Julie: "Tsk, tsk! Don’t be such clutterbugs!”
I can still hear my mother’s voice and the click of her tongue as she insisted that my two sisters and I pick up the toys and clothes we’d scattered around our shared bedroom. Even though I have no memory of my childhood bedroom ever being messy at all (and certainly not even close to as messy as my own children’s rooms routinely were!), Mom carried the memory for years.
Now, with our own kids grown and out on their own, my husband and I deal with our own clutter—and our differing perceptions of what it is and what it isn’t. I guess clutter, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.
This has caused me to wonder, How does God perceive our clutter?
Considering our earth
When it comes to the environment, I doubt that it’s typical household clutter that most concerns God. It’s not that I don’t think He cares about the state of our homes, but even a cursory overview of Scripture shows God’s deep concern about the physical environment of our world. God desires our imprint on the world to be nurturing and life-sustaining, yet “clutter” would be far too gentle a word to describe the human-caused degradation that the world is experiencing.
Thus, attempts at simple lifestyles must address environmental de-cluttering. Out of love for the world, for humans and other living things on our planet, Christians should be the first to translate God’s environmental concern into simple lifestyles.
This involves asking some pointed questions of ourselves: How can we claim to follow Jesus in living simply when our gas-guzzling vehicles and our overworked air conditioners, heaters, and other appliances are still polluting the air, adding to global warming, and depleting natural resources? How long will we happily participate in a culture that defines us as consumers whose ongoing and escalating purchase habits are crucial to keep the economic wheels spinning? How does simplicity spell itself out in the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the things we buy, and the places we shop?
Dan: Over time, we’ve made changes that decrease our environmental footprint—like driving a hybrid car, installing more insulation in the attic, replacing our water-thirsty lawn with water-wise landscaping, buying energy-efficient appliances, and purchasing clothes and other items at a local thrift shop. One of Julie’s favorite weekly jobs is buying fresh, local groceries at the local farmers’ market (the one place she is tempted to over-buy!). She finds herself shopping less and less in those middle sections of the grocery store, where everything comes in packages or cans (that then fill the landfills) and where most of the items have been transported hundreds or thousands of miles (using non-renewable energy sources and pushing up the cost). Growing some of our own fruit and vegetables is fun for us, too.
Considering our time
Julie: Simple living means letting Jesus take control of our cluttered schedules, too. Of course, we all differ inherently in our need for structure, for spontaneity, for closure, for flexibility. None of us has a corner on perfection here: We all need one another to stretch us toward simple lifestyles with a healthy balance of organization and freedom.
Yet without some sense of Spirit-led planning behind one’s day-to-day existence, it’s hard to imagine a life characterized by love, giving, or service. And, without ample, godly freedom within helpful boundaries of organization, there would be little room for boldness, generosity, or joy.
When was the last time you gave a day, or even an hour or two, to listen to Jesus about the way you’re running the race of your life? How might you incorporate routine, Sabbath-type freedom and rest in your life?
Dan: Rather than adopt and adapt to the “tyranny of the urgent” that is the cultural norm in North America, Julie and I wanted to be “small-scale revolutionaries.” For us, this has taken shape with both of us pursuing careers that allow us to incorporate times for personal and spiritual retreat, exercise, and recreation. Julie has worked in a permanent part-time role with our local health program, while I’ve been a history teacher. Even though it means making less money, having more time to “be” has proven more valuable in the long run . . . and has resulted in a simpler lifestyle to boot!
Considering our thoughts
Julie: De-cluttering one’s mind goes even deeper into the work of the Spirit. Our minds are cluttered with regret over past losses, hurts from wounds sustained, fears of an uncertain future, despair over broken relationships, worry over our own and our loved ones’ welfare. Our mental clutter has the potential to distract us from following Jesus. It stops us in our tracks. It paralyzes us.
The first step toward simplicity of mind is to notice the clutter. Sometimes I’m knee-deep in it—immobilized by fear or despair or anger, or trudging in circles, lost in a mental maze of faithlessness—before I realize where I am and
remember that Jesus has a better way for me.
But once I’ve noticed, there is hope. I can mentally choose to take Jesus’ hand and let Him love me back on to His path of hope and truth. I can say “no” to the quicksand of my mental clutter, letting go of unhealthy goals, being gentle with myself in recognition of my brokenness, inviting Jesus to create images of hope, faith, and love in me to replace the old, sinful clutter, and asking Him to help me notice the clutter sooner next time.
How does clutter accumulate in your mind? How will you notice when it’s first collecting? What will you do when you notice it?
Dan: A key weapon to be used in the war against mental clutter is the ability to say “no.” It takes a lot of practice, as it’s not usually our default mode. I am reminded of Romans 12:2: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing, and perfect will.”
Julie and I have found that submitting ourselves to a “personal inventory” of the things that contribute to worry, fear, a sense of being overwhelmed , and so on, often points us to our own mental clutter, and potentially to what needs to be changed or exchanged in order for us to be more at peace.
There is a need for a conscious extracting of oneself from the dizzying pace of daily life in order to rediscover one of the simplest (and most powerful) truths in faith: “Be still, and know that I am God.” Again, we must wrestle with our schedules, realizing that they ultimately reflect our hearts and minds.