Sometimes I wonder how I get any work done. My desk at the office is always some array of discombobulation. It is often covered with an array of books, mugs, pens, and file folders; my keyboard is often hidden beneath by a mountain of bulletin templates and sticky notes. What happens when I need a blank surface on which to work? Well, I delicately slide one pile onto another. This process gets repeated time and again, until eventually, the mess becomes so large that it begins to invade even the floor-space around my desk.
Of course, the obvious question is, “Why don’t you simply clean your desk?” I may joke with others that I have a ‘system that works for me’ or that the clutter is really not all that bad, but the truth is, decluttering takes a lot of work and focus. I do not enjoy the task of having to methodically sort, file, store, or discard every scrap of paper that has landed on my desk. It is a time-consuming process. Thus, as much as I am able to, I avoid it. I tell myself there are better things I should give my time to. This works. . . . up to a point. There is always a critical mass of messiness when I know that I must roll up my sleeves, make hard decisions, and give myself to the work of decluttering.
Why all this talk about messy desks? Well, our spiritual lives can get cluttered just as much our desks can. What is spiritual clutter? Spiritual clutter is anything that drains the vibrancy of our faith or restricts us from living fully in God’s love and grace. Spiritual clutter can be the worldly messages that tell us that that life is ultimately about status and prestige. It is the voices that tell us we have to try harder, be better, or do more to earn our place with God; It can be the belief that God has forgotten us, abandoned us, or was never there in the first place. Spiritual clutter can take the form of the grievances we hold or the un-forgiveness that lingers within.
Sometimes the clutter can even look like our own righteous endeavours. After all, we can try so hard to prove ourselves to God that the Lord’s love and peace are freely offered. The amount of spiritual clutter we can dump into our lives is endless, and like a covered-over desk in an office, or a packed drawer at home, all these things pile together and crowd out what is truly life-giving.
We need to take the time and sort through our spiritual lives, to remove any of the clutter hindering our life with God. This may sound like a scary prospect, but it doesn’t have to be. When I declutter my desk, I start with one piece of paper. I look at it, recognise it, and address it appropriately. Then, when I am finished with that matter, I move onto another piece of paper. And so it goes until the desk is clear. The traditional practice of an Examen of Conscience is a great tool to help us deal with our spiritual clutter. In similar fashion, we pick over the matters of our lives, or the events of the day, dealing with things as appropriate. We confess where we need to confess. We forgive where we need to forgive. We rejoice as we need to rejoice. And if we come to an item that we don’t know what do with, we hold that before our Lord, asking for guidance and insight.
This is a process which brings in both freedom and healing, because ultimately, we do not do this work alone. The Spirit of our Lord is with us, and will aid us. Psalm 55:22 reminds us; “Pile your troubles on God’s shoulders, He will carry your load, He will help you out.” (Message)
Removal of the spiritual clutter allows us to live our lives as God would call us to live. We are given the space needed to deal with anything that might arise in our walk of faith. Ultimately, this creates more peace-filled and contented lives. As much as I may not like the process of decluttering my desk, or my life, and as much as I may grumble as I do it, never once have I complained when it is all complete. For when all is cleared away, I am free to be who God has called me to be, and attend to that which God would have me attend to.
(If you wish to know more about the Examen of Conscience, click here)