My younger sister was coming to stay with me for three months while she does an internship in my city, so I found myself, on New Year’s Day, cleaning out drawers and closets for her in the spare bedroom.
I didn’t know all those months ago when she asked me if she could come that I would be considering what it meant to empty my life of all the excess
on that day. I didn’t realize that emptying those spaces of all my stuff for her would actually be a form of worship.
My closets weren’t full of things that I could easily get rid of, either. If all that stuff meant nothing to me, it wouldn’t have ended up in my closet. I’m actually not a pack rat.
I am, however, an idolater. And the scraps of paper and photographs and magazines and paint brushes I found had become like a golden calf at the base of Mount Sinai.
I gathered stale pieces of candy I had diligently carried back from China; I collected all of the Christmas cards I have received since 2004; I found an old poster from my church’s missions conference. I dumped all of those things in an old box to carry out to the garbage, emptying myself of the idol of the past.
Then, I tackled shelves full of craft supplies I never use: rubber stamps and stamp pads, scrapbooking paper and stickers, pony beads and rubbing chalks. These were not hobbies I had chosen for myself but ones other people enjoyed. In my effort to connect and please, I accepted and bought boxes of supplies, but not more than a handful of times have I ever sat down by myself to use these things. I prefer painting and drawing and writing.
So I gathered these things in a box, too. I will offer them freely to the people who will use them. As for me, I am slowly being emptied of the idol of other people’s expectations.
The room was becoming more cluttered than clean as I hunted and sorted. No longer was this about making room for my sister.
I handpicked three boxes of books from the shelves, some I had enjoyed and was hopeful to pass along to another who would love them. Those would be donated to a patient library at the Rehabilitation Hospital where my sister was doing her internship, and where I had once been a patient. Another bag of books consisted of gifts or garage sale finds that I just never got interested in. They would be donated to Goodwill. The other books I snatched off the shelves just needed to be thrown out. And so as each box was packed and sealed, I was tearing down the idol of the appearance of knowledge.
And then I dug deeper into the closets. In one, I found a box completely full of the cards I had received during my cancer treatment. At the time, each card I received had breathed life and brought hope. Now, I was just holding on to them out of fear. The same was true of the bags of medicine I found hidden away in the upper shelf of my bedroom closet. The drugs that filled those pill bottles and syringes was long past its time of helpfulness; all of it had expired, actually. But I had continued to hold on to it because I just didn’t know what was going to happen next.
That’s when I remembered the dog food.
When Precious died, I had just recently bought a new 40-pound bag of dog food. In my grief, I couldn’t sort through the details of how to donate it to the animal shelter just around the corner from my house. So instead, I held on to it. Held on to the sadness of it, the pain of it, the unfairness. Held on to it as it became stale and moldy and was no longer good for eating.
So those cards and pills and dog food all were thrown out, even as a part of my heart went with them. But I needed to be free, free from the idol of unfair suffering that I both resented and hid behind. I needed to empty myself of those things.
Not all of the bags and boxes of things I collected have found their final home. I am trying to donate and recycle and carefully dispose of things, and how to do that is not always so obvious. But they are no longer filling the space where I live, no longer taking the place where Jesus should be.
So this word that I chose for myself, this word that I have assigned to 2011, already I am feeling its weight and seeing its light.
I feel empty.
And it is good.
Today, I am writing in community with Bonnie Gray for her Faith Barista Jam. Today, we are writing about one word that God is putting on our hearts for 2011. I had chosen the word “empty” last week as my word for 2011, so today’s post is a follow up to what that word has meant so far. To see what words others are choosing, and what Bonnie herself is claiming for 2011, click on the button above to visit her site.