The thought occurred to me recently as I was attempting (yet again!) to clean off my desk: it is amazing how fast stuff accumulates!
Granted, some of that which piles up on my workspace is essential and worthwhile, and represents the minutiae of a busy life and an active church. But if I’m being honest, there’s a great deal there that should have long since been processed, recycled or tossed: pieces of unopened junk mail, catalogues from which we’ll never order, handwritten reminder notes to myself that have either already been dealt with or hopelessly forgotten (!), along with random leftover worship bulletins and meeting minutes. And then, of course, there are all the bits and pieces of things you hoped “to get to” in the near future but now remain as that which you need “to catch up on” from the past. All combined, these are the messes that not only clutter up a desktop, but also a life; and sooner or later, you find yourself having to ream out what you don’t, and won’t ever, need.
Think of that as a parable of sorts, and seems to me that there’s a pretty good Lenten discipline to be found there!
On the Christian calendar, we’re now a week into the season of Lent, which is the 40 days of spiritual preparation preceding Easter. Historically in the church, this is meant to be a time of repentance, almsgiving (that is, the act of giving to those in need), and self-denial so that we might remember our need for God and God’s great saving acts in the passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. How that’s actually practiced varies widely from tradition to tradition and from person to person; from “giving up something for Lent,” to a renewed commitment to prayer and the study of Holy Scripture. However it’s observed, for Christians Lent ends up being our shared “journey to the cross,” in that as day by day we draw ever nearer to Jerusalem and the earth-shattering events of Holy Week, we have an opportunity for reflecting upon that ultimate sacrifice made on our behalf; in the process deepening our relationship with the Lord, even as we are forced to confront who we really are.
It seems me that such a journey must always include some amount of “reaming out.”
Last week as we gathered in our sanctuary for a time of prayer and worship on Ash Wednesday, we remembered God’s call to “rend [our] hearts and not [our] clothing,” (Joel 2:13) a reminder that returning to the Lord requires from us not only a whole heart but also the desire to turn wholly away from old ways, old attitudes and old patterns of behavior so that we might truly face God and receive the blessings of his love and mercy. In the language of faith we call that “repentance,” but at its heart what this really means is we’ve made the decision to cast away all of the clutter of life, living and sin that as it accumulates not only gets in the way of our relationship with God but which also can all too easily destroy us as well.
In other words, for us to truly walk with the Lord means that we will need to sort through and ream out all that which will always end up weighing us down and holding us back on the journey: the burden of old regrets and past mistakes; the debris of nagging doubts, lingering anger and long held fears; the sheer suffocation of choices made that always seem to leave us mired in sin and isolation. Indeed, when it comes to our having a faithful relationship with God, these are the things that trip us up every time!
Granted, this is rarely an easy process for any of us; to do the job thoroughly and well takes true honesty and a deep humility of spirit, not to mention the boldness to confront sin as something real and, yes, personal. After all, true repentance – in the Greek, metanoia – isn’t about turning away “ever so slightly” from who and where we were before; it’s about heading in a direction 180 degrees away from where we were headed before! It’s a hard turn, to be sure; especially when we tend to cling to so much that keeps us from changing course toward a faithful relationship with God. But when we have that determination to rid ourselves of all that cultch that takes up so much space in our hearts and lives, the good news is that with God’s help, grace and relentless love the way ahead to life abundant – and eternal – can be made clear.
Because one thing is for certain: whether you’re talking a desktop or one’s own heart, a clean work space makes all the difference in the world.
c. 2016 Rev. Michael W. Lowry