Last weekend I carried boxes. I was helping my parents pack their house of 20 years, scouring the nooks and crannies of the place for the hard-to-reach, long-neglected and forgotten artifacts from my parents’ young adult days, toys of now not-so-young children, and a time when we once had one of the largest collections of VHS tapes in the United States which, for some reason, had not been culled.
After cleaning out parts of the garage to stage packing a U-Haul; after rescuing the remnants of the attic; after descending to the depths of the basement only to emerge like Sisyphus with another box on my back (OK, carried in my arms), I did the most loving and considerate thing my imagination could conjure. I ordered them a dumpster.
The dumpster was long overdue. Some boxes had been left unopened from moves in previous houses, cities and decades. Some boxes contained shoddily-restored objects from a fire nine years ago. Some boxes were sadly waterlogged, resting as they had been on the basement floor. So to recap: boxes were full of objects that were unopened, unknown, smoke-damaged, water-damaged and smoke- and water-damaged.
Into the dumpster went high school yearbooks, moldy books, moldering clothes, broken furniture. Into the dumpster went papers and pictures, memories and mementos. Charged with being unsentimental, I replied that someone had to be. Sometimes the old needs clearing before the new can begin to grow.
We don’t know how the clutter builds, we just know that it does. Over the years our lives become full of things that are probably unnecessary but something holds us back from changing them. Even the unhealthy patterns seem too much a part of us for us to let go.
This clutter isn’t restricted to physical space. Often the clutter has to do with our time. Appointments and meetings crowd out play and rest. Work makes its home in our house with computers and smartphones. The false respite of technology supplants the true rest of sleep. Relationships are mediated through a glowing screen.
We lose room for spontaneity, because our time is so full of things, like a basement that hasn’t been cleared out for a long time. It doesn’t matter who you are. Things are always competing for space in our houses, calendars, imaginations. We lose room for God, who can never just be one competing priority among others. How did we get so much clutter?
If you are a student your day is conveniently segmented into blocks. The bell tells you when to move. Even after school your time is filled with activity.
If you’re working you punch the clock and accomplish a task. Or you block your calendar and answer emails. You use these things to clear through the chaos of a never-ending stream of obligations, like a machete hacking through the jungle.
If you have young children at home your work is not done until late. Really, it’s never done. Even if your children are a bit older it just means you’re either a chauffeur or you have a whole other set of anxieties that crowd into your imagination.
If you’re retired you know that’s no vacation. You have things to do without the benefit of order and structure that the work and the family life of younger days give. Maybe you’re busier than you remember being before.
These are just the normal problems, too. Then there are the extraordinary stresses of illness, or caring for an aging family member, fighting addiction or losing a job. None of these promise relief.
The statistics are dire — the amount of time we work, sleep, spend on our phones — and we forget that Sabbath rest, peace, stillness were made for us (Mark 2:27).
Jesus said “come to me all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Not rest as in a break in your day. Not rest as in a good night’s sleep. Not rest as a long-delayed vacation. Jesus promises nothing less than the peace passing all understanding — that he’ll take all the junk in the midst of our lives and carry it himself.
Amidst all the clutter, it’s the one thing we seek.
Will Scott is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Dalton. His column appears the fourth Friday of the month.