It’s remarkable how things accumulate when left unchecked. Take for example our living room. It was tidy last night before bed, I swear. Now, sitting here on the floor, I’m surrounded by four orphaned socks, dishes from an afternoon snack, a basket brimming with wet clothing, empty DVD cases, an undressed doll, three toy cars, and raisins strewn like confetti across the carpet. Don’t get me started on our bedroom. Household maintenance is challenging when toddlers are involved. I hate clutter and I don’t know if I’ll live to see the end of it.
And then there’s something called heart clutter. This invisible sense of disorder is the worst.
Heart clutter is all the noise that drowns out important, non-urgent matters. It’s a slow death. It piles up faster than my children’s dirty laundry and when left unchecked, it gets toxic: anxiety, idolatry, instant gratification, false urgency, neglected solitude, misplaced priorities and displaced identity. There is no peace in a cluttered heart. It’s a spiritual and emotional traffic jam on the Lion’s Gate bridge during rush hour on a long weekend. It’s nasty.
There are ways to sort heart clutter. One reliable method is to put one’s thoughts and frustrations down on paper and then toss the page in the trash. If you’re Taylor Swift or Adele, you bypass the trash can and set your dribble to music and launch a career. As a writer, I can tell you that it works almost every time. (The writing, not the pop stardom.)
Another way to sort heart clutter is by exercising asceticism, intentionally parting with familiar indulgences and behaviours to create space for contemplation, prayer, silence and solitude. Asceticism shifts perspective on important matters of the heart.
The move to Scotland forced us to adopt a sort of household asceticism. When we arrived in our first flat, our home had no dryer or dishwasher. We had a bar fridge with a mini icebox. It was a first-world problem – I realize many people do not enjoy those luxuries to begin with. Still, our comfortable Canadian definition of normal was tested. It was a big sacrifice and it took some getting used to. The experience created space to consider life differently. All the uncomfortable moments were opportunities to contemplate. There was a lot of prayer, a lot of “Really, God? Is this what you have for me as a new mom? What am I supposed to be learning here?”
Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Today is the beginning of a 40-day assessment of invisible heart clutter so that Easter, the celebration of Jesus’ purging of sin and mess through his death and resurrection, can be met with proper reverence, humility, and gratitude.
Lent has looked different for me over the years; asceticism comes and goes. One year I gave up coffee – a big deal for a Vancouverite. It was possible but it wasn’t pretty. There have been daily readings; there have been community initiatives at church. This year I’m not exactly sure what shape Lent will take. (I know I won’t be giving up alcohol again. I’ve just come home from the pub.)
Is asceticism on its own the way to erradicate heart clutter for good? No. It can create a space to start asking questions but it’s not the answer.
Is it even possible to live free of clutter, filled with unshakeable peace, rooted in our identity, and full of hope and faith? Yes, but only with Jesus and even so it is a daily battle. We’re human and we can’t live free on our own. That’s the point of Easter. That’s the gospel. We need someone to keep the clutter in check and bring about new life and peace. That person is Jesus.
Now if only there was a tidy living room to contemplate and pray in…