For the first time in 19 years, I stayed in Nashville over the Christmas break. I needed to air out. To clean stuff out. At first, it started with drawers and closets, under beds and inside wicker baskets holding all manner of sewing kits, lint brushes, and emery boards…I don’t think I’ve ever purchased an emery board in my life, but it turns out I have what it takes to become a supplier. Clothing I haven’t worn in a few years, papers “I need to get to” that are past needing to have been gotten to, cannellini beans that would have been savory in 2008—it all went away. I went to Goodwill, I recycled, I returned items I’d borrowed, I gave some things away, I took a trip to the dump. It was wonderful!
Paring down gives you eyes to see what’s important, it reminds you of the meaningful things you possess that you didn’t know you possessed because they were being obscured by lesser belongings, and it creates space for you to best utilize the essentials. What I didn’t realize is that this was a process the Lord wanted to do in my soul as well—paring down to the people and work He’s called me to so I can serve Him more effectively. It had been too long since I’d taken a good inventory.
Relinquishing the Good for the Best
This is certainly not new, but it bears repeating: The good things that tug on us get in the way of the best things. Most everything I pulled out of a drawer or closet was good and useful, but I had better and more beneficial items available to me. The former only got in the way. Similarly, after taking inventory of my year, I realized I’d said “yes” to many good activities that ended up stealing from the best ones I could put my mind and hand to. Whenever we say “yes” to something we’re necessarily saying “no” to something else. While it always pains me to part with something good, the freedom and efficiency that come with clinging to what is best never carry remorse. “Teach us to number our days carefully so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts” (Psalm 90:12).
Unloading the Bad for the Best
Perhaps my favorite trip of the great year-end purge was my drive to the dump. I unloaded items that weren’t fit to be given away or even recycled—they simply needed to go. Like heaving sandbags off a hot air balloon, after removing those items my home felt lighter and airier. Nothing left to trip over or maneuver around. It wasn’t but days later that the Holy Spirit showed me things in my heart and habits in my life that also needed to go. The intangibles like pride and self-reliance, but also the specifics such as too much time on my iPhone, or spending time on frivolous things that rob me of what’s meaningful. I made some adjustments and set some boundaries. These disciplines will help me get rid of what ultimately keeps me from flourishing. I will never tire of the imagery the author of Hebrews uses, “Therefore since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us, and run with endurance the race that lies before us” (Hebrews 12:1).
Sorting the Unnecessary from the Necessary
This step overlaps the first one—Relinquishing the Good for the Best—but it’s different in that it requires a good look at the people and work to which we’re called. I plotted out on a piece of paper the major parts of my work that I know I’m called to and thought about the people the Lord has entrusted to me as an aunt, sibling, daughter, friend, or minister. This gave me the clarity to see what the essentials are in my life. The nominal or simply good activities are more easily spotted once we’ve determined what’s non-negotiable. I think of Jesus’s words in Matthew 6:19-21 from His Sermon on the Mount, “Don’t store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Oddly enough, treasures in heaven can only be stored up from here on earth. As you consider what are the heavenly treasures the Lord wants you to seek, beware of the competing “good” things, be ruthless with getting rid of the competing bad things, and pare back on all things so you have the clarity to see what’s important. I have a feeling you’ll find more treasures worth living for than I found emery boards. And that’s saying something.