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priscilla-du-preez-228220We have lived in our home for twenty-two years.  It’s a wonderful two-story with five bedrooms and was great while we were raising our family but now we have plans to build an easy-to-maintain single story home with a fabulous pool in the backyard for all the grand kids to enjoy on hot summer days.  With that in mind, I have begun the arduous task of cleaning out closets, drawers and various spaces where I have stashed excess items through the years.  Not an easy job!

To help inspire me I ordered a little book by Marie Kondo, a young woman from Japan who has become a bit of an international sensation with her consulting business in Tokyo helping clients transform their cluttered homes into spaces of serenity and inspiration.  She calls it the “KonMari Method” (a blending of her last and first names).  Basically, the most important part of her methodology is learning to DISCARD everything which is not useful, important, or does not bring you joy.  After the purging process, she then encourages her clients to sort and store things by category in the most functional fashion.

Her book ends with this sentence, “Life truly begins after you put your house in order.”  She explains that once you have rid your living space of clutter, disarray and distractions, you can “pour your time and passion into what brings you the most joy, your mission in life”.

As I read the final passages of her book, I couldn’t help but put a spiritual spin on her thoughts.  Ephesians 2:10 declares “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do”.   But before we can do those good works or fulfill our life mission, sometimes we need to “clean house”.  Often we stuff things in the closets and drawers of our hearts because we don’t want to take the time or effort to deal with them.  We just want to keep moving and “live life on the fly”, hoping things will look presentable on the surface while we ignore what’s underneath.

Often we stuff things in the closets and drawers of our hearts because we don’t want to take the time or effort to deal with them.

Sometimes life circumstances present themselves in such a way that we are nudged toward the emotional cleaning and clearing out we have so long avoided.  Such was the case with Maria Goff, wife of well known author and speaker, Bob Goff.  

When their three children were young, their family spent summers helping out at a Young Life camp which was up in Canada.  One summer the logging company who owned the land started cutting down  the magnificent cedar trees.  Feeling compelled to protect the beauty of the inlet they were on, over the next several years the Goffs bought most of the forest around the camp.

A few years later they decided to build a lodge where the counselors and volunteers from the camp could come to find the rest they needed.  For twenty years they built roads, a hydroelectric plant and buildings, expanding The Lodge each summer.  Over the years they invited world leaders, artists, singers, writers, heads of corporations and a few Olympic gold medalists to be their guests. The beautiful hand hewn cedar log lodge sitting on a lake was the backdrop for many wonderful family memories including their daughter’s wedding.

One night they received a call at their home in San Diego telling them the Lodge was in flames.  As Maria describes the event in her book, Love Lives Here, “The fire at the Lodge was biblical.  There were hardly even ashes left by the time it was over. . . Everything I treasured the most had been incinerated.  For all of the terrible losses, the worst one was that the one place in the world where I felt truly safe had been taken away from me.”  Twenty years of labor and memories had been destroyed in about two hours.

“For all of the terrible losses, the worst one was that the one place in the world where I felt truly safe had been taken away from me.”

Describing that time period, Maria says, “Within weeks of the fire, I realized something had shifted deep inside of me.  The trauma from the fire, the loss, the feeling of not knowing how to make sense of it, all this caused emotions to bubble up to the surface.  This unwanted cocktail of memories made my grief even more complicated; I really couldn’t tell what was going on or where those feelings were coming from.  As a child, I had learned to bury feelings I didn’t understand.  But now, a whole life full of feelings had arrived. . . and I knew I couldn’t ignore them anymore.”

Finally she knew she needed to get help so she and Bob went to a therapeutic retreat center just outside of Nashville.  In Maria’s words, “I thought I was there to talk about the Lodge fire, but it turns out I couldn’t have been more wrong.  When Laurie asked me why the Lodge was important to me, I told her it was the only place where I felt truly safe in the world.”

The therapist, Laurie, then asked if there had been a time in Maria’s life when she hadn’t felt safe.  As tears began to flow, Maria recounted one of her earliest childhood memories of being dropped off to spend the night with a relative who later that evening molested her.  Maria says, “Nothing about my life seemed the same again.  The next day, it seemed as if all the colors in the world had changed after that night.”  She had never told anyone.

When she finished recalling her memory, the therapist finished her last sentence with, “. . . and so the Lodge became your safe place.”  Her husband Bob, who was sitting through the session with her, told her how sad and sorry he was that this had happened but that if it took the fire to unearth the pain of her past, he would let the Lodge burn down all over again.

Just as Japanese organizational expert Marie Kondo says it’s worth the effort to rid a house of unnecessary clutter so the person or family living there can function with more freedom and ease, Marie Goff has learned that cleaning up and clearing out emotional baggage which has been weighing us down  frees us as well.  “I’ve leaned over the years that it’s worth doing the hard work to get to a healthy place”, she says.

Cleaning up and clearing out emotional baggage which has been weighing us down frees us as well.

The life we’ve been given is precious.  I pray if you are struggling with “inner clutter” which makes it difficult for you to function or to enjoy life you’ll seek help.  Whether at your church, with a trusted counselor or alone in prayer, it may be time to do some active discarding of those things which serve no good purpose for you.  

I love Isaiah 42:6-7 which says, “I am the Lord, I have called You in righteousness, I will also hold You by the hand and watch over You.  And I will appoint You as a covenant to the people.  As a light to the nations.  To open blind eyes, To bring out prisoners from the dungeon and those who dwell in darkness from the prison.”  God loves you and desires for you to live in freedom.

Before Maria Goff left the retreat center she thumbed through her Bible and took out a few old family photos which had been tucked in its pages.  One had a rare photo of the man who had molested her standing in the background.  She decided to burn it in the fire pit of the retreat center.

“As the flames curled the photo into a wispy ball of ash, I knew I no longer needed to fear the fire that took the Lodge or my past the fire had exposed.”  Maria was free of the unexplainable fear that had plagued her for as long as she could remember.  She had finally put her house in order.