Clutter Mountain

One of the first assignments my spiritual director gave me was to come up with an image that best symbolizes my present spiritual condition.

An image came to mind almost immediately. I saw myself buried under a mountain of clutter – piles and piles of papers and boxes and boxes of miscellaneous stuff. I transferred the image in my head to the computer screen using Photoshop. (I always love a good excuse to play with Photoshop.)

As I created this image, I realized the clutter in my life consisted of more than just the endless piles of paper and other physical items. It also included the various distractions that keep me away from my priorities.

For example, I could spend hours mindlessly surfing the Internet, getting locked into political fights with friends and total strangers on Facebook, or actually clicking on “news” articles about Miley, Taylor and the Kardashians. I am particularly likely to do this when I’m anxious or subconsciously avoiding a task on my to-do list. I added a computer to the graphic, with the words “Click Bait” on the screen.

Junk food could qualify as nutritional clutter, I decided. When I put it into my body, it clogs my arteries and accumulates on my hips and around my waist. I added a bag of chips to the image.

My calendar presented another source of clutter. Some of the commitments really matter to me: time with my husband, a meal with family or friends, the autism support group I facilitate, singing in the church choir. But several other commitments have crept into my schedule because I can’t say no to people who must think I don’t have enough to do now that I’m retired. I tossed a To-Do list onto the pile.

I added a rope to the image to represent the tug-of-war over everything from my time to my personal values caused by competing demands and continual conflict.

Underneath the papers and boxes, I placed several boulders with labels on them – fear, resentment, pain – to represent the steady stream of anxieties and resentments that keep me awake at night and pre-occupied during the day. I added some baggage for good measure.

Sticking out of Clutter Mountain, my arms juggled several balls in the air: family, friends, volunteer work, the house. A couple more balls had been dropped and were nestled on the ground at the bottom of the heap: my writing, self-care, God.

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So how would God react to this image I just created? Am I about to provoke a bolt of lighting? Seriously, my sense is that God already knows what’s going on and might even be glad to see me acknowledge this reality.

God is there, of course, but after creating this image, I can see vividly how clutter blocks my spiritual path.

My priorities for 2017

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 has something changed?

As I sat in my recliner earlier this week, with a cat on my lap and a morning cup of coffee next to me, I started by identifying what is 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.

  Staying in contact with family and friends and maintaining good relationships with them.

  Creating and maintaining a beautiful home that serves as a sanctuary for ourselves, our family and friends, and maybe even a stranger or two I can turn into friends.

  Writing – articles, essays, blog entries and, yes, at least one book.

  Using at least 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 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.

These will be my priorities for the coming year – a personal relationship with God, self-care, family and friends, our home, my writing, service to others, elimination of needless clutter, and serenity.

Over the next few days, I’ll reflect on why each priority matters to me and set some goals. Then, about every month or so, I will check in and see how well my daily activities reflect these priorities.

For several years now, this little exercise has helped me stay focused so extraneous STUFF doesn’t crowd out what’s most important in my life.

Time for some good orderly direction!