One of my projects over the holidays was decluttering the study. I kept only as many books as I’ve shelf-space for, thinned out old files, and cleared the junk on my desk so that I can see the surface again. I could always imagine a situation where I might have a use for something. But no, if I haven’t needed it in the last few years, it can go.
For many of us, decluttering is a very worthwhile attempt to change our inner selves by adjusting our environment – bringing order, reducing the number of things we are responsible for, and so minimising stress.
But I wonder if the fact that it’s hard to let go, to accept that there are things we don’t need is an indication that the best, and most successful decluttering begins within us. An inner decluttering expressing itself in the way we live.
The single most important truth I glimpsed in 2015 is that at the heart of Christian faith, and the heart of all good living lies an openness to enjoy God, to know ourselves enjoyed by God. The old Scottish catechism insists that humanity’s chief goal is ‘glorify God and enjoy God forever.’
We accept our dark side, the negative stuff in us, our sins and imperfections; but if we are still and listen, we grow aware in the very depths of our being that we are forgiven, loved deeply, cherished. We realise we’ve been trying to build an identity different from the ‘me’ God dreams of, and we seek to live God’s dream, befriending the true self from whom we’ve hidden for so long.
Caribbean poet Derek Walcott’s words express this joyful discovery of who we truly are: ‘You will love again the stranger who was your self. Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart to itself, to the stranger who has loved you all your life.’
The secret of decluttering, I believe is to sense God within us, loving and strengthening us. This is our ultimate security. The more confident we are in God’s love, the more we are freed from the inner clutter which keeps us from being our true selves – fears, jealousy, guilt, insecurity, addictions, wounds from the past.
And then we look at the stuff we have accumulated, often to build our identities when we’d lost sight of God’s love for us; stuff to impress others and give ourselves confidence; stuff to win friends and secure our futures. But Jesus warned us that you can have all the stuff in the world, but lose sight of your true self.
We realise that the source of our life, the source of our every breath is the God who loves us, who gives us identity and meaning. We don’t need stuff! All we need is food, drink, shelter, friends – and didn’t Jesus promise that our heavenly Father would meet these needs?
You might say ‘You seem to be denying the physical world for some sweet dream of one-ness with God. You might as well become a hermit! It’s crazy!’
It’s anything but. Jesus was more at one with God, more living his true self than any of us. Yet that set him free to love life, to love the world, to say ‘Yes’ when Yes was appropriate and ‘No’ when No was appropriate. Because he knew himself secure in God’s love he didn’t need to be liked, nor did he need to be afraid.
The decluttering I’m talking about sets us free to enjoy, without wanting to possess; to interact with others and help them without being driven by our own agendas. Loved by God, we seek on our clearer seeing days to be expressions of God’s love. As Richard Rohr puts it beautifully, it’s a question of ‘love becoming love in the unique form called “me”.’
This is radical, revolutionary, powerful. This is the Christian message, and yet we often lose sight of the liberating, transforming power of the love of God.
But it’s hard, for we are all learners; we all come burdened with stuff, with ‘issues.’ Jesus said it was more difficult for a rich man, burdened with stuff, to enter God’s kingdom than for a laden camel to go through a wee man-sized gate in the city wall.
Jesus reminded us that those who find, are those who are ‘poor in spirit.’ We come to realise through breakdown or crisis or exhaustion that our work of building an identity isn’t succeeding. We reach out to God, we welcome Jesus, we share bread and wine with the stranger who has loved us all our lives, and in that oneness with God we are set free by God’s love to be the person of God’s dreams.
For God is the ultimate de-clutterer.
(Christian Viewpoint from the Highland News dated 14th January 2016)