September 21, 2012

Clutter and Eternity

I have strong feelings about clutter. It affects my consciousness of eternity.

I've noted before how I'm learning that having an impeccably clean house is only beneficial if it serves the family living there. In the same way, the material things that fill our homes are only valuable to the extent that they serve their stewards. If objects in my home are simply taking up space, they're actually hindering me as I endeavor to make home a place of purpose.

You can organize your clutter, if you want; but organizing only goes so far. My favorite way to avoid clutter is simply not to own it. There are good thoughts on this in Organized Simplicity and at Small Notebook.

I like to joke around that getting rid of stuff makes me happy. It's actually true. Having a cleaner, more open, less cluttered home makes me feel calmer, freer, less burdened. I've thought a lot lately about why having fewer possessions is so important to me. Why does a weekend feel successful if I've eliminated rather than accumulated material things? I've been making a list of reasons. Some are very practical. Some are spiritual, and they reveal the link I see between clutter and eternity. Here's what I've got so far.

Having as few possessions as possible:

  • Makes cleaning easier.
    The fewer items I have to clean, the better. The fewer items I have to move in order to clean the bathroom or to dust, the better (and the more likely I am to actually get around to dusting...).

  • Is more conducive to hospitality.
    I'm far happier inviting someone into my home when it's uncluttered and clean. My home is more likely to be uncluttered and clean when there are fewer possessions inside it. Simple enough.

  • Makes life more efficient. 
    If I own fewer things, there's a lower chance that the items I do need will be lost under a pile when I go looking for them. If my kitchen counters are bare, it's easier to quickly get started making supper. Maneuvering around the office or kitchen is faster and more productive when nothing is in my way except for what I'm currently using.

  • Costs less. 
    Having fewer electronics uses less electricity. Not having a television means no cable bill and no remote control batteries to replace. Having fewer items to clean costs less in cleaning supplies. And maybe this one is a stretch, but I've been in homes where the number of possessions posed physical danger. Clutter scattered in the floor and stacked in every corner contributes to the risk of a fall. A bad fall may consume band-aids or produce medical bills. It might sound far-fetched, but falls are the number one cause of accidental injury deaths in homes.

  • Ensures that I steward well the things I do own.
    When a bathroom cabinet is overflowing with cosmetics, cleaning supplies, or bath products, everything seems to blend together. I open the cabinet doors, and instead of seeing each individual product, I just see a mess. When the same cabinet holds only a few items, I notice each one. I know exactly what products I have, and I can use up those items before they expire. The same goes for the pantry in the kitchen.

  • Helps prevent me from depending on material things for my identity, confidence, or comfort.
    I must find those in Christ, and in Him alone. When I possess fewer things and hold those things loosely, it's so much easier for me to keep Christ as my focus. Recently, I have parted ways with some things I truly loved, things that were very hard to give away. I had realized how tightly I was holding onto those things. I felt uncomfortable at the thought of going without them. That's when I knew they had to go. They had begun to compete with Christ as a source of identity, confidence, and comfort for me. Eliminating those items brought me great freedom and joy.

  • Helps me value relationships, experiences, and memories more than the possessions associated with them.
    Ironically, the fewer items I possess, the more loosely I find myself holding them. I think it's because once I experience freedom from a material possession that formerly weighed me down, I am eager to experience that freedom even more. I previously had a large collection of wooden nutcrackers and toy soldiers.There was a time when I guarded that collection with a fervor. No touching! At some point I realized that the dear children who begged to play with those toy soldiers would enjoy them much more than I would enjoy seeing them collect dust on a shelf. One by one, my toy soldiers lost wooden arms and hats and noses and swords. But as the collection crumbled, wonderful memories were built in its place. I recall receiving bright smiles every time I retrieved a nutcracker to serve as an energetic child's most coveted doll. Exuberant hours were spent playing together. To me, those memories and the relationships they nurtured are much more meaningful than the collection itself ever was.

  • Reminds me that there is more than this life.
    I walk around my home in a state of evaluation. What can I eliminate today? What deserves to be here? Why should I keep this in my home? Do I really need this? I pull a piece of home decor off a shelf, and as I tuck it into my "give away box," I think of the children who could've been fed for a day with the dollar that purchased that trinket.

    Being intentional about my possessions has caused me to think more deeply about them. I don't really possess them after all, do I? Even the items of sentimental value hold little or no eternal value. I have them for a little while, here on this earth. Then when my 70-something years are over, who cares what becomes of them?

    I wish that I could convert all the non-necessities — the dust-collecting decor, the unused Christmas gifts, the drawer full of accessories that feed my girlish vanity — into resources for eternal endeavors. For translating the Bible into languages that have yet to hear or read it. For keeping a hungry child alive for another day. For sending missionaries, with that Bible, to that child and her family.

    Keeping fewer possessions keeps me aware that there is so much more than this current life. 

    Maybe it's extreme or radical. Maybe it's just a passing phase. I hope it's not.

September 6, 2012

Six Rumors I Heard Before Marriage

I am no marriage expert. In fact, I am a marriage rookie. But I have learned some lessons over the past year and a half that no one could have taught me before I was married.

I thought of titling this post "Six Things I'd Like to Tell My Newlywed Self."

But the truth is that I had been told and had read these things before I got married. I just didn't really learn them until I lived them. Before I was married, it was as if these were rumors I'd heard whispered. But now that I've experienced the consequences of taking them seriously or not, I've seen with my own eyes that the rumors were true.

I'm still learning these lessons. Putting them into writing helps me stay accountable to live them out.

I list them in honor of the girl who walked down the aisle just a bit more naively but no more happily in love than she is now. They are Six Rumors I Heard Before Marriage (but didn't really get until I experienced them).
  1. Respect your husband, especially when he doesn't deserve it. 

    Men thrive when they feel respected and wilt when they don't. In order to be the biblical, different, holy man God is making him into, my husband needs my respect. He needs to feel it in the way I talk to him, how I talk about him, how I look at him, how I treat him. My tone of voice, my words, my body language, and my attitude work together to communicate respect.

    This is hardest when he isn't acting like a big strong man of God, but it's also most rewarding at those times. Happily, I've found I'm always ultimately more pleased with my husband when I've chosen to respect him through the hard times. It sometimes takes a while, but it always pays off.

    If for no other reason, I should respect him because God tells me to.  My husband recently posted about respect on his own blog. Check it out.

  2. You will probably discover things after marriage that might have been considered "deal-breakers" if you'd known them before marriage. That can actually be a blessing. 

    Unmarried girls, don't lower your standards of what a potential husband should be spiritually; but don't expect perfection in all areas. The best man in the world will have a personality quirk, annoying habits, a weird family situation, odd fashion choices, less-than-ideal hygiene, or something equally disturbing. Before I experienced how joyful and wonderful marriage is, I might have allowed such an idiosyncrasy to cause second thoughts about marrying my man. I'm glad I didn't know about some things beforehand.

    Sometimes God hides the "deal-breakers" from you until you're married, and it's a good thing He does. Once you're married, there's no breaking the deal. Instead you get the privilege of loving that man even though he isn't perfect. (Incidentally, he gets to do the same for you.) You get to experience what marriage is all about: God making us holy. You get to choose to love and thereby to be more conformed to the image of Christ.

    That sounds terribly unromantic when you're single; but it's truly incredible when you live it.

  3. Bearing responsibility for the spiritual and financial leadership of the household weighs heavily on him. That doesn't make him less of a man.

    God did indeed ordain for the man to be the spiritual leader of and provider for the home. However, those roles don't always come easily to him, any more than submitting and respecting come easily to his wife. It's not a sign that he is a less capable man when his leadership roles weigh him down; it simply means he takes them seriously. Be grateful for that. Even in the most stressful of circumstances, he does not need (or want) his wife to take over these roles. He does need her gentle support and encouragement then more than ever.

  4. Your dad has had a whole lot more practice at being a husband than your beloved has. Don't compare the two of them.

    If you've been blessed with an exceptionally wonderful father like I have, you may know what I mean. Your dad always spoke lovingly to your mom, paying the bills was no big deal to him, he could fix anything, and nothing scared him. Then you marry a man with at least twenty fewer years of experience than your dad; and you wonder why he isn't always the confident leader who knows just what to say and how to solve things.

    Marriage is just as new to your husband as it is to you. I would even suggest that in our current culture, men have less encouragement and fewer mentors in their Biblical marriage role than women do. Cut your man some slack.

    He's probably going to disappoint you more than your father did, partly because as the wife you're now privy to some of the fears and struggles that the man of the household faces. You both have a lot of growing to do. You have the privilege of watching your husband grow, of seeing God transform him into a mature, confident leader over the years.

    He's not your dad. Even in the future, he will never be your dad. He's not supposed to be your dad. You are your husband's helper in a way that you never were for your dad (that was your mom's job). So you're going to see your husband's struggles and fears. Your role is to love and help him through those. And never, ever to compare him to Daddy.

  5. Sometimes, he just needs space. 

    My man likes to play his keyboard. I like to walk up behind him and sneak a kiss while he's playing. But I have to remind myself not to be offended if he only responds with a grin, or even if he doesn't acknowledge at all. It doesn't mean he's upset with me, feeling distant, or uninterested. It just means he's focused on the task at hand.

    Another application: The silent treatment from your sister or best girlfriend might indicate that she's not happy with you. She probably wants you to prod and ask what's wrong, until you pry her feelings out of her and the two of you work it out. The silent treatment from your husband may just mean he's got something entirely unrelated to you on his mind.

    I've found that if I ask "What's on your mind?" once, that's enough. He usually wants some space to think it through. Later, when he's got his thoughts in order, he might suddenly open up and tell me all about it. But jumping to conclusions about our relationship based on his silence is a self-centered, immature move. So is bugging him for verbiage when he'd rather think than talk.

    As girls, we often think in words out loud or in writing. I've had to learn that my man isn't like that. He thinks inside his brain. When he's ready to talk, what he has to say will be worth the quiet wait.

  6. Physical intimacy is important to him, but only if his wife enjoys it. 

    Some books and some women will tell you, in essence, to "grin and bear it." Seriously? He really doesn't want to just be tolerated. You've got to truly enjoy it and let him know that you do. And you can truly enjoy it.

    That's all I have to say about that. :)

A few other miscellaneous lessons I'm learning:
I'm loving this pursuit of a marriage that honors God and blesses my husband. I hope that a year from now, I've learned at least twice as much.