by Jill Richardson
“Clean up the basement.” It’s right there, at the top of my winter to-do list.
Currently, I have to push aside a lazy Susan turntable destined for some mythical garage sale and a half-used bag of potting soil to access the downstairs freezer. I need left over paint to build the sets for the play I’m directing at church, but I can’t dig deep enough to find the right color.
The second Christmas tree my kids begged we take from Freecycle now stands behind all their boxes of clothes and kitchen goods, deposited in our basement until the girls have a large enough home for their own clutter. The tree hasn’t escaped to celebrate Christmas for three years, and its emancipation is unlikely this winter as well.
Too many hobbies have given us too much stuff. A love of sentiment precludes jettisoning of old school projects, artwork, and memorabilia. It’s even possible that my Christmas addiction has resulted in a few too many boxes of decorations.
Unfortunately, “Clean up the basement” Has been on my winter to-do list for eight years. We do a bit of work, but ultimately, entropy reestablishes its monarchy and chaos is restored.
The closer I get to an empty nest, the greater the pull to make it really empty—to clear out those areas that harbor so much clutter I can’t find and use what I really need.
At a time in my life when I feel freer than ever to pursue my goals and dreams, I also feel hampered by all the “stuff” of life, like it’s tethering me to one place when so many places call. The gravity of clutter—physical, mental, and spiritual—pulls me down from the heights I see God ushering me toward.
I can smell and taste a clear basement. I just can’t figure out how to accomplish it.
I think this is true of my mental and spiritual space sometimes as well.
A few lines in Jesus’ parable of the soils untangle what that compels me toward simplicity.
The seed that fell among the thorns represents those who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life and the lure of wealth, so no fruit is produced. . . .Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted! (Matthew 13:22,23)
It’s the last line of the parable that stops me. “No fruit is produced.” My after-fifty years stretch out, shorter than what came before but promising more fruitfulness than I’ve imagined. I don’t want that impeded by any inability to sort through the junk to locate and use what I really need.
It’s the urgency regarding the other clutter, not the basement clutter, that matters most in the production of fruit.
The clutter of the lies my mind keeps whispering:
- Am I fooling myself that I can still compete?
- Do I have the energy to follow through if I start a new thing?
- There are so many other talented people who started earlier.
- What is there left to say about anything?
- What happens if they find out I don’t really know all this after all?
(Oh, that imposter syndrome, why can’t we be rid of it by this time in our lives?)
Each of these is a weed, climbing and twining itself around the good work God has planted in me, choking and stunting the fruit He has planned to harvest. Their tendrils squeeze my heart, and their burs stick deep in my motivation.
I want to quiet the thoughts, because fruit matters. Fruit is why I’m here. Allowing lies to shrivel and stunt the fruit means whoever was supposed to benefit from it goes hungry. Ultimately, fruit doesn’t feed me—it’s there for someone else.
So it occurs to me to simplify my thoughts as I simplify my basement. Take the hindering lies to the garbage dump and drop them in. Keep only the ones that help me to find and make use of what I really need.
The truths that I need are, of course, much simpler than the cluttering lies. God’s word always is.
- God has fruit for me to produce.
- God planted the right fruit in me where he wanted it when he wanted it.
- God will bring the nourishment to make it grow and be strong.
- God will use the fruit to give life to others.
That last is such a great honor that worrying about how much or how well seems intensely irrelevant and nearly sacrilegious.
The gravity of a cluttered mental life causes me to second guess my ability to produce God’s intended fruit. The truth of God’s words about that fruit takes some divine Round Up to the lies and kills them at their roots.
Like the basement clutter, I know more questions will come. More doubts will be planted and take root. It’s not a forever fix, this focus on God’s truth rather than lies. I lose center, and weeds grow behind my back faster than moss on the north side of a tree. Little by little, one piece of clutter at a time, we hope to weaken the lies by strengthening the truth, until one harvest morning when the fruit defies the weeds.
Thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted? I don’t know. I don’t have to. I just have to work on the clutter.
Jill is a writer, speaker, and pastor in the Chicago area. She loves her three daughters and husband, fish tacos, LOTR, Earl Grey, traveling, grace, and Jesus. She is currently working on her doctorate in church leadership. You can contact her at: https://jillmrichardson.com/