Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a crowd of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Hebrews 12:1. "Let go and let God."
We have often said to ourselves and to others, "Let go and let God." This is usually when we are or someone we know is wrestling with a problem or a situation that seems unsolvable. Having said this, what are we asking ourselves or someone else to let go of? More importantly, what are we asking God to do on our behalf? Would you believe that sometimes we don't even know ourselves what we are asking? For a lot of people, "Let and go and let God, is just a catchy phrase that sounds appropriate at the time.
If we looked beneath the surface of our directive to ourselves and to others, we find that this directive means that we have come to the end of our strength and acknowledge that we need divine intervention. We are letting go of our pride in believing we have all the answers or any answer for that matter. We are giving up our insistence to do it our way. Supposedly, we are now ready to let go and give it over to God. It is what we are letting go of that I want to look at more closely.
In the verse noted above, we are told to take off everything that hinders us as we begin to run this race (a metaphor for life). The analogy is made to an athlete who is preparing to run a race. He cannot run unless he is in physical shape, and therefore it may require that he lose weight. He also cannot run with excessive clothing; so he will have to drop some items of clothing that will allow him to run freely. To live life abundantly, we will be required to let go of excess baggage aka things that hinder us.
Excess baggage is likened to clutter. We all know what clutter is. Clutter is "a lot of things that are not useful or necessary." To achieve optimal physical and mental acuity, clutter has to be dealt with; removed. Physical clutter is the most familiar; closets overflowing, drawers packed to capacity, stacks and stacks of unopened mail, etc. This is more than an eyesore, it blocks creativity and our ability to move forward. Why? First, because it is physically in our way. Secondly, because we spend so much time thinking that we need to get rid of it, that we end up doing nothing but thinking about it. Let me be fair, sometimes I put everything together in bigger bins.
However, I wonder if you have ever given thought to other forms of clutter. Until recently, I didn't. All my time was spent thinking about getting rid of the bags and bins of unopened mail. I planned to get to the piles of clothing that could no longer fit in my closet later. I digress. There are some other forms of clutter that are equally debilitating. Emotional clutter and spiritual clutter, to name two. While these are intangible, in the sense that we cannot put our hands on them, each can touch our lives in ways that may be stifling or even harmful.
By way of explanation, emotional clutter consists of the negative messages that we send to ourselves and those we accept from others. For example, "I can't do it, I am not good enough or talented enough." "I am not attractive enough." "I am just a failure." It is awful enough that we feed ourselves such harmful thoughts. But, we also allow others to program us with negative communication, sometimes subtly and in many cases overtly. e.g.,"You will never amount to anything." "You are a loser." "You come from a long line of losers." "You don't fit in," and "You started too late to be a success in that field." Spiritual clutter may be expressed as a lack of forgiveness; of yourself or of someone else. It could also be that we believe we have not been given a fair shake in this life or that God has abandoned us altogether. All clutter can be paralyzing and remains with us as a stumbling block subconsciously or consciously unless we take pointed action to eliminate it.
Speaking from a recent experience, I almost took on some spiritual clutter that had me questioning myself as a genuine friend. A good friend of mine was invited to speak at an event, and of course I was there in the audience. She made a wonderful speech and then out of the blue she started thanking people. It was like she was looking around the audience searching for people to thank. Well, she did not thank me. I did not go to support her looking for any type of recognition, but somehow when she looked liked there was no rhyme or real reason for thanking these other folks, and she neglected to thank me, I felt a way about it (not a good way either). Then I felt ashamed of myself for even being the slightest bit offended. I did all the self-talk. "No need to thank me. I am her friend. We are there for each other out of friendship. I am not that shallow that she has to call my name. God knows my name."
Needless to say none of this self talk worked. I had a little attitude with her when she finished. I don't think she noticed, but I had to go home and pray about it because I was getting even more upset. At home, I was in the middle of a decluttering project, getting rid of old papers. I came across a paper that I had written as an assignment for a graduate English course that I had taken in 2009. I had to critique a book entitled, "The Mayor of Casterbridge" by Thomas Hardy. The protagonist Michael Henchard got drunk one night and sold his wife and daughter to a total stranger. When he sobered in the morning and realized what he had done, he was filled with remorse and began a search for his wife and daughter. He made an oath not to drink for twenty one years. His ultimate downfall was that he could not forgive himself for this egregious act, and he believed that the "universe will hold him accountable." In the end, it was his own actions that condemned him.
More astounding and convicting for me were the last three sentences in my conclusion: "If I err, I will forgive myself. If someone commits an offense against me, I will forgive them as well. The price is too high to do otherwise." Without further contemplation, I forgave my friend for this perceived slight (perception is real) and I forgave myself for feeling the way I did. It was a burden lifted.
This prompted additional self-reflection. Whenever I read the writings of some of my contemporaries, I would always see them as more talented or gifted; even though we graduated from the same college, took the same courses, and earned the same degree (MFA). To my chagrin, I would critique my work so harshly as to wonder why I write in the first place. Now with my eyes wide open, I realize this is mental clutter and have summarily dismissed it. No matter what you do, someone will always be better. Oftentimes what we think is better is just different. Either way, it is a waste of precious time making comparisons to others; it only adds useless mental clutter and keeps us stuck. I am writing because I enjoy it, and I believe I have something to say.
1. Acknowledge that clutter will not go away on its own and that the time has come to deal with it. "There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens; a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away." Ecclesiastes 3:1,6. Like in any 12-step program, the first step on the journey to recovery is admitting that one has a problem. It's okay to admit that allowing clutter to accumulate year after year has caused some paralysis in your movement or in your thinking. Further, that it has become problematic when you can barely walk around your room (doesn't matter which room) or see the top of your table for the overwhelming amount of clutter.
2. Plan strategically ways in which you will decrease or eliminate clutter. That means you will have to make a decision. You know what that means. Action and commitment. Select a designated area to begin with. Set a timetable for completion, and stick to it. If necessary, get someone to help you. Check in with a buddy (somewhat like a sponsor) who will encourage you on your road to decluttering. Don't beat yourself up. Give yourself a pat on the back for stepping up.
3. Let go. "Let go of all that hinders." Just as a runner cannot run weighted down, neither can we. Perhaps your clutter is not of the physical or emotional kind. In those areas you may have it all together. You may have even mastered digital clutter (the bombardment of emails); I seem to be allergic to the delete button. Let me continue. Be cautious, there is other clutter. Your clutter may be the kind mentioned in Hebrews 12:1. Don't fret, there is an answer to even get rid of that. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:9.
Forgive others for offenses committed against you and then forgive yourself. And, for goodness sake don't pick up anybody else's clutter!
Here's to decluttering every area of our lives and to clearing the path to abundant living!
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