Our lives get easily cluttered. That’s because we live in a complex world with many competing demands. Many of those things are good things. But we can’t do them all. We need to prioritise so we know what to say ‘yes’ to – and so we can say ‘no’ as well! Interestingly most experts in strategy argue that for an individual as well as an organisation, elimination is one of the keys to effectiveness. It’s what you don’t do that creates space so you can concentrate on the important things that you need to do.
My mum grasped something of this when she had breast cancer some years ago. I remember visiting her in hospital as she was recovering and she told me that being ill and thinking about dying had helped her re-evaluate what was important. So I asked her about her conclusions. Here’s what she said. ‘Most things we think are important, aren’t. When it comes down to it, two things are important. God and people. Living close to God, and spending time with people – family, loved ones, lonely people and struggling people.’ I remember thinking, ‘Wow! That’s really profound. And really true!’
So how do we do this? How do we keep it simple? One of the answers is to de-clutter. In From Clutter to Clarity Nancy Twigg defines clutter as ‘anything that complicates your life and prevents you from living in peace as you live out your purpose’. Clutter is like excess baggage that we don’t need. ‘Think of clutter as heavy baggage’ says Twigg, ‘physical, emotional, and financial baggage that weighs you down, holds you back, and keeps you from manoeuvring effectively through your life’. This is the exact point I was making in the talk I gave on Sunday at The Belfrey’s whole-church gathering. Picking up Hebrew 12:1 which tells us to ‘throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles’ I talked about getting rid of excess baggage that we don’t need. The bible is very clear. We should throw it off!
I know I have some excess baggage that I need to leave behind and I suspect that’s true of us all. Hebrews 12:1 tells us that some of that stuff is ‘sin’ – things that are wrong and bad and unhelpful. If we know there are sinful things in our lives we need to be brave and bold and get rid of them. Sometimes it helps to have a mentor or a trusted friend to work some of this through with. But don’t forget that God’s Spirit will help you with this, if you ask him. That’s one of his roles, to help clean you up (1 Peter 1:2). But Hebrews 12 says there are a lot of other things that are not necessarily bad or wrong but should still need to go, because they also ‘hinder’ us. Maybe they were helpful once, but they now just get in the way, cluttering up life. That’s why I’m urging people at The Belfrey to use this season of Lent to do some serious life-review. To slow down and take stock. For most of us that will mean some major de-cluttering. But the result will be worth it as life will become simpler.
Simplifying life doesn’t just happen. So slow down. Think. Pray. Listen to God’s Word and his Spirit. And then begin to get rid of the excess baggage. It will be worth it.