A few years ago, minimalistic guru Marie Kondo published a fantastically popular and proven approach to “decluttering” your living space, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and now she’s a household name. Her unique plan is to tackle clutter by placing possessions in specific categories, then follow her suggested discernment process for discarding items. Her main principle is to get rid of things that do not bring us joy.
Tidying Up Our Spiritual Lives
What if we took that same approach to tidying up our spiritual life? What if we were willing to dig through our cluttered lives and toss out whatever we find that is not leading us to authentic and abiding joy? That could include desires, dreams, habits, causes, goals, amusements, and buried anger and grudges that are incompatible with our desire to grow in holiness.
A new year (and a new decade!) is the ideal occasion to ask yourself these questions and either set new goals, or bring forgotten goals back into focus. We have, after all, just entered into the year of perfect vision, 2020. There will never be a better time than right now to declutter our lives and our souls, and fix our sights on Christ.
Let simplicity be your manifesto for this new year/decade. Marie Kondo’s advice is applicable here, in that we want to discern what earthly “instruments” breathe joy into our souls. We are definitely not looking for the empty “joy” promised in romance novels, get-rich-quick schemes, product and service advertisements or other temporal enticements. The very best that the world has to offer is nothing compared to “living in the peace and joy of the beatitudes” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2015). This should be the ultimate mission of our “tidying up” efforts. Whether we’ve realized it or not, what we yearn for is eternal joy.
If you lack an impetus for setting new goals, just call to mind previous poor choices that have left you feeling defeated. Have you ever felt guilty for wasting an entire evening playing games or watching movies on your electronic device? Do you sometimes regret wasted opportunities, or sheepishly recall harsh words spoken in anger? Do you often miss spending time with your family because of long hours spent at work or in “worthy” volunteer activities? We all struggle to sweep away the subcelestial soot that has settled on our soul during the day. Even though we fall into bed exhausted at night, we often find ourselves tossing and turning for hours. How do we shake off the mortal burdens that bind us?
The first step is making a list of priorities. Your relationship with Christ must be above all things, in order for the rest of your obligations to fall into their proper places. Pray for the gifts of the Holy Spirit to aid you in this undertaking. Become more aware of your actions and activities throughout the day and how they make you feel—what brings you peace and joy? What triggers stress, impatience, and anger?
When you’re ready to tackle your spiritual decluttering, you might imagine yourself standing in a dusty, cobwebbed attic space. You know you face a challenging job. You’ll find things that may have been hidden for years, some of which might release old heartache or guilt. There will be memories of joy and sorrows, mistakes and victories, and maybe even a few buried treasures, which could enrich your life as you ponder them anew. That’s why it’s a profitable exercise to journal as you “clean.” It will aid in your discerning process, and guide you as you tackle these newly unearthed sentiments. The Holy Spirit will provide counsel as you expose and disentangle your discoveries. You might feel an urge to talk to your pastor, embrace the opportunity to repent and confess, and/or make a vow to right old wrongs.
No Pain, No Gain
If it seems too painful, all the more reason to jump in with both feet and trust wholly in God’s mercy. In the spiritual life, embraced suffering is the surest route to growth. It’s akin to pulling out a splinter. It bothers you while it’s stuck in your foot, but it hurts like the dickens to extract it. However, if you try to ignore it, it will fester and cause serious health issues. Ignoring the pain doesn’t bring relief.
So go ahead and pry open those dusty trunks and boxes and dig through them, one at a time. Bravely offer to God the flotsam and jetsam of your interior life, and get ready to be renewed! Picture your transformed attic space, no more dust, no more cobwebs, no more decaying trinkets taking up valuable space. The windows have been cleaned, and sunlight filters in, bringing warmth to the room. This restored space is your living, breathing soul, returned to the abundant sweetness of God’s presence, a reestablished haven of peace, joy, and love.
Open your hands, your mind, your soul, your life, and make room for God’s amazing grace to flow over and in and all around you. Simplify, aim for joy and become a more powerful witness of Christ in this new decade!