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?

Table Of God's Love_KimberleeConwayIreton

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.

KIMBERLEEConwayIreton_GT_INstagram

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.

K. C. Ireton / Posts / Blog

K.C. Ireton is the author of two books and the mother of four children. An avid reader, she believes that a day without books is a day without meaning or joy. She also likes food, especially when her husband prepares it. Vive le weekend!

  • Meredith Bernard

    Wow, you are speaking to me today, Kimberlee. And this sums up so well what and why I need to do the exact same thing you are doing in your own life, “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.” I can’t tell you how many things I have in my physical closet and my spiritual closet that I just need to let go of and give to Him to reconcile, redeem and make new as only He can. I needed the confirmation you’ve given me today. Thank you. <3

    August 19th, 2015 8:39
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    • Kimberlee Conway Ireton
      http://www.kimberleeconwayireton.net/

      You’re welcome, Meredith, but I had very little to do with it. This has God written all over it, don’t you think? I love how He does this–prompts me to write this piece, which just “happens” to be posted on a day when you needed to read it in a place where you would. My prayers are with you as you begin the process of cleaning out your closets–external and internal. It isn’t easy, but it’s so so worth it. I need to get back to sorting through my closets, too.

      August 20th, 2015 0:29
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  • Lynn D. Morrissey

    Kimberlee, thank you for an unexpected sharing at the Grace Table. It’s an interesting post. I have done much the same as you–let go things I never thought I could, including many of my beloved books, which my husband swears were sinking our house! It felt like sacrilege to put a book in the trash (and these could not have been passed on…they were too worn and marked up). We got so far, and then things happened called life, and now I have stalled. Just yesterday, I went back to this, sorting music that had become disarrayed since the last sort-out. Your post is a wonderful reminder to finish this ONCE. AND. FOR. ALL. The other purging is far harder. I too did exactly as you did with a friend I had tried to reach out to for several years, who kept growing more and more distant, and finally stopped communicating. I never understood what had happened, and felt God’s prompting to write to her as you did. I too resisted (a lot). I’m so glad that I obeyed, because now we have resumed our relationship. You didn’t say whether you and your friend are communicating again, and I pray that you are. Still, if not, you will be at peace, knowing you did all you could to let go your pride, obey the Lord, and reach out in love. It’s okay to possess some things in excess–to have them in abundance, like love, peace, obedience, and joy. I think, in fact, our tables should overflow with them. I loved your post! Thank you. And btw, I LOVE YOUR BOOK, TOO!
    Blessings,
    Lynn

    August 19th, 2015 9:22
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    • Kimberlee Conway Ireton
      http://www.kimberleeconwayireton.net/

      Oh, Lynn, thank you. I’m so glad you like my book. My heart feels happy hearing that 🙂 I, too, have stalled. I got to the homeschool closet and just…stopped. I need to write it down on a calendar, what day I’m going to tackle it, so that it gets done. And just for the record, I still own close to 2,000 books. There are simply too many that I love, plus the ones written by friends, plus the ones my kids love, plus the ones my husband loves, plus the ones we’re using for school this year. Besides, I believe in books, even if they sink my house 🙂

      August 20th, 2015 0:23
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      • Lynn D. Morrissey

        Yes, Kimberlee….I’m thinking I will make a date with myself, too (several) and really be intentional with this. My family and I came so far w/ this during spring break, and really, with a concentrated effort, I thnk we can nail it. oh, 2000, and I thnk even you may have me beaten. I’m not sure my husband will care, though. he’s still worried about that basement! 🙂 Yes, your book is wonderful and definitely a keeper! Is there another on the horizon?

        August 21st, 2015 0:07
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        • Kimberlee Conway Ireton
          http://www.kimberleeconwayireton.net/

          Lynn, you just made my day! Alas, no book on the horizon at present. I’ve written two, though, and it sounds like you only have one? Circle of Seasons is about the church year, and Cracking Up is about how God met me in the midst of the postpartum depression I experienced after my twins were born.

          August 22nd, 2015 19:22
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  • Jody Ohlsen Collins
    Jody Ohlsen Collins

    Earlier this year I heard a word from the Lord about healing–“people can’t be healed until they’ve been heard.” WE need to hear ourselves declare the places that are hurting us, especially the invisible ones.
    Great post, friend.

    August 19th, 2015 12:51
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    • Kimberlee Conway Ireton
      http://www.kimberleeconwayireton.net/

      “We need to hear ourselves declare the places that are hurting us.” Yes. Exactly. We try to stuff them, ignore them, deny them. But that only drives them further underground–and then they erupt in unexpected (and often icky) ways. I’m learning to acknowledge them and then give them to Jesus. That sounds so trite, but I mean it literally–I sometimes touch whatever part of me hurts–it’s usually centered in my heart or gut–and physically pick up the pain (or anxiety or fear or whatever) in my hand and then place it in Jesus’s, for Him to do with as He pleases. It’s been an amazingly helpful practice, not stuffing, not wallowing (both of which I’m prone to); simply acknowledging and surrendering.

      August 20th, 2015 0:18
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  • Leah Adams
    http://www.leahadams.org/

    Oh my, we have us some clutter around our house. I am one that throws anything out that I have not used it in 10 minutes. My husband is the ‘but we might need it’ kind. Isn’t it interesting how God uses circumstances to teach lessons…parables of sorts. Lovely post, Kimberlee!

    August 19th, 2015 16:50
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    • Kimberlee Conway Ireton
      http://www.kimberleeconwayireton.net/

      Thank you, Leah. I like that word ‘parable.’ I hadn’t thought of this in quite that way, but it’s apt. I think I’ll steal it 🙂

      August 20th, 2015 0:12
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  • pastordt

    Oh, yeah. I SO get this. We just moved, after 18 years of living in a large home, with THREE sheds on the property and closets up the yin-yang. SO.MUCH.STUFF. And I went through like a tiger and dumped tons of it. Tons. Yet as I’m unpacking, here in our somewhat smaller home with a much smaller lot and not much in the way of closets . . . I still have too much. Yeah, purging is good. And hard. And often connected to that soul work that God is so very good at. Thanks for this – nice to see you here.

    August 20th, 2015 20:39
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    • Kimberlee Conway Ireton
      http://www.kimberleeconwayireton.net/

      Nice to see you here, too, Diana. I saw some photos of that new home of yours. It looks lovely, especially the view!

      September 14th, 2015 16:48
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  • SimplyDarlene
    SimplyDarlene

    the more i scale down, the more i want to purge. it’s been freeing. but, until i read your article, i didn’t connect fear to the reason i’ve kept so much for so long.

    hoping your letter was received with an open heart.

    blessings.

    August 25th, 2015 14:04
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    • Kimberlee Conway Ireton
      http://www.kimberleeconwayireton.net/

      Thanks, Darlene. My letter was received with an open heart, gracious and forgiving, and I am grateful.

      September 14th, 2015 16:47
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