My father recently moved in with us, and it’s been a time of great squishing. Making the journey to our home, we all squished, with all of his belongings, into a rented minivan. We then proceeded to squish everything into our home. It has been a little hard to move around all the stuff. Our house has been feeling markedly like a sardine can.
And so, the great purge of every nook and cranny of our home has begun. We are in the process of sharing-out toys, outgrown clothes, and superfluous belongings. We are letting go of the things we have held onto “just in case” and other things that have cluttered our lives just because we haven’t had the time to clear things out on a regular basis. The resulting space that we are recovering in our home is freeing. There is more room to move and more room to live. There is more space to focus on the things that really matter—and those things are not things.
As we clear the clutter from our home, I am reminded that Advent is a great time to clear the spiritual clutter as well. I ask myself, when Jesus comes, will there be room for him to stay, or will he find my heart and soul too cluttered? Am I hanging onto things I don’t need out of that “just in case” type of fear? Or, do I trust him enough to let everything go? Have I taken the necessary time to free up space for him? Is my priority, in fact, Jesus, or is it things or other attachments? When he comes, will I be able to respond to him freely, or will my movements be impeded by stuff that’s holding me back? My soul-cleaning goal is to be able to fling open the door to my heart and fearlessly let go of all of those things that might get in the way of his entry. Can I do this?
When soul-cleaning, I always turn to St. Ignatius Loyola, because he was a master of staying on top of the spiritual clutter. He advocated for a process of deciding whether to keep something or let it go, part of the process he called “discernment of spirits.” He taught his followers to ask in a consistent and disciplined manner: Is there anything getting in the way of my relationship with God? Are there any inordinate attachments cluttering up my heart or soul that might impede my spiritual progress?
Just as we do when we sort through the contents of our homes, we may discern every movement of our hearts. When discerning in the spiritual life, Ignatius teaches us to ask ourselves: Am I clinging to what I want or making room for what God wants? Does this bring me closer to God? Does this bring glory to God? If not, we get rid of it. So thorough was Ignatius’s ability to purge all that was not of God, that he even advised in his Spiritual Exercises that, “We should not fix our desires on health or sickness, wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or a short one” (SE 23).
St. Ignatius’s soul-cleaning method is based on a complete trust in God’s goodness. He was able to make ample room to welcome God into his soul, because he knew from experience that what God wants for each of us is far more than we could ever store up for ourselves. The result of his diligence was a pristine spiritual space with plenty of room for the Lord to operate.
And so, in the spirit of St. Ignatius, I pray:
Lord, help me to make room for you this Advent. Help me to clear out every nook and cranny of my heart and soul and to let go of all things that are not of you. Come into my heart. Give me the grace to respond to you freely and trust you completely. Fill me with your love and your grace. I know that you are all I really need, so please help me to choose you—every time. Let every movement of my heart and soul bring greater glory to you, Lord. Amen.
I need to clean so much clutter, and I know HE is there to help me through. Thank you for the beautiful prayer, it has cleared my mind.
In this world of political unrest, material things we worry about, etc., I find myself trying hard to keep it simple. Offering my worries to the Lord calms me down so I can focus being in the moment. Decluttering is an issue for me, but I’m getting better every day. When I want to buy something, I ask myself is it necessary? Many times the answer is no. Every morning I wake up is a special Blessing from above. When you have the Lord with you, things seem to unravel in the way they’re supposed to be. Be Still and Know I Am God.
In my simple mind, I would define “spiritual clutter” as anything that distracts and takes away our focus/attention from God. If the Pokémon game is occupying your mind and draws you to engage in, instead of thinking of the goodness of the Lord, I would consider that an example of spiritual clutter.
That’s a great question! My general rule of thumb when I’m trying to get rid of attachments- which may be physical, emotional, or spiritual – is to imagine myself literally holding the item up to the light and asking myself, “Do I really need this? Does this really give greater glory to God?”
Take, for instance, a cell phone. I might hold up my cell phone and ask, “Does this give greater glory to God? Am I drawn to praise him when I am using it?” Well, it depends, right? I may see a news story about the work of the talented scientists at NASA. I read it and I’m in awe of God’s creations – the stars, the planets, the cosmos – and I’m also in awe of God’s creation of human life. The fact that God created humans with such capacity to seek and understand through the sciences draws me into praise of God, I can’t help but praise God for God’s greatness and creation! Or, even if I read about destructive natural events, while I am pained seeing the destruction, I am called to pray for the affected people. All these bring me closer to God.
However, if I take the same object, a cell phone, and notice perhaps I spend too much time on it, say reading the news, on social media, gaming, and I ignore my duties and obligations, I neglect my work, family or my prayer life, I may be observing that this object is pulling me away from God. I may need to be more disciplined in my use of it or I made need to clear it out altogether.
So, the question is, “Does this thing, emotion, spiritual practice bring my closer to God or is it actually an end unto itself?”
Even things that seem on the surface to be good, if the glory isn’t going to God, we might want to clean them out. When St. Ignatius was young, for a time, he was given to severe penances – flogging himself and fasting nearly to the point of death. He realized that these mortifications were excessive and not necessarily always bringing him closer to God. So, in his later years, as he drew up the Constitution of the Society of Jesus, he advised his brothers in the Society to act in moderation when it came to such practices.
If you want to go deeper with Ignatius, there is a great book by David Fleming, SJ called, “What is Ignatian Spirituality.” It’s a short book but packed full of Ignatius’ wisdom. There is a chapter called, “A Way to Clarify Your Values” which discusses this particular concept of Ignatian Spirituality further.
I’m having a little trouble grasping the metaphor. Can anyone give some examples of spiritual clutter that gets in the way of welcoming Jesus? I used to think it was foolish to believe in anything you can’t empirically prove, and it kept me from believing in God at all for years; is that an example of spiritual clutter? I’m pretty worked up about politics right now; is that spiritual clutter? What about all the little game apps on my phone? It’s hard to play Pokemon Go and feel the presence of God at the same time, especially when some stupid little weedle breaks free of a pokeball for the third time and runs away.
And if those are all examples of spiritual clutter, what are some others? I feel like I have spiritual clutter, but I could use some clues in discerning what’s clutter I need to get out of and what’s important stuff I’m trying to weasel out of.
This reflection is timely and practical. Letting go of material things as well as false thoughts or past behaviors which do not serve me prepares more room in a physical, emotional and spiritual realm for the abundance of God’s grace and mercy through His Son Jesus Christ.
Thank you, Chris. Yes, God does wants to bless us in abundance!
Thank you for this Advent pause.
I appreciated this article so much I want to meditate on the Bethlehem inn. Just like there not being room in the inn, I feel Jesus could not find room in my soul…too much clutter. So I will clean up with this meditation and get rid of the clutter. Thank you and God Bless.