions, as we are such creatures of habit and routine, so readily accustomed to how things are, and so easily conditioned to accepting that the way things are is the way things have to be. This acceptance — or, perhaps, resignation — can work against us: ignorance is not bliss, but a danger to our greater good.
In letting things go on as they’ve always done, allowing “stuff” to accumulate without an occasional clearing out, our lives can become like so many overburdened closets, crammed with outdated items that no longer fit or never really suited us, things that we picked up on a whim or because everybody else had one, or that we cling to for sentimental reasons. And, not surprisingly, amid all the clutter and confusion, we can’t find a thing to wear. So we select one of the same six outfits that are comfortable. Nothing changes, because nothing changes.
We can be trapped by our collections, stifled by our habits, snared in our complacency. We become stuck: so overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of “stuff” in our lives that we are immobilized. We feel closed in. We can’t find what we need. There’s just too much; it goes too deep. It can start to seem as if there is no way out.
But we do have choices available to us. We can continue to live with the situation as it is, complain about it, or we can take action. One option, as in Ms. Kondo’s system, is to bring everything out in the open and take a long, serious look at the clutter and disarray that oppresses our spirits and disturbs our peace of mind.
And, as you realize, it isn’t only tangible “stuff” that takes up space in our lives. Thoughts, and worries, opinions, beliefs, loyalties, people and programming and patterns of thinking can also bring joy — or drag us down.
Throughout life we accumulate attitudes and expectations based on the experiences we have had or have seen or heard about; frameworks that have structured our thinking. These influence how we relate to others, what we hope for, what we believe in, what we do and say. They will be many and varied: some that “spark joy,” bringing peace and happiness, and others that serve no purpose, crush our spirits, twist our thinking, and crowd out what is good and useful.
Jesus said, “Set your sights on heavenly treasures that last forever; riches that can never be taken from you.”
If it does not bring you joy, if it does not serve a meaningful purpose, if it is not a positive force that encourages and uplifts you, why is whatever-it-is in your life? Do you hold on to it out of habit, loyalty, laxity — or fear? Does it seem too familiar to surrender: as oppressive as a millstone, but comforting in its familiarity? Or, embedded in tradition, too heavy and too cumbersome to roll away?
Can you imagine letting go of it? How would you feel if it were no longer in your life?
As we enter the season of Lent, Christians typically focus on fasting. Originating as a way to honor and, in some small way, to imitate, Christ’s sacrifice, we give up a familiar practice or pleasure during the days leading up to Easter. Each time the desire reasserts itself, we are recalled to the great love of God for us in sending us the Lord Jesus to free us from enslavement to fear and misery.
It has been suggested that we consider taking a page from Ms. Kondo’s workbook during this Season, and give up items that clutter our closets, attics, and store rooms; one item each day. This can clear out some of those spaces and help to simplify our lives. And that’s cool.
But I wonder.
What about the habits and attitudes that clutter our minds and cloud our thinking; beliefs and behaviors that obstruct our love and impede our compassion? What of the people and patterns and programming that fill our lives with hopelessness, helplessness, hatred, and negativity — limiting our vision, constraining our choices, killing every spark of joy?
Imagine if we honored the Lord by discarding the worn-out cynicism and sarcasm, removing the shreds of anger and fear, eliminating the piled-up resentment and revenge, and getting rid of blame and shame and indignity. If we cleared all that stuff from our lives there would be much more room for love. And dreams. And delight.
Imagine forty days dedicated to gratitude, forty days alight with hope, forty days of compassion, kindness, and mercy. It would be a powerful, glorious Lenten sacrament: a joyous celebration of Christ’s good news embodied in our lives.
As with the troublesome, unnecessary stuff that infiltrates our closets and our shelves — “life clutter” can pile up into huge, seemingly unmanageable heaps. We find it in our homes and our workplaces, in our classrooms and coffee shops, on our televisions and throughout the internet. There is so much, it is stacked so deep, it can feel overwhelming to determine how to sort, what to keep, and what does not belong.
But there is a Way forward.
As in Ms. Kondo’s system, the process works best when we approach each thing on its own. While it may take some time, the evaluation is quite easy:
Dear one, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God. For many false prophets are out in the world.
~ 1 John 4:1
In other words: Does it spark joy? Does the message, the encounter, the individual, the action, the experience — inspire, encourage, or uplift you? Does it make you feel hopeful, strengthened, grateful? Does it open your eyes to beauty and grace, your ears to music and birdsong and the rustling of leaves? Does it give your soul wings, and swell your heart with love?
The season of lengthening days, Lent brings more hours of sunshine into our lives. It is an ideal time to bring more light into our lives in other ways, as well. We can begin with some “life tidying:” clearing away what obstructs our vision, crushes our hope, hardens our heart, kills our joy. When we free up those spaces, it will feel like a breath of fresh air — like the Breath of God blowing into our lives.
Jesus declared, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”
~ Matthew 22:37-39
Love. Above all else love — not soupy, sugary, cutesy love, but deep and abiding respect and compassion and delight in all creation. That truly “sparks joy” eternally.
Christ’s radiant joy abide in you,
Does it spark joy?
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.
~ Psalm 51:12