De-cluttering the Past
What have you done during our time of distancing and semi-isolation? It seems like a peculiar thing to do on one of the finest days of the year and now that the world is “opening up”, but I decided to clean out my garage. Thanks for the inspiration, Shelley! I chose the garage because the basement is far too daunting and it can wait for a rainy day.
I chose to go through the banker’s boxes I’ve stored and throw out what I can. What those boxes contained were the accumulated documents, course notes, binders, and various academic papers and lecture notes as well as projects I’ve initiated from the time when I was first studying theology in Louisville Kentucky up to my retirement in 2012.
I’d already given away most of my theological library to anyone who could use the books. These papers were the last remnant of that time. The most difficult to let go of were the various seminars on a variety of topics that I’d led over the years. One envelope that tugged most at my heart strings was from 1971 and contained my application to study clinical pastoral care as well as my supervisors’ assessments of me during those years. I re-read them and remembered myself in my mid-twenties wrestling with the issues I had to overcome. A bit like Scrooge on Christmas eve, looking back to an earlier time as a young man.
Finally, I had to decide whether to send all of it to the shredder or put them back in the garage. The choice had already been pre-determined for me; because as I looked through the boxes and boxes of data, one thing became obvious: I don’t need this anymore. I am not that person I was so many years ago and what lessons that still need to be learned will not be done in the classroom.
Nor am I likely to offer any of those seminars I once did. There are younger men and women whose training is more current and who have the day to day contact that I no longer do. And I am just fine with that. As Ecclesiastes says, there is a time to every season.
It’s all about part of de-cluttering from the past. I find in my prayer time, that’s a recurring theme as well. Memory brings to the fore-front those losses that have befallen and I can reach out and touch them, but that was then, not now. Memory also brings to mind my failings and I can reach out and often still feel the pains and regrets. But each time when I commit those things to God, I find the Spirit lightening the load and helping me to declutter from those as well—the things past and gone, and unchangeable. And of course, there are the shiny memories that I will hold onto.
As I packed each box into the back of my SUV in preparation for disposing of them, I have to say I felt lighter. The garage looked neater as well. And by God’s grace, my heart feels lighter as well.
In the prologue to my Doctor of Ministry thesis I used saint Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13. “Now abides faith, hope and love; and the greatest of these is love.”
Faith that the past is in God’s hands; hope that the future belongs to the One calling me forward; and love, in that I know that the person in charge knows me and cares about and is invested in me personally. Those convictions make all the difference.
One thing I do wonder is what role I have now that those formal tasks are concluded. I am fine with waiting to see what God has for me to do. In the meantime, I feel a bit freer to enjoy the moment.
PS, I did keep one old dog-eared book: Lectures and Conversations by Ludwig Wittengenstein. I have to have it handy when Tim and I watch re-runs of Breaking Bad.