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.