Treasures and Spiritual Boxes

young woman surrounded by boxes - photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

I’m the kind of mom who thinks every stick figure her child draws is a masterpiece. As a result, I’ve found it hard to let go of any of my children’s papers or artwork. I once read that it is easier to let go of children’s creations if one sets them aside for a while, because over time, we become less sentimental and can let go of more. I thought that was a fabulous idea, so I boxed up all of the kids’ papers and artwork and set them aside. As life got busier, I let the boxes sit a little longer while adding more boxes that needed time to sit. The end result was a wall of boxes tucked away in a downstairs room in our house. It wasn’t really a problem until the pandemic hit and every corner of our home became fair game for Zooming. So, at the urgent prompting of my husband and sons, I decided to tackle the wall of boxes.

Based on my totally unscientific estimations, I figured I’d be done in a day or two. What I didn’t count on was the fact that each box was jam-packed with memories—and memories are imbued with emotions. With each paper and art project I uncovered, I remembered all the good things and all the hard things that were happening at the time.

It ended up taking me five whole days to get through my wall of boxes! I kept some items and recycled many more. In the process, I uncovered many forgotten treasures.

Perhaps it was my recent completion of this big project that made the words of the Gospel of Luke jump out at me: “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (2:19) I had boxed up all the “treasures” my children had made over the years, but it was only when I un-boxed them that I was really able to treasure them and ponder them in my heart. It made me wonder what things I have boxed up and stored away in my spiritual life that I have yet to treasure and ponder in my heart.

An Imaginative Exercise: Sorting Through Our Spiritual Boxes

We all have things stored away in our spiritual lives. Join me in an imaginative exercise as we sort through our spiritual boxes.

One of my favorite Jesuit writers, the late Fr. William Barry, devoted his life to sharing a simple, yet profound Ignatian concept: we ought to consider Jesus as a dear friend with whom we can share anything. Imagine sitting with Jesus. We can feel completely comfortable, supported, and safe having Jesus there with us as we open these spiritual boxes.

As you delve into the boxes, consider the following questions.

  • What things are you finding that bring you happiness or joy? What pleasant memories or emotions are arising that you might like to treasure? How do you notice Jesus reacting?
  • What are you coming across that reminds you of difficult or painful times? How do you notice Jesus reacting as you remember these hard times? If he offers you comfort and extends his hand to take these memories, can you let go of them? If you notice resistance within yourself to letting go, treat yourself gently, with compassion, and simply ask the Holy Spirit to give you the grace to work on letting go.
  • How does it feel to unbox all of these things that have been taking up space within? How would it be if you sorted through things every day instead of boxing them up? What if you noticed the treasures each day and even kept them on display in your heart? What if, instead of allowing unpleasant memories to stay, you spoke with Jesus about those things every day and worked with him to take care of them? The Examen can be a wonderful help with this.
  • Going through these boxes, are you finding any wonderfully pleasant surprises? Savor them! Ask Mary to teach you how to treasure and ponder all of these things in your heart.
  • Finally, have you noticed any moments when you put God in a box, perhaps telling yourself, Oh, God couldn’t possibly do that for me, or, Even God couldn’t…? Ask God for the grace not to “box in” God so that God can surprise you!

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels.

15 COMMENTS

  1. Your article on ‘Treasures and Spiritual Boxes’ is full of memories and meanings. Thanks Rebecca. Unpacking those boxes is recreating coherence and enhancing spiritual wellness. I enjoy the exercise.

  2. Can someone give an example of what a “spiritual box” might be? I like the idea of this exercise but I don’t know where I would even begin…

    • Hi Suzanne,
      Sure, if the box imagery doesn’t resonate with you another way to start this exercise might be to think about your memories. Which memories come to mind a lot? Consider newer memories and older memories. Continue with the imaginative exercise from there.
      Peace,
      Rebecca

  3. Rebecca I really loved this: “Imagine sitting with Jesus. We can feel completely comfortable, supported, and safe having Jesus there with us as we open these spiritual boxes.” You know you sit to do a contemplative practice and your mind starts to throw at you all sorts of memories thoughts feelings etc and sometimes its very difficult to sit with them grounding yourself to unpack them and I tried your suggestion of inviting Jesus to support us and create a safe inner sanctuary to go through such experience was revealing. May God Bless you for such insight

  4. I believe it is difficult to systematically “unbox” your emotions, even as they are linked to memories. For some it takes a spiritual counselor or a therapist. In my own life the Holy Spirit speaks to me in flashes of insight, by way of the people in my life and those whom I encounter during the Covid-19 pandemic. Unlocking those painful emotions takes concentration, focus and prayer but it is difficult to schedule this activity through the daily Examen. The Holy Spirit spears us with those often painful insights that emerge in conflict with loved ones or our own internal failures and emotional upheaval. When the spiritual exercises are prompted by the presence of the Holy Spirit, I can truly unbox those painful emotions and change my behavior, but unfortunately it takes moments of inspiration. It feels random, but I know it isn’t.

    • Hi Carlotta,
      Thank you so much for sharing. You bring up a great point. Counselors, therapists, and/or Spiritual Directors can be very helpful, and often absolutely essential, as we go through our boxes.
      Peace,
      Rebecca

    • Keep in mind, this article offers an imaginative exercise. Nothing written in this blog post should be considered as a substitute for mental health care. One should always seek the guidance of a mental health practitioner with questions regarding mental health.

  5. I loved this – all those boxes.

    I think, though, that we value ‘treasures’ more, as we look for them in past memories. Treasuring them as they happen, requires a different emotion and a different attitude, I think.

    • Hi Sandra,
      Thank you for your comment. I agree, emotions and attitudes toward our treasures seem to change over time – almost like the flavors of fine wine or cheese that become richer and more complex over time.
      Peace,
      Rebecca

  6. Thank you so much. That was a wonderful article. I loved how you worded it, so one feels validated. I am working on many, many boxes of papers that over the years I just haven’t had the chance to go through because of life, illness, etc. I beat myself up of why I can’t go faster and have’t asked the Lord to help me “let go.” The spiritual section is absolutely wonderful. It is exactly what I needed to hear today.

    • Hi Suzanne,
      Thank you for your kind words. I think nearly everyone today accumulates some boxes (physical and spiritual) as life happens and it’s important to be compassionate with ourselves as we go through them. It’s hard work! When I went through my pile of physical boxes, I asked the Holy Spirit to give me the strength and motivation to get through them. I do the same when I’m working on spiritual boxes. Spiritual Directors are very helpful in helping with sorting through spiritual boxes as well.
      Peace,
      Rebecca

  7. This is absolutely wonderful and I’m going to try to do this

    It has come at a very apt time in my life

    Thank you for this sharing

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here