Back in 2015, newly engaged, I signed on the dotted line (and initialed about 135 times) before departing from the cozy conference room with a new-to-me house. Before I left, the former owner looked at me and said, "What are you going to do with all that space?"
I looked at him, looked at my ring, smiled and said, "Fill it up."
Eight years, one fabulous wedding and three beautiful gifts from God later, I look back at that moment with great gratitude to God for his tremendous blessings, but also with a certain irony. The once-echoey house is most certainly filled -- to the point of being stuffed. Stacks of papers, boxes of books never unpacked, and unused furniture clogs our space and robs our peace. Over time, the sunroom has morphed into a playroom; the dining room into a schoolroom. Despite our best efforts, toys and kid books are spread throughout the house. The spare bedroom is covered with stuff, we used to be able to see the small seating area in the master bedroom, and the socks -- oh, the tiny socks -- are the gifts that keep on giving. And there are only five of us.
When I finally reached my limit, I decided I was going to take small steps to order our house to reflect the current priorities of our family. My husband, plenty tired of not being able to step foot in our closet, was more than game. So we began strategizing. I shifted some storage around in the kitchen, allowing for a little more counter space. My husband purchased school desks for the kids and created their own work spaces. We tackled the closet in tandem, being rewarded with seven bags of clothes for the local Catholic charity. "Ruthless," we said to each other. "We have to be ruthless."
-- Family priorities
My brain kept coming back to one central point: This home reset, as we have taken to calling it, isn't just about cleaning out drawers, having additional counter space, or being able to actually sit on a chair (although those things are very nice); it's about being thoughtful about how we want to live as a family. It's about the kind of priorities we want to share (and, for the grown-ups, model). It's about showing respect to those who share a common space, about valuing the investment we have made in our family living space, and allowing order, and the peace that inevitably follows, to reign in our hearts and our home.
Of course, there are many parallels to the spiritual life here. When we don't take the time to examine and, if necessary, reset our relationship with God -- when we cover him up with stacks of books, or toss him into a pile of clutter in the corner -- everything suffers. When we don't give God our attention and our hearts, it becomes easier to forget how important it is to give our attention and our heart to others. We fall into self-absorption, where our own needs and wants become the priority, and thus a barrier to harmony in community.
-- A spiritual reset
Like with our homes, when we feel our lives spinning out of control spiritually or emotionally, or if we notice our relationships suffering, we need to take time for a reset. We must stop, pray, go to confession, go to Mass, resolve to do better, make a plan of attack and begin again. Small steps, simple actions. We won't remain perfect because we are imperfect human beings, but at least we won't remain stuck in the muck -- not to mention drag others there with us.
This commitment allows us to, as St. Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians, "put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God's way in righteousness and holiness of truth" (3:22-24).
So maybe it's time to clean out the clutter -- in our homes and in our hearts. We might consider: What is one thing I could do to adjust my physical environment to bring more peace to my life, and what is one thing I could do to make more time for God during my day?
Advent is coming; a new year and a new start. Let's get cleaning.
- Gretchen R. Crowe is the editor-in-chief of OSV News. Follow her on Twitter @GretchenOSV.
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