catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 5, Num 5 :: 2006.03.10 — 2006.03.24



I have the tendency to be a pack-rat. I hate throwing away things that might be useful some day. This tendency was most evident in my closet, where an assortment of clothes was stored, even though they had not been worn for years. I would save old t-shirts with the names of my favorite sports teams, ties that I had worn on sentimental occasions, and pants that had frayed cuffs and worn-out knees. When my wife would challenge my tendency to keep my clothes for too long, I would politely dismiss her complaint by pointing out that I would usually discard my socks once they had holes in the heels.

As time passed, however, my closet became more and more difficult to navigate. I often could not find a particular shirt, because it was buried beneath all of my old, worn-out clothes. By the end of 2001, I grudgingly acknowledged to my wife, that I needed to discard some old clothes.

On January 1, 2002, I emptied my closet. If I had not worn a particular item of clothing in the previous year, it had to be donated to the Goodwill Store. If clothes were ripped or worn so thin that you could see through them, they were discarded. By the end of the day I had a closet that was manageable, three large bags of clothes to bring the Goodwill, and one garbage bag full of clothes that were dumped.

I thought that this ?closet cleansing? would be nothing more than a one-time event. However, the consequences of that simple act are still reverberating through my life. In the next few months, I was surprised to find that I did not miss one article of clothing that I had discarded. I had been so drastic in my clothing reduction that I was certain that I would have regrets, but I never had one. In fact, I was surprised to find that I still had clothes that were rarely used. Furthermore, as the year passed, I accumulated new clothes, so that on January 1, 2003, I performed another closet-purging, which yielded more donations and items for the garbage can.

In subsequent years, my clean and orderly closet became a point of pride and contentment in my life. Most of my life is filled with clutter. If you need evidence, you are welcome to witness the office in my basement. However, my closet was neat and organized. I found a sense of serenity each morning as I chose my clothes for the day (all right, I might be laying in on a little thick here, but I am about to make a point).

My clean and organized closet taught me a spiritual discipline. I didn?t realize it at first, but I was practicing the discipline of simplicity. I did not think of it as a spiritual discipline. After all, I was merely cleaning out my closet, but this practice has moved like a wave through other areas of my life.

The spiritual discipline of simplicity is the practice of letting go of all possessions, activities, habits, and practices that clutter our lives. Much like my formerly cluttered closet, many of us have lives that are filled with clutter. Some of us have lives that are cluttered with possessions. We want bigger garages and more efficient storage systems so that we have a place to put all of the stuff we own. Some of us have lives that are cluttered with commitments. We have commitments at work and at school (or maybe at our children?s school). We have commitments to meet regularly with friends. We even have good commitments that cause clutter, like committees for church or other worthwhile non-profit organizations. These commitments cause us to carry a day-planner wherever we go, and make us fear the thought of doing anything on an impromptu basis, because it won?t fit into our ?schedule.? Some of us have lives that are cluttered with gadgets. We have cell phones, pagers, fax machines, e-mail, iPods, and Blackberries. These gadgets don?t merely take up physical space in our homes, but they control our time. We can never sit down to a meal with family, because we have to respond to the cell phone. We are slaves to the text messages we receive. We cannot wait to open our e-mail to see the little icon that tells us that we have received a new message. We have become so available to the world outside our homes, that we have made ourselves unavailable to those who live with us; or worse yet, we no longer make any attempt to be still and know God.

Don?t misunderstand me; I have no problems with gadgets, commitments, or possessions. Some of gadgets are very useful. I am glad that I have regular commitments that add meaningful work or enjoyable encounters to my life. I am thankful for my possessions. However, I struggle when my gadgets, commitments, or possessions begin to rule my life, rather than making my life simpler. These things are supposed to make life better, but instead, they often just make life cluttered.

The discipline of simplicity is practiced by letting go of some of the good ?things? in our lives in order to make room for that which is greater. It may be hard to believe, but good ?stuff? can actually distract a person from a fulfilling life.

What would you rather have: a life that is full, or a life that is fulfilling?

When I had a full closet, my clothes were a source of angst. I often found myself rummaging through my hangers and shelves trying to find a shirt that had to be buried somewhere in there. After I made space by getting rid of ?stuff? (and sometimes it was good ?stuff?), my closet was much more manageable.

I want my life to reflect the lessons of my closet. I don?t want a life that is so full of possessions that demand care, gadgets that beckon for my attention, and commitments that fill my calendar, that I cannot enjoy my life. Therefore, I have learned that sometimes, I need to make space. Sometimes, this means I will say no to a commitment that might be enjoyable, or I refuse to use a gadget that promises to make my life simpler, or I even give up the habit of watching television or reading my magazine. I make space in my life, so that I can enjoy my life. I make space in my life, so that there is room for the fulfillment of family, and room for seeking God.

Interestingly enough, God has always told his people that they have to make space in their lives. He told them to set aside one day a week from normal (even ?good?) activities, in order to be with Him. He calls us to regularly say no to the enjoyable and productive activities of our live, in order to have time for Him. A world that is filled with stressed out, burned out, busy people could use a little Sabbath simplicity.

I still clean out my closet on the first day of every year. It has become a holiday tradition that I eagerly anticipate. I enjoy seeing my organized closet on January 2. The bigger struggle has been trying to simplify my life. It is hard to make tough decisions to get rid of enjoyable activities and material possessions that often overcrowd my life so that I miss seeing the greater blessings that God gives. I want a simple life.

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