When Martha Stewart becomes a verb

During a recent church service, I heard the familiar story of Mary and Martha from Luke 10:38-42. The two sisters open their home to Jesus as he travels with his disciples. While Martha busies herself with preparations, Mary sits at the feet of Jesus and listens to his teaching. Martha complains to Jesus, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her to help me!” Jesus answers, “Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Now, I don’t need to take any of those Are-You-Mary-Or-Martha quizzes on Facebook to figure out which sister I am. As someone who struggles constantly with perfectionism in areas ranging from my diet and my housekeeping to my writing and my spiritual life, I seriously relate to Martha. 

In fact, the Mary-versus-Martha story reminds me of a visualization exercise my spiritual director recommended shortly after we began working together. She instructed me to imagine myself in my ideal spiritual state. As I did this exercise, I realized I’d been imagining my “idealized state” (not to be confused with “ideal spiritual state”) for most of my life. I have daydreams that would rival Walter Mitty’s about an amazing woman I facetiously call Super Me. This marvelous creature is a slightly older version of myself, and she has her life TOTALLY UNDER CONTROL. 

Not only can Super Me leap tall buildings in a single bound, she has a meticulously ordered household, with a place for everything and everything in its place – even in the garage and the basement. She frequently invites family and friends to splendid gatherings, where she serves up a banquet better than anything Martha Stewart could produce. She has managed to achieve a svelte figure by adhering to an eating plan that is not only healthy, but painless, because she has re-educated her palate to prefer vegetables over chocolate-covered peanut butter cookie bars and she never misses her Stay Fit exercise class even during an ice storm. She volunteers for various organizations that work to make the world a better place, and she even serves on the board of directors for a couple of them, but she never gets burned out because she’s learned how to set appropriate boundaries without people getting mad at her. Her recently published book sits atop the New York Times bestseller list. And she never loses sleep at 3 a.m. wondering who God is and what God wants from her, because she has finally discerned ALL the answers to life’s “ultimate” questions.

The Super Me fantasy is particularly potent when I’m working on New Year’s resolutions, or engaging in my annual birthday tradition of evaluating my priorities and setting goals for the coming year. Coupled with the Super Me fantasy is what I’d call the Ultimate Rejection fantasy, in which people wrinkle their noses in utter disgust when they find out what my house really looks like if I’m not expecting company. I wouldn’t have been surprised if Luke had told us that Martha harbored both of these fantasies from time to time.

I’m relieved whenever I discover I’m not alone in having “Martha” tendencies. I laughed out loud when Alicia, author of the blog For His Purpose, used “Martha Stewart” as a verb. “I like to say I can just Martha Stewart everything,” Alicia confessed in one of her posts (link HERE), as she expressed her fear that the exchange student coming to live with her family would decide that her whole household was nuts and run screaming back to Russia in response to the chaos. In my own case, I feel compelled to warn houseguests not to venture into my basement or garage lest I find it necessary to file a missing persons report and organize a search party to rescue them.

“As an overachieving Martha myself, I am trying to understand Mary doing the better thing first,” said Elizabeth, author of Saved By Words (link HERE), in response to my birthday blog post, in which I outlined my priorities for the coming year (link HERE). “Not that Martha is doing anything wrong. Just that at the time sitting at Jesus’ feet was more important.” In the ensuing discussion, she and I agreed we both might possess some Martha-like traits.

The dilemma is real. 

I struggle with the advice Jesus gave Martha. I agree that we need to keep what’s really important at the forefront. This was brought home to me rather painfully over the summer. With my beloved mother in hospice, the past few months represented my last chance to “visit with her more often.”

On the other hand, doesn’t Galatians 5:22-23 remind us that one of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control? In my mind, self-control equals the self-discipline to maintain healthy eating habits, family obligations, a clean house and active participation in church and community, among other things. 

And then, of course, we women have the Proverbs 31 Woman often held up by fellow believers as an example to emulate. If the Proverbs 31 Woman were transported to the 21st Century, I can imagine her having Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s career, Christie Brinkley’s looks and Martha Stewart’s homemaking and entertaining skills. For starters.

Besides, I’ve found that several of the priorities I identified in my birthday post are really no longer optional for me. For example, with my newly-diagnosed diabetes, healthy eating is no longer simply a worthy goal, but a medical necessity.

While perhaps less crucial, crossing backlog tasks off my to-do list actually makes my life easier in the long run. Certain things really do need to get done, like it or not. Keeping the fridge and pantry in order reduces food waste – better for both our budget and the environment. When the clutter around the house gets out of control, my whole life feels out of control. It’s stressful to have deadlines hanging over my head all the time.

And I have one priority that hasn’t changed since I was 10: Write a book! The fact that I’m retired means I have never been in a better position to achieve this dream, and the time to do it is now, not some future date when everything will have settled down and fallen into place so I can start living my life in earnest.

All of this requires some level of the self-control spelled out in Galations 5:23 as a “fruit of the spirit.”

The good news is, my life does not feel nearly as out of control as it did prior to my retirement, when I was juggling the 24/7 demands of running a social service organization. And I do like to think my current priorities are a vast improvement over the ones I had in high school, when being popular was my number one goal, or even in my 40s and 50s, when my top priority (judging by my behavior) was chasing after brass rings and fancy job titles. 

Before I retired, it seemed as if my life had been reduced to crossing items off endless To-Do lists: my To-Do List for work, my To-Do List for household chores, my To-Do List of personal self-care routines, my To-Do List of urgent matters, even a Master List to keep track of all the To-Do Lists. This elaborate system of lists was suggested by the day-planner I carried around constantly and jokingly called “my conscience.” I constantly juggled so many balls in the air, I was convinced I had to keep these multiple To-Do Lists or I wouldn’t remember to do simple things like brush my teeth. Despite all the To-Do lists designed to help me hold myself accountable for how I spent my time, I couldn’t seem to keep up with all the demands.

Even now, however, repeated efforts to get my life under better control often leave me feeling more frustrated than ever. I’m reminded of the Apostle Paul, when he says in Romans 7: “I don’t understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. … I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.” 

So yes, I do need to practice some reasonable self-discipline. But at the same time, I also want the next chapter of my life to amount to more than eating, sleeping, dodging other people’s dramas and crossing items off To-Do lists. In other words, I’d like for my life to include a few more “Mary” moments.

It’s nice to be able to find things when I need them without sorting through mounds of clutter. But I probably need to face the fact that our home will always look like real people (and pets) live here, no matter how much time I spend cleaning. There will never be a time when my house is in perfect order inside and out, including the closets, the garage and the basement. The perfectly clean house exists only in Better Homes and Gardens – and then only for the hour or so needed to photograph it. Unless you’re Martha Stewart, who probably not only has a full-time housekeeper, but a full-time housekeeping staff. (Speaking of Martha Stewart, is she the ultimate “Martha” in the Mary and Martha story?)

 “Baby steps,” my spiritual director often advises when I complain of my life feeling out of control. “That’s what matters.” The baby-steps advice does seem to work when I heed it. In the past month, I’ve finished cleaning the fridge (one shelf at a time), the freezer in the basement (one shelf at a time) and the pantry (one shelf at a time), as well as sorting through several weeks’ accumulation of junk mail. I’m finding ways to make the food preparation required for healthy eating easier – batch cooking, for example. 

Meanwhile, I try to muster the self-discipline to include morning meditation in my daily routine as often as possible. This reminds me to keep my relationship with God “in the #1 slot,” as the folks around the tables in 12-Step groups would say.

Of course, when it comes to Super Me, I’m in no danger of achieving that exalted state anytime soon. One thing coping with multiple medical issues over the past few months has done for me is, I’ve stopped trying to Martha-Stewart anything. At least for now, while I’m healing. And maybe, as Martha Stewart herself would say, “That’s a good thing.”

As I write this, it occurs to me that if I really did manage to achieve the level of perfection I fantasize about in my Super Me daydreams, people might not necessarily like me. After all, I personally find other people intimidating when their lives seem too perfect.

Fortunately, I’ve learned that God loves me the way I am – not because I’m perfect, but because God is perfect. Good news, indeed, even if I have to remind myself of this from time to time.

There’s a secret part of me, however, that still hopes Mary helped Martha wash the dishes after Jesus left. After all, food preparation and clean-up don’t happen by themselves.

My priorities this year

In what has become an annual birthday tradition, I like to start my “personal New Year” by reviewing my priorities. Are they the same as they were last year? Or does something need to change?

For several years now, this little exercise has helped me stay focused so various kinds of extraneous clutter – material, mental or spiritual – don’t crowd out what really matters in my life.

As always, I begin by identifying what is most important to me right now:

  • Developing a better understanding of God, so I can fulfill God’s purpose for my life, discern what my values should be and live accordingly.
  • Staying healthy for as long as possible and helping my husband do the same.
  • Keeping in contact with family and friends and nurturing good relationships with them.
  • Maintaining our home as a sanctuary for ourselves, our family and friends.
  • Writing – articles, essays, blog entries and, yes, at least one book.
  • Using a portion of my time, money and talent in a way that helps others and creates positive change in the world.
  • Eliminating the backlog tasks and clutter that drain my energy and keep my life more chaotic than it needs to be.
  • Achieving serenity by practicing mindfulness and finding at least one thing each day to be grateful for.

For the most part, my priorities for the coming year will remain the same as they were last year – my relationship with God; attention to self-care, family and friends, our home and my writing; service to others; elimination of needless stress and clutter; and serenity.

My efforts to stick to my priorities over the past year met with varying degrees of success. On the one hand, I allowed stress to derail my healthy eating plan too many times, with the result that I’m about 5 pounds heavier than I was at this time last year. On the other hand, this past year has seen three major achievements:

  • Committing to a journey with my spiritual director, something I’d thought about doing for several years.
  • Finally making a decision, just a few days ago, to walk away from an abusive volunteer work situation that has been poisoning my soul for way too long.
  • Persuading my husband to embark on a healthy eating plan with me, beginning the day after my birthday. Let me tell you, this last one is a major, MAJOR accomplishment.

This means I will be starting my 64th year with a bit more time on my hands, which I can spend experimenting with recipes delicious enough to convince both my sweetie pie and myself that healthy eating can be fun rather than torture! Wish me luck …

 

“We should just SEE Him”

“God is everywhere and in all creation,” my friend Sara said in response to my last blog post when I shared it on Facebook. “We seek Him when we should just SEE Him.”

Nothing like a stroll in my backyard on a summer morning to confirm what she says. I like to start my day by feeding the birds (and squirrels), then feasting my eyes on some flowers. This time of year, all kinds of lovelies are blooming:

astilbe

bee balm

begonias

lillies

chives

coreopsis

02 petunia

whitetail

05 multicolor

pinks

03 black eyed susans

01 Rose of sharon

06 blanket flower

rose

04 African violets

And last but not least …

dandelion

 

I want that blinding light

For most of my life, I’ve leaned toward the idea that there probably is a God – some kind of Ultimate Reality or Intelligence. Yet, despite all the evidence I wrote about in my last couple of blog entries, those pesky doubts have creeped in from time to time.

When I acknowledged to my spiritual director that I’ve sometimes questioned God’s existence, she gave me a writing exercise: How would my life be different if I knew for sure there was a God? How would my life be different if I knew for sure there wasn’t?

During my morning meditation, I pulled out a fresh legal pad and wrote down the question, “What would I be doing if there were no God and this could be proven to me?”

The first thought that popped into my head was, I might try getting away with more mischief like fibbing to the IRS or making snarky remarks about people who irritate me. (I’m only half joking.) But in reality, I realized I would feel depressed because the lack of a God would mean for sure I would never again see loved ones who have died. And what about my own life? Without a God, would it be true that life is absurd, as Albert Camus argued?

As I continued with the exercise, I also realized it wasn’t the existence of a God, per se, that I questioned from time to time, so much as some ideas about God portrayed by Christianity. The question in my mind was not so much, “Does God exist?” It was, “Who, or what, is this Entity I choose to call God? What does it mean to order my life as if God exists? What, if anything, does this Being want from me?”

In other words, my decision to be a de facto theist and order my life as if God exists has only raised more questions for me.

Catholic theologian Henri J.M. Nouwen, author of Spiritual Direction: Wisdom for the Long Walk of Faith, believes this is normal. “The quest for meaning can be extremely frustrating and at times even excruciating, precisely because it does not lead to ready answers but to new questions,” he writes. He continues:

The main questions for spiritual direction – Who am I? Where have I come from? Where am I going? What is prayer? Who is God for me? Where do I belong? How can I be of service? – are not questions with simple answers, but questions that lead us deeper into the unspeakable mystery of existence. What needs affirmation is the validity of the questions. What needs to be said is: “Yes, yes indeed, these are the questions. Don’t hesitate to raise them.”

Doing this exercise brought back memories of our recent trip to the Holy Land. In 2012, my husband and I went to Israel and Palestine with a church group. The trip had been on my bucket list for decades. At the time I was in one of my “questioning the existence of God” phases and I secretly hoped something about the trip might clarify the issue for me.

We visited places with names that felt intimately familiar from my reading them in the Bible and hearing them in church – Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Nazareth, Capernaum, Jericho, Cana. We toured the Church of the Nativity built on the site thought to be the birthplace of Jesus, the Church of the Multiplication commemorating Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre believed to be the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, and even the house where St. Peter’s mother-in-law is thought to have lived.

While the overall trip was amazing, I must confess the “holy sites” themselves were somewhat of a letdown. While others in our tour group talked of being “on sacred ground,” many of the sites seemed to me more like tourist traps than shrines – vendors, vendors, vendors, everywhere. The image of Jesus chasing the money changers from the Temple often came to mind.

But then we participated in a communion service in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, in a replica of a boat Jesus and his disciples are thought to have used. During the service, I decided maybe I should just do what Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill Wilson did when he was first trying to achieve sobriety and simply demand that the Diety show Itself.

Since the service was in progress, I couldn’t shout – at least not without being terribly rude. Instead, I called out silently, “God, if you exist, show me a sign!”

Right before my eyes, a rainbow appeared. It was a beautiful clear day. No rain, A cloudless sky. Nothing that would normally cause a rainbow to form. To make sure I wasn’t hallucinating, I quietly nudged my husband and pointed to the rainbow.

“Cool!” he whispered.

In Genesis 9:12, a rainbow was seen as a message from God: “And God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations.’”

Was this rainbow a response from God to my rather imperious demand that this Entity show Itself? Maybe even a sign God wanted some kind of covenant with me? Or was it a coincidence, as my skeptical mind was already suggesting?

A couple of days after my experience in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, our tour group visited the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem. The Western Wall is the holiest place where Jews are permitted to pray. Visitors of other religions are allowed to pray there as well if they wish to.

Visitors often participate in a long-time tradition of writing prayers on slips of paper and inserting them into the crevices of the Wall. According to Wikipedia, more than a million of these notes are placed in the Wall each year. It has even become customary for visiting dignitaries to participate in this ritual.

I wrote my own prayer on a slip of paper:

Dear God,

Please answer these questions:

Who are you?

What do you want from me?

I inserted the note into a crevice in the Wall and, a couple of days later, returned to my home in central Illinois. Shortly thereafter, I began journaling about my spiritual questions. So … was the rainbow a coincidence? Did God want some sort of covenant with me? If so, what?

Alas, my daily life with its million and one distractions intervened and my journaling about God ended up on hold. Some of the distractions were legitimate – my father’s final illness, followed closely by the death of my best friend Patti, then hospitalizations for my mother, my husband and myself. However, most of the distractions were of the mundane variety I’ve been blogging about for the past year – the endless clutter of all kinds, from the material to the spiritual.

It’s been almost a year now since I engaged a spiritual director to hold my feet to the fire and help me explore the questions on the note I placed in the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

I’m actually pretty convinced there is a God, I told her. What I really want is to figure out who or what this entity is, because believing in the existence of God still doesn’t answer questions like what, if anything, God wants from me, or what God considers to be right and wrong.

1 Corinthians 13:12 says, “For now we see through a glass darkly but then face to face. Now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” The problem, I told my spiritual director, is that I want answers now, in this lifetime.

What I really want is that “blinding light” experience the Apostle Paul had on the road to Damascus, or the burning bush Moses encountered. I want to be like those people who see the blinding light or the burning bush, just know what they know about God, and have their mission in life spelled out for them.

My spiritual director, thankfully, has been patient and nonjudgmental as I continue to grapple with questions some would say I shouldn’t even be asking. And she gave me another assignment: Some morning, while I’m sitting in my recliner in front of the fireplace watching the birds and squirrels, be still and listen for God to speak.

Perhaps I’m finally ready.

 

Our amazing universe

They say a picture is worth 1,000 words. A viral video making the rounds on Facebook reinforces – for me – the idea that there has to be a God.

At the beginning of the video clip, the camera focuses on a young smiling woman. The camera pans out to include her immediate surroundings. Then the city she is in. Then the western part of the United States, Planet Earth, our solar system, our Milky Way galaxy, other galaxies and finally the universe.

The camera returns to the woman, focusing in on one of her eyes. From there it zooms in on the pupil. Then a blood vessel inside the eye, a blood cell, a DNA strand, an atom, the protons and neutrons that make up the atom’s nucleus, and finally, quarks.

From the macro (galaxies, endless galaxies) to the micro (human cells, atoms, quarks) we see a panorama of an amazing universe.

I invite you to watch the video (click here or click on the video below), then ask, “Could all this have really happened by chance?”

 

What am I distracting myself from?

Most of the time, I’m positive there has to be a God. In fact, I go to church and Sunday school nearly every week. But sometimes during a bout of insomnia in the middle of the night, I’ll suddenly get the urge to sit bolt upright in bed and blurt out this question:

“How do I know for sure that God exists?”

During his Sunday morning sermons, our pastor often says, “I know that Jesus died for my sins and rose again. I know that my parents are in heaven and I will see them someday.”

My mother’s pastor says with equal conviction, “I have no problem with the Big Bang theory. God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and bang! We’ve got all these stars and galaxies.”

Around the table at our adult Sunday School class are people who seem just as confident about what they believe.

As I listen to these people, I suspect some would be scandalized by my 3 a.m. question. After all, if any of them have ever doubted God’s existence, they certainly aren’t letting on.

Usually I stifle the question myself, and try to get some sleep. By morning, I’m pondering what’s on my to-do-list for the day, or preparing for the next event in my crazy schedule, or surfing the Internet and reading too many articles about the Royal Newlyweds.

Lately, though, I’ve been encountering other people to whom my questioning would not seem the least bit scandalous.

One Friday evening, my husband and I gathered with a group of friends in the coffee shop of our favorite bookstore. In front of one woman sat a foot-high pile of books and magazines – the latest issue of Free Inquiry, and books with titles like God Is Not Great and The God Delusion.

A Facebook friend I can only call “a born-again atheist complete with the proselytizing” shares a steady stream of articles and memes offering “proof” that there is no God. One such meme proclaims, “If you need the threat of eternal torture to be a good person, you’re not a good person.”

Still another friend who self-identifies as atheist complains: “Christian hypocrites. Their support of Trump is directly contradictory to what they CLAIM are the instructions of their invisible Sky Fairy.”

And I have a question for my atheist friends that my pastor, my Sunday School classmates and my mother would most likely approve: “How can you be so sure there isn’t a God?”

Could it be that these questions are what I’m distracting myself from with all the to-do lists, the frantic scheduling, the endless cleaning and the mindless Internet surfing that clutter my life and unquiet my mind?

My spiritual director thinks I may be onto something. And yes, she assures me, it’s okay to question my beliefs. Starting with, do I really believe there is a God? Why or why not?

Be still! (And know I am God)

“How challenging would it be to totally quiet your mind?” my spiritual director asked. 

“Extremely challenging,” I admitted.

That would be an understatement. A meme circulating on Facebook sums up my problem nicely: “My mind is like my Internet browser. At least 19 open tabs, 3 of them frozen, and I have no clue where the music is coming from.”

Before I retired, I didn’t even bother to try this “quiet the mind” business. I was too busy juggling to-do lists: my to-do list for work, my to-do list for household chores, my to-do list for family/friend commitments, my to-do list for urgent matters, even a master list to keep track of all the to-do lists. This elaborate system of lists was suggested by the creator of the day-planner I carried around constantly and called “my conscience.” I was convinced I had to keep these multiple to-do lists or I wouldn’t remember to do simple things like brush my teeth.

I can still remember sitting in the church choir loft one infamous Sunday morning. Instead of focusing on the service, I grew increasingly impatient. The Children’s Message usually took about five minutes. That day, it stretched to ten. The pastor, whose sermons I usually enjoyed, talked way longer than usual. Then he shared his sermon time with a college student who enthusiastically described her recent mission trip in great detail while I nervously checked my watch every couple of seconds. Finally, the sermon was over and the choir sang.

As soon as we finished our last note, I grabbed my belongings, dashed to my car, and hightailed it to work. As I sped across town, yelling at traffic lights that seemed bent on slowing me down, I muttered, “Enough of needing to be in two places at once! Whatever happened to keeping the Sabbath Day holy?”

Alas, things didn’t change as much as I hoped once I retired. During a church service these days, my attention span tends to resemble a hummingbird flitting from one blossom to the next – even while reciting the Lord’s Prayer or the Apostle’s Creed. (Don’t ask about sermons.)

My attempt to focus on the Lord’s Prayer during a recent service provides a good illustration of how my mind often works:

“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy …  Did I remember to take my pills this morning?… on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day …  And the coffee pot. Did I turn off the coffee pot?… as we forgive those who trespass against us. … How long would it take the coffee pot to burn dry and catch the house on fire?… but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom … I wish those people would grow up! They are working my nerves big time.… forever and ever. Amen. Sorry God, I was sort of spacing out there. I’ll try to pay better attention next time …”

Now mind you, I actually recited all the words of that prayer. My mouth was forming the words, but my mind was racing like Usain Bolt in a 100-meter relay. When this happens, I feel lucky I haven’t – yet – been struck by a bolt of lightning right there in the middle of the sanctuary.

So am I one of those stress puppies who subconsciously needs drama to feel alive? Or am I afflicted with “monkey mind,” as my husband suggests? (“Monkey mind,” he explained, is a Buddhist term referring to the constant chatter of an unsettled, restless or confused mind.)

Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

“So how do I quiet my mind?” I asked my spiritual director. She offered some suggestions, like taking walks, listening to music or reading excerpts from a daily devotional book.

So far, my morning meditation ritual works best for me. When I don’t need to go somewhere early, I start my day by feeding my cats, the birds and (yep!) the squirrels. If the weather is nice when I go outside, I may stroll around my backyard and admire whatever flowers are blooming.

Back inside, I sit in my recliner in front of the fireplace, a cup of coffee at my side and a cat in my lap, and journal. Listening to Oley Cat’s purr and the crackle of the fire, or watching the squirrels’ antics as they invade the bird feeders helps quiet my mind. A little. For a few seconds, anyway. I just need to commit myself to this ritual more often, I promise myself frequently.

But it was an observation my spiritual director made about my constant struggle with clutter that really got my attention. Clutter is a distraction, she said, whether it’s the physical “stuff” that litters my house or the mental chatter that keeps me from being able to recite the Lord’s Prayer without my “monkey mind” getting sidetracked.

Which leads to the question: What am I trying to distract myself from?

A question worth pursuing, I’ve decided.

Patience pays off

Spring took its sweet time coming this year!

Where I live, we had our last snowfall on April 16. My poor jonquils in the front yard were freezing. (See photo below, center, taken a mere three weeks ago.)

Br-r-r-r-r-r-r!!!!!

But now my flowers are making up for lost time. As I said in an earlier blog entry, I guess God was teaching me patience.

The trees in our backyard are in bloom.

As are the tulips and irises.

The creeping phlox, rhododendrons and other early-spring bloomers are going to town.

Usually my spring flowers bloom in small batches: first the snowdrops and crocuses, then the jonquils, then the redbuds and pear trees, then the tulips and so on. This year, they are pretty much all blooming at once. The whole yard, front and back, is ablaze in color.

Even my favorite volunteers have come out to play.

So happy Spring, everyone! Finally …

Clutter is a spiritual issue

Ecclesiastes 3:6 reminds us there is “a time to keep and a time to cast away.” With that in mind, I resolved to make clearing out clutter a priority during this year’s recently-completed Lenten season.

Using the “one baby step at a time” approach, I actually managed to make an initial dent in the mounds of clutter littering our house. I thoroughly cleaned the refrigerator/freezer and about half the pantry, got caught up with a month’s worth of ironing, repotted several plants in the sunroom and took down the Christmas tree (yep, the first week in March). I even sorted through a drawer full of paper and shocked our accountant by giving her everything she needed to file our tax return on time this year rather than file for an extension the way I usually do.

As I cleaned and sorted, however, I realized the clutter in my life consists of more than just endless piles of paper and other physical “stuff.” My spiritual director has challenged me to identify the “spiritual” clutter clogging up my life as well. For example:

  • Computer clutter. As I said in a previous article, I could spend hours at my computer playing solitaire, mindlessly surfing the Internet or actually getting sucked into “news” articles about Miley and Taylor and Selena and the Kardashians. I am particularly likely to do this when I’m anxious or avoiding a task on my to-do list.
  • Calendar clutter. Some of the commitments overwhelming my schedule are things I really want to do – a visit with family or friends, singing in the church choir, community volunteer work. But too many other commitments have landed on my calendar because I can’t say no to people.
  • Nutritional clutter. Big-box stores, supermarkets and even health food stores seek to sell me cereal with sugar as the first ingredient, highly processed trans-fat-laden “dinners” I can pop into the microwave and whole aisles of cookies and candy. Restaurant buffets, family gatherings and church potlucks feature entire tables of desserts.
  • Mental clutter. And finally there is the steady stream of anxieties and resentments that keep me pre-occupied during the day and awake at night.

Why is all this clutter a spiritual issue?

When I put junk food into my body – the temple of the Holy Spirit – it clogs my arteries as well as adding extra pounds to my hips. The mindless Internet-surfing and solitaire games suck hours and hours out of my day that could be better spent taking a walk, connecting with other people, or just about anything else. Endless ruminating about resentments interferes with my ability to love my neighbor as myself. Turning down excessive demands on my time would help me focus more energy on those commitments that are really important. When the physical clutter in my house is out of control, my whole life feels out of control.

Alas, I still have quite a way to go just to address the physical clutter. Piles of paper cover nearly every surface in my office. My closets bulge with clothes and shoes I haven’t worn in years. Boxes and boxes and boxes marked “miscellaneous” remain stashed in the basement, many unopened from our last move nearly 10 years ago. And I don’t even like to think about the mess in the garage.

But I did make a good start during Lent, enough to motivate me to keep going. As they say around the tables at 12-Step group meetings, “One day at a time!”

 

 

Consider the jonquils

I had really hoped by now I would be spending time in my garden and flower beds, but as you can see, I would get a bit chilly when taking a break in my backyard.

01 bench

Since God seems intent on teaching me patience this spring, I decided to venture outside with a camera this morning instead.

03 tree

After all, the snow was pretty. In fact, the camera didn’t even begin to capture the beauty. 

02 house

And (to paraphrase Matthew 6:28) consider the jonquils in front of my house, God seemed to be saying. Most years, they would have bloomed in March and would be long gone by now. 

04 jonquils

But this year they are experts in the art of patience!