Life scatters and gathers us. We lose. We search. We find. We take up. We let go. And then the rhythm starts again with each flaming sunrise and each ribboned sunset. However, there comes a time, a season, a process, planned or forced, to sort
through our lifetime accumulation. It is a time to decide what frees our heart and what weighs it down. It is not an easy season.
I came to this season, overwhelmed by the enormity of the sorting I would have to do. I was my father’s daughter because I kept too much. I was my mother’s daughter because I stored it neatly. Neither helped me in this time to throw away. I had to be my best self-disciplined, reasonable, unemotional self to do the hard work of throwing away what made no sense to keep. I dumped five bulging notebooks of Lisa’s medical files, reduced my four-drawer file cabinet in half, gave away books by the dozens. Mark called me the “bag lady” for a while because I always had a bag of something to give to someone everywhere we went. We kept our recycling container almost full every week. The process was neither fun nor freeing for me. While I enjoyed reviewing the joys of family vacations, Lisa’s graduation, her first apartment housewarming, I also relived the tentative days of her heart surgery, the excruciating school experiences. Did putting the pieces of her life in a box mean I wouldn’t have to relive them, the agony or the ecstasy of them? Or did I believe that memories exist to remind me that life comes with pain and joy. That life moves on. Did I need these boxes to remind me?
As I write this, Hurricane Harvey has swallowed up so many normal lives. Today they erect walls of soaked and damaged refuse on their lawns, their sorting a painful exercise in facing how perishable things are. They are forced to experience the finality of what must be thrown away against the understanding that life is not about things.
Must catastrophe be the only way we learn this lesson? Can’t we find space in our busy lives to sort before some new loss forces it upon us? Can’t we learn what Jesus was trying to teach us, that life is more than things?
Whether it is the boxes in the attic or basement you haven’t touched in years or the crowded closets and cabinets that bulge with things that you haven’t used and probably don’t need, perhaps it is time to reduce things in order to increase life.
When Jesus calls us to abundant life, he doesn’t mean consumerism. He wants us to know abundance separate from things. He wants us to awaken us to beauty you can’t own, joy you can’t buy, love you can’t manipulate. He wants us to know an abundance that fills our hearts in securing ways so we don’t have to prove ourselves with things. It is a precarious tightrope. Living Spartan to prove something or living with too much to prove something else; both destroy abundant life the way God would have us enjoy it.
Perhaps the most freeing verse for a time to throw away is the one I found in Zechariah 4:10. The Living Bible paraphrase delivers it best any time I approach a daunting task: “God does not despise small beginnings; He rejoices to see the work begun.”
Where do you trip over too much stuff? Start there with your sorting. Ask yourself the hard questions: Why am I keeping this? What does this share that I cannot live without? What does this require of me that prevents what I really want to do?
And don’t ever forget that God has a huge dumpster ready for the pain of the past
that makes you fearful, for the unnecessary what-ifs that distract you from reality or whatever overloads your heart and takes away your joy. Jesus came to free us. Maybe it starts with being willing to throw something away.