by Caitlin Meadows
There’s something refreshing about having a new baby right around the start of a new year. My second child, Declan Clark, was born almost three months ago on November 17, 2018. I enjoyed a (mostly) slow-paced maternity leave thanks to my servant-hearted husband and our ever-helpful families and friends. Taking advantage of the slower pace, I began the process of decluttering my heart and mind.
With a fresh, squishy baby in my arms I’ve come to realize some things. First, it really does go too fast! My firstborn, Hudson, just turned two years old in December. I am both proud of the independent person he is becoming but also clinging to every cuddle and kiss. Naturally, he will soon outgrow such outward signs of affection for mama dearest. Second, I’ve realized that every moment must be lived intentionally. As missionary Jim Elliot is quoted, “Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”
My husband and I desperately desire our sons to know Christ from a young age, to love and serve Him, and to be about His Kingdom rather than the furtherance of their own. And, so, I’ve taken a step back and reflected on my own life. If I am to influence my children for Christ, I must be living what I am teaching.
The KonMari Method, Minimalism, and Tiny Houses
Have you heard of Marie Kondo or her better known KonMari Method of home organization? Her book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” and now her Netflix show help overwhelmed people declutter their homes and lives by honestly answering a simple question: “Does it spark joy?” If not, move it along to the next person (or trash can, but only after saying “thank you”).
Her method fits right in with the minimalist lifestyle that has grown in popularity over the last several years. Complementary to minimalism, you’ve likely heard of the “tiny house” movement in which people trade in their large, open-floor-plan homes for a compact, functional and often mobile dwelling usually no bigger than a taco truck.
The appeal of downsizing is the hope and expectation that in downsizing materially, we will downsize mentally and emotionally. It makes sense. The less you own, the less there is to maintain. Minimal things equate minimal mess, minimal expense, and minimal stress. Win-win-win. Having only that which “sparks joy” means – you guessed it – more joy!
What is Spiritual Decluttering?
My husband can attest to the fact that I am not sentimental about material items. He finds it humorous (and a bit unnerving) that I actually enjoy throwing things away. There isn’t a place for something? We haven’t used it in a while and/or it’s stressing me out? My solution: throw it away! Thus, when I watch organization shows like Tidying Up with Marie Kondo Or listen to podcasts on minimalism, I get all kinds of giddy! I hate having purposeless stuff. I want it gone. Simplicity is my happy place!
But there’s a problem with this sort of decluttering. It’s only a temporary solution. It may “spark joy” for a moment, but that joy eventually fades. Organizing and minimalizing our belongings and even our schedules is necessary and beneficial. But, that’s not where our decluttering should be focused.
As Jesus-followers, our focus needs to be on decluttering our hearts and mind. Spiritual decluttering is the intentional surrender of all our “stuff” that distracts us from intimacy with our King and our ultimate call to further His Kingdom.
How to Spiritually Declutter
With the newness of my 12 week old and the newness of the year, I’m in the process of renewing my mind through a spiritual decluttering. If my heart and mind were a physical house, it would be in dire need of a visit from Marie Kondo to help me sort through all of the junk I’ve acquired and clung to, as if it owns me rather than the other way around. Instead of Miss Kondo, the decluttering of my heart and mind is being led by the Holy Spirit. How?
It all starts with prayer. And the prayer never stops. The only way to rid myself of that which separates me from intimacy with my King is to be in constant conversation with Him. I ask for help constantly; for the Holy Spirit to make me aware of the sin lingering in my heart and for an attitude of repentance in response to my sin. I ask for God’s thoughts and ways to replace my own. My thoughts lead to despair. God’s thoughts lead to peace. I desire to not be conformed to the ways of the world but to be transformed by the ways of God, through the continual renewing of my mind (Romans 12:2). Which brings us to the next step of spiritual decluttering: the Bible.
You know how it goes, right? We look to God’s Word when we’re inspired or inquisitive. We determine to read daily. But then we miss a day. Then two. Then several months. That was me but not anymore. I need His Word like I need food. If I am to surrender all that hinders me from intimacy with my King, I’m going to thrive on the redemption story told from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22.¹ With the truth of His Word offering my mind renewal, I can take the next step of decluttering my spirit: reflection and contemplation.
Reflection and Contemplation
When we submit our minds to the Lord and look to His Word for truth, we receive clarity through which we can see ourselves accurately. This is when reflection becomes productive. Still praying for discernment and wisdom, I reflect on my inability apart from Christ and I contemplate His mercy, power, and grace that bring freedom.
Contemplation means admitting we need something beyond ourselves. This isn’t easy for Christian leaders. Contemplation forces us to face our mortality, our inadequacy, our incompleteness.” – Israel Steinmetz
My need to surrender is highlighted by my sinful desire for control. My default is to rely on myself to accomplish my goals. And when I inevitably fail, to emotionally beat myself up. The beauty of reflection and contemplation is that in so doing, I not only admit my inadequacy but I embrace it because I was not created to be adequate. Rather, I was created to rely fully upon the only One who is – my Heavenly Father. As I reflect on my limits and contemplate His lack thereof, I am free to surrender my mess and grab onto His joy. But the process doesn’t stop there. With an accurate view of myself and God through reflection and contemplation, I can move onto the next step of decluttering: through intentionality.
It’s at this point in the surrender process that I usually backslide into my old habits that lead to distraction and sin. To avoid the pain of regression, I need to be intentional. In other words, I need a plan. What this looks like is consistency, confession, and accountability.
The first three steps in spiritual decluttering (prayer, Bible study, and reflection/contemplation) are not steps to move on from once complete. They are steps that must be taken every day. This is accomplished through consistency.
We are instructed to confess our sins to one another (James 5:16). This removes the facade of power that our sins have over us and allows us to have honest accountability. Those closest to me already know the areas of sin that I struggle with the most. And I have invited them on this decluttering journey with me, to hold me accountable so that I don’t fall back into the same patterns and tendencies that lead to sin. But consistency, confession, and accountability are only effective through the final component of spiritual decluttering: supernatural enabling.
None of the above mentioned steps toward spirtual decluttering would be of any use without this most vital factor. I can’t even call it a step because it is so much more than that. The supernatural enabling of Christ through the Holy Spirit is a way of life. It is a reality for the surrendered believer. Just like we need oxygen to survive, our souls need the grace of Jesus Christ to survive (and thrive) spiritually. Jesus Christ is our redeemer. Through His sinless life, sacrificial death, and miraculous resurrection He provided us with access to His power. He offers us the gift of His sinless life in place of our rebellion. And so this truth is what makes spiritual decluttering possible. It is liberating to know that I cannot but He can through me. Even more, it is relieving to step back from the throne of my life and let Him take His rightful place.
Sparking Joy that Lasts
We are each re-created by Christ to embrace leadership in our daily spheres of influence. Our clutter prevents us from this awesome call to leadership. It steals our attention and beckons us back to the life of chaos that was ours before we encountered Christ. Spiritual clutter separates us from God’s presence, which as Psalm 16:11 says, is where we find fullness of joy. This is why I am in the process of spiritually decluttering. Surrender is a daily necessity and it sparks joy that lasts.