Columnists > Voices
Krieg Barrie

Spring mental cleaning

Faith & Inspiration | The time to tidy up homes is also a good time to tidy up heads

Issue: "The GOP’s Greg Abbott," May 31, 2014

Jesus in chapter 16 of Luke commended the unjust steward to show us that “the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” Or, otherwise put, we can learn much from people who don’t care about God, and it’s a shame that many people who do care are not wiser. 

You may by now have completed your decluttering spring cleaning, but how have you decluttered and organized your life? A 2001 book with not one mention of the word “God” in it helped me. I wrote about David Allen’s Getting Things Done back when I managed a seminary café: His words on clarifying goals helped harness free-floating anxiety by suggesting I formulate a single clear sentence: “My goal is to make a good sandwich.” 

Once I had that I was able to work backward from the turkey wrap to the steps required: turkey and cheese; restaurant-quality meat slicer; local wholesaler; membership to wholesaler; state certification; personal food handler’s course; posters for advertising; magic markers for posters. …

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I’ve also been able to transfer Allen’s worldly tips to the spiritual domain. No, this is not Benny Hinn’s prosperity gospel. Rather, the same thing astonishes me that astonished Jesus: People who really mean business—whether believers or heathen—figure out how to get things done. Alcoholics Anonymous has its limitations, but I’ve probably heard 50 times this statement: “I wish the church were more like AA.” Christians who say that don’t mean they want to become nonsectarian. They mean they get a lot out of personal testimonies, one-on-one discipleship, and no-nonsense tips about how to quit falling.

“The sons of light” could benefit from Allen’s insights on keeping a clear head, as opposed to the prevalent mushy thinking that leaves us treading water. C.S. Lewis says the man on the street has “a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head” (The Screwtape Letters). That’s a recipe for inertia. Hear Allen’s advice on mental decluttering:

“First of all, if it’s on your mind, your mind isn’t clear.” How true. We go through the day with something vaguely gnawing us, yet we let it gnaw us and don’t confront it head-on. Allen recommends: “Write down what is most on your mind, what’s bugging you, distracting you. Now, describe in a single written sentence what it is. Now write down the very next physical action required to move the situation forward.”

Here is a real example: “What eats at me all day long is that my son never phones me.” There’s my one sentence. By writing that down I’ve changed my situation. Before, undifferentiated glumness ruled me. Now I have a clearer definition of what’s going on in my mind. At this point I take liberties with Allen and insert an extra step. I ask, “What is God’s perspective on the problem?” The answer is clear: “Trust in the Lord and lean not on your own understanding” (and many other wholesome truths). 

Picking up on Allen again, I ask myself what is the very next action that must be taken to move the situation forward? Desperate people make lists: “What shall I do … ? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do …” (Luke 16:3-4). My list was similar to the unjust steward’s: “Continue in moroseness and regret. Or, trust in the Lord and pick up the phone.”

Allen says, “You have to get into the habit of keeping nothing ‘on your mind.’” You will recognize this as the equivalent of Jesus’ command “Do not worry” (Matthew 6:25-34). Once I take the actionable step of phoning my son and committing myself to trusting God, I can declutter my mind of worry because I have done all I can do on the problem at the present time. I have taken it out of the Andrée “basket” and tossed it into God’s “basket.” 

There will be other things to do later, but “tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (verse 34). Spring cleaning done? Dust removed from all around you? Now work on what’s inside you.

Andrée Seu Peterson
Andrée Seu Peterson

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.


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