This month I embarked on what I have affectionately dubbed The Purging Project. It is an attempt to clear my life of all the unnecessary detritus that I have allowed to accumulate over the past dozen years. I got rid of some of it last summer when we moved, but I shamefacedly confess that I schlepped a whole lot of it to my new house with me.
One of my rules for this project is that I have to touch every single item before I decide what to do with it. I have to hold it in my hands and look at it. Only then can I decide whether to keep it or discard it.
In the past two weeks I have shed six bags of clothes and shoes, given away 500 books and magazines, and recycled or shredded six feet of paper—statements for credit cards I no longer have, reams of notes from classes or seminars that I have never looked at since I first wrote them, instruction manuals for every conceivable appliance, including a few we don’t own.
Why have I hung on to this stuff?
Partly because it’s invisible. Filed away in a cabinet or stored in a plastic bin, I never see it. I don’t even know it’s there. But some things—like that book I’ve never read or clothes I no longer like—I hang onto out of fear. What if I need this? What if I decide I want to read it? What if my aunt finds out I gave away this gift from her?
Never mind that I haven’t worn this shirt in years; that if I really want to read this book, I can buy another copy; that my aunt is dead and doesn’t care about the gift she gave me. Even with those answers ready on my tongue, I have still felt afraid to let these things go. The real fear is simply the letting go.
Letting go—of anything, even seven-year-old credit card statements—shifts things. It frees up space in your life. It creates a vacuum. And that is very uncomfortable. That stuff I’ve discarded was sitting on a lot of fear, was covering it up. Now that the stuff isn’t there, the fear is rising to the surface. I’m afraid I’m being decadent, profligate, wasteful, selfish. I’m afraid I’ll end up needing this stuff and won’t be able to replace it. I’m afraid that without these things I won’t remember my past, that I’ll forget where I’ve come from and how far I’ve come.
I did not know how much I trusted to stuff for my sense of security. I did not realize how all these books and papers and clothes and kitchen gadgets served as a buffer between me and my fears. I did not realize how well wadded with stupidity I had become.
About a week into my purging project, I sat in church and felt God gently, oh so gently, urge me yet again to reach out to someone from whom I’ve been estranged for over two years. God had been laying this person upon my heart since Thanksgiving, gently prodding me to reach out one more time. I wouldn’t. I kept saying not now. I kept saying maybe later. But this time I knew I couldn’t keep procrastinating.
I cried all the way down the aisle for communion and then left the service and sat in the prayer room and sobbed. I told God I didn’t want to do this. I told Him I was afraid I’d just be met with silence again. I was afraid I’d become even more bitter than I had been. And besides, it wasn’t fair! I’d already tried to make this relationship right. Why did I have to reach out again? Why couldn’t the other person reach out to me?
But I already knew I was arguing a lost cause. Even as I railed against the thought of reaching out, even as I quailed at the thought of further silent rejection, I knew what the real issue was. Fear. And pride. And finally, after two years, I was willing to let them go.
I was willing to say, Lord, I have been bitter and hard-hearted, and I have convinced myself that I was justified in being so. I have been stubborn and willfully blind, and I am sorry.
I was able to say, Lord, if this doesn’t result in reconciliation, I will choose not to become bitter. I will choose to accept Your forgiveness as sufficient and to live in the freedom of that forgiveness, no matter what happens.
That afternoon I went home and wrote a letter. The next day I mailed it.
I do not think it is a coincidence that I was finally able to let go of my fear and my pride during this time when I was ridding myself of so much of my old stuff. This broken relationship had become part of the landscape of my life, like those old credit card statements, mostly invisible and easy to ignore. I had buried it in a file box in my heart, unwilling to face the truth about it: that I was holding onto it for the same reason I held on to old clothes and books I’d never read: out of fear that I would lose part of myself if I let it go. As I was clearing out the accumulated detritus of my physical life, God was effecting a similar housecleaning project within.
God longs to bring all the hidden things to light, so they can be seen and dealt with. He wants me to bring all of myself to the table of His love, even the parts of me that I would rather ignore or hide or even bury. He wants me to bring them to Him and let them go. But I cannot let them go until I acknowledge that they are there, till I let them come out of hiding and be seen, till I hold them in my hands and name them. Only then can I surrender them into the hands of the One who already knew their names and who knows mine, the One who sees me clearly through all the layers of stuff and sin in which I try to hide myself, who looks on me with eyes of love.