When Wendy and I first moved to Northern Ireland in October 2017 we brought very little of our possessions with us. Financially, shipping all of our possessions across the world was just not worth it. And so, when we heard the news that our initial visa had been accepted and I had permission to come and work in Northern Ireland, we very quickly began to sift through all our possessions to determine which ones we would keep and which one’s we would have to give away or donate to charity.
Arriving in Northern Ireland with very little stuff was in a way quite liberating. Obviously we needed some essentials, which my Mom had collected from various charity shops in preparation for our arrival. And we also received some generous gifts from a few congregation members that helped us to begin to create a home.
But having left many of our possessions and our furniture behind in South Africa, made us realise that one’s happiness does not ultimately depend on one’s stuff. It was a period in which we experienced the truth of the teaching of Jesus that “one’s life does not consist of the abundance of one’s possessions” (Luke 12:15), and that in fact having less possessions can indeed be freeing and liberating.
Now since our first arrival in Northern Ireland, five years and 3 months have passed, and as happens in life, during that time the number of our possessions has once again begun to grow. Our good intentions of wishing to live a simpler life have slowly been eroded away. Up until recently I should say! Because a few weeks ago Wendy sprung into action and began a program of clearing out! Items that we have not used in 4-5 years have all come under her scrutiny and a few trips to drop things off at the charity shop have already taken place.
My specific weakness is with books! Wendy’s desire for clearing out some of the unnecessary stuff has made me begin to look at some of the books on my shelves in my study. I have not quite got there yet, but I can see that the time come for me to look critically once again at the number of books on my shelves.
Talking of books on my book shelves, I picked up one the other day, called the Rules of Life by Richard Templar. Rule 46 is entitled Prune Your Stuff Regularly. If I was an evangelical Christian, I might have thought that God was speaking to me at that moment! And indeed maybe God was.
Richard Templar writes the following words of wisdom:
Collecting clutter, clutters your home, your life and your mind. A cluttered home is symbolic of cluttered thinking.
He goes on to say that pruning your stuff on a regular basis gives you a chance to get rid of anything that is useless, broken, out of date, un-cool, uncleanable, redundant and ugly. He says that having a good clear out refreshes you, revitalises you, makes you conscious of what you are collecting – and anything that makes one more conscious, is indeed a good thing.
He suggests that one of the keys to living with success and clarity about our purpose in life comes in the ability to prune stuff, clear the clutter, and to sort the wheat from the chaff… which is a phrase that in fact comes from Jesus (Matt 3:12).
He suggests that often those who are having trouble getting lift-off in their lives are often those still running on the tarmac of their lives clutching black plastic sacks full of useless stuff.
As Wendy and I discovered when we first moved to Northern Ireland, there is indeed an unburdening effect that comes with pruning. As Richard Templar writes: You have more space in your home, a feeling of being more in control and you get rid of that slightly overwhelmed feeling that comes with having piles of stuff accumulating everywhere. But this also doesn’t mean that you have to live in a completely spotless house full of designer furniture and minimalist styling. Trying to live in the midst of perfection can be as emotionally overwhelming as having too much stuff.
All Richard Templar is suggesting is that if you want to find our what’s holding you back in life, starting by looking in the cupboard, under the sink, under your bed, in your wardrobe, spare room, or garage.
And it is a message that not only applies to our stuff. It is a message that could just as easily apply to other dimensions of our lives. Is it possible to become overwhelmed in life by having too many things in once’s diary, especially things that are just no longer life-giving?
Is it also necessary sometimes to consider doing a clear-out of some outdated thinking and beliefs that if we examined them closely we would realise are no longer serving us as they once did?
We all need a clear out, sometimes of our external world, sometimes in the way we fill our diary, but also sometimes of our internal world.
Today is interestingly, the first Sunday in Lent. Lent is traditionally a period in which Christian are invited to do some introspection, to consider our lives more closely, to turn from certain attitudes and behaviours that undermine or get the way of our relationship with the Divine and the abundant, joyful life that is our birthright as children of the Divine.
In the Gospel passage that is set for today, Jesus is pictured as radically pruning his life for a period of 40 days as he goes into retreat in the desert. It is there that he seeks to determine what is really important in his life, determining what his true purpose is in response to his spiritual awakening that happened in the moment of his baptism.
And he begins to find clarity of purpose when he returns to a life of utter simplicity. The cluttered thinking in his head becomes clear. The temptations that would make him veer off in a wrong direction become plain to him, and from this new found clarity, Jesus is ready to begin to engage again with the world, but now with a clearer sense of mission or purpose than he had before.
What overwhelms you in your life at this time? What kind of pruning may need to happen in your life today, or in the next few weeks or months? Do you need to prune some of the stuff in your cupboards or garage as Richard Templar suggests? Or is it the way you spend your time that needs to get pruned? Or do you need to carefully question or examine some old thoughts and beliefs that hold you back? Or maybe for you it is quite literally the roses in your garden that are waiting for you to attack them with your pruning shears.
In John’s Gospel we read these words of Jesus: John 15: 1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful”. What could these words mean for your today? Amen.