This has been declutter month at Simply Convivial, and it’s not too late to join. Even a week is still time enough to make some great progress and gain skill and practice in decluttering. With the sudden upending of normal has come – for most of us – unexpected time at home, and so we can channel our energies and our time into small-scale decluttering progress.
But decluttering the stuff is really the least important kind of decluttering we can do. With more time at home around our families that will become evident. We might think that our problem is that everyone has too much stuff and if we just solved the stuff problem, then we’d get along, then we’d not be irritable, then life would be good.
The first thing we actually need to declutter is our attitude. Yes, I like to say we need to organize our attitude, but decluttering is often the first step in getting organized – with attitudes as well as stuff. And we can take a similar process, as well.
To declutter is to remove what doesn’t belong. If it was a cupboard, we’d pull everything out so we can see and deal with it all, then we’d only put back what belonged and deal with what’s left, throwing away garbage first, then sorting out what needs to leave your home for someone else’s (to return, to give away), then what belongs in some other place in your house.
And the hard part comes when we encounter the clutter that we want to keep yet it has no designated belonging spot.
The good news is that the decision-making process in attitude decluttering is much more straight-forward and we don’t need any extra bins to hold any “waiting for a home” things.
How do you clear the cupboard, so to speak, of your attitude? Unlike a cupboard, we do not try to empty our minds to achieve peace. That is not biblical. However, we can clear some time to actually think about what on our hearts and minds instead of just going about our bustle of the day ignoring our inner life. We can use pen and paper and brain dump so we can see, visibly on paper, what’s going on in our heads and hearts. We can pray and ask God to show us what attitudes we really have that we don’t want to admit.
Our attitudes are harder to pull out than stuff from a closet. It’s like our mind is a closet with a layer of tacky glue – it’s hard to make anything budge. So we’re tempted to accept whatever is there as our reality, unalterable, close the cupboard and move on, pretending it’s not a problem. That doesn’t work with stuff and that doesn’t work with attitudes. That inner closet is full of perishables, not plastic. Leave it alone and it will surely fester and mold, not remain unchanged and fine.
Feeling like those attitudes and feelings are stuck there and there’s nothing you can do about it is normal – because it’s totally true. It’s called our sin nature. We can’t change our own hearts. We sometimes can remodel our thoughts and mindsets with a lot of effort, but we can never remove the rot – only hide it.
Who can change a sinner’s heart? The Holy Spirit alone.
And, if you’re a Christian, your guilt is gone but your mind and heart is going to be in continual states of repair and restoration the rest of your life. Just like decluttering in a family home, decluttering of your attitudes is not a once-and-done project or something you’ll ever cross off and mark complete.
We need help for this decluttering project, and it is help promised us in the gospel through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Just like decluttering, it feels messy; it feels like it’s getting worse at first, not better. To have our attitudes exposed to our open view is unsettling and uncomfortable. But hiding them doesn’t make them go away; it makes them grow even more unmanageable.
When we see all the mess in our hearts and minds, how do we throw away the garbage? Neither distraction nor willpower will do it. The only way to get rid of bad attitudes is to repent of them, to call them out for what they are, ask for forgiveness, and turn away from them, rejecting them.
But you can’t only get rid of the bad. You have to return what is good and right. Maybe when you took inventory, you didn’t find anything good to put back. That’s ok, because when you repent and trust, the Holy Spirit supplies the replacements: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. They are available, and by faith we can not only have them in our inner cupboards, but even pull them out and use them as needed without running out of stock.
Are you left with thoughts and feelings you don’t know what to do with? Attitudes that don’t belong, but you aren’t ready to call garbage and toss? If it were stuff, we’d say these things need a home – either in your home or some other home (like the dump, Goodwill, or a friend who could use it).
Are there hand-me-down attitudes? Yes. Is the thought on the table one you’d want to pass down to your children? Then that’s a clue it really is sin, and it’s time for a second round of repentance. It’s ok. Repentance is continual; get used to it. Perhaps it’s an attitude handed down to you; it’s not your job to keep it. You’re God’s child first, and can fill up your heart and mind with His peace and truth. But you can’t blame another person for what’s in your own heart and mind. It’s your responsibility to deal with it before God.
Perhaps the “leftovers” of your attitudes are those that ought to be given away because they belong on another’s shoulder rather than your own. Concern about people in disasters that you can’t help is simply worry. Channel the energy into prayer for them, pray for an opportunity to help, and then look around you and make sure that sentiment over distant wrongs isn’t getting in the way of your own current service.
Anger and frustration over injustice in the world isn’t righteous anger if it gnaws at you and you can’t do anything with it. Pray. Pray imprecatory prayers, even. And then wait for the salvation of the Lord – which pretty much always comes in unexpected ways.
When we are consumed with feelings we can’t act upon, we are hampered from active service. Always use feelings to channel action, never to wallow and feel bad as if feeling bad is a virtue. The action you’re most equipped to take is prayer. And with prayer comes God’s peace that passes understanding.
With prayer comes the reminder that the world is not in our hands – or in the hands of chance, or in the hands of evil men – but in God’s. He’s got this. We don’t and can’t.
Pray for people. Pray for your eyes to be open to opportunities to serve. Pray that God will raise up people and provision. But don’t let yourself be filled and distracted with duties that are not yours or with a desire to control that is not yours or with “love” and “mercy” that stays in your feelings and imagination but isn’t directed toward the people actually surrounding you.
We can covet other people’s ministry opportunities, covet God’s power and control, covet even disadvantages. When we declutter our attitudes, we have to be willing to give over our imaginations and our feelings that amount to wanting to be someone else, somewhere else. Replace it with prayer for others and for gratitude. Gratitude will bring contentment and a heart and eyes ready to see and accept the actual opportunities God has prepared in advance for us to walk in. Gratitude will bring acceptance and trust that God will provide for all His people and that God will tell this whole big world-wide, history-wide story for His glory in all things.
Once the garbage is gone, the surplus distractions given to the One who has room for all things, and our minds are restocked with the attitudes that belong there – gratitude chief among them – we have decluttered our hearts and minds.
Just as with a cupboard – and even more so! – this is not a once-and-done project, but an ongoing. Entropy affects the material world, causing all things to tend toward disorder and disarray. Our sin nature affects our spiritual life, causing attitude messes multiple times a day. But the more often and the more quickly we appropriately deal with the mess – whether material or spiritual – the better we get at it, the more normal it feels, the more readily we jump right in to take care of our domain – whether that’s our cupboard or our thought-life.
Repent. Rejoice. Repeat.