Last week I posted on Facebook that I was on the home stretch of 7 1/2 weeks spent cleaning out every room, closet, cupboard and drawer in my house, and selling our unneeded items on Craigslist. Several of my friends responded with statements like, “Wow – I’m impressed!” However, I must confess that I am no superwoman to be admired because I did not choose to spend my summer vacation this way. In fact, it’s the last thing I ever wanted to do. I am not the Organizational Queen, as some might think based on the event planning skills I’ve demonstrated, for when it comes to my home I am the Procrastination Queen.
Hello, my name is Brenda, and I’m a procrastinator.
I’ve managed to squeak through life as a procrastinator who usually kept all my balls in the air – with a great amount of self-induced stress – because I was organized enough to keep the balls from crashing down. Until last spring. I was praying about and struggling with whether or not I should continue this blog on top of homeschooling, teaching Sunday School, and other responsibilities at home. But more than that, I found myself continually praying for energy and coming up short. Was God not answering my prayers? Was there something between us?
Then God answered – in a BIG way. For the last 4 months, almost every devotional, sermon, magazine article, blog post, random inspirational quote I read or heard had to do with these themes: living life unhindered, living simply, good stewardship of resources, loving God more than earthly treasures, perseverance, denying self and following Christ, not storing up stuff as security but trusting in God. The loudest theme came from Mark 10:21, when Jesus was talking to the rich young man who wanted to know what he needed to do to get eternal life. This man had followed all of God’s commandments and done everything right, which is why I believe verse 21 begins with, “Jesus looked on him and loved him.” Do you need to hear that today? I sure do! As a follower of Christ who sincerely tries to obey his commands, sometimes I need to be reminded that Jesus knows my heart’s desire to do his will – and he looks on me and loves me! By the way, he loves you, too. But Jesus loves us too much to let us go through life lacking a key ingredient to joyful, abundant, eternal life here on earth and in heaven. So he tells the man, “One thing you lack. Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Seems kind of extreme, doesn’t it? I mean, surely God doesn’t expect all of his followers to be penniless. But here’s the heart of the matter for the rich man in the story, and for you and me: Are we serving our stuff or God?
I didn’t fully understand all the reasons at the time God began prompting me to clean out my home of all its excess treasures, but I knew that my prayers for daily energy, direction for my blog’s future, and financial wisdom would not be answered until I dealt with the obstacle of my bloated home. God was essentially saying to me, “I love you, but you’re lacking something. What’s holding you back from the abundant life you’re asking me for is your love of stuff and procrastination in dealing with the mess it creates.” Ouch. According to James 4, sometimes we don’t get what we ask for because we do it with wrong motives, to bring ourselves pleasure. God began to reveal to me that I wanted him to magically give me energy to teach, write, and create (essentially, to bring me pleasure), without dealing with the major energy-sucking source in my life – my home. It seems so ridiculous now that I would spend hours praying for energy, when if I’d only spent those hours praying while cleaning/organizing, my prayers would have answered themselves!
I wish I could say that the experience was refreshing and rewarding in the process, but honestly, it was the hardest 8 weeks of my life. If I were to write an essay on how I spent my summer vacation, it would include:
- Hours of hot and sweaty work in the garage, finally sorting through boxes of stuff we should have never brought with us when we moved 7 years ago, like college notebooks and childhood junk. (Did I really need to save that mylar balloon from high school that’s now stuck to random post cards from people I don’t remember?)
- Embarrassing realizations about myself, like among the things I love to buy but never use, including stationery and candles, is stickers. Not my daughter’s stickers. My stickers. Yes, I’m apparently still in the third grade.
- Sitting in a crumpled heap on the floor, surrounded by all the stuff I’d put off dealing with, overwhelmed with godly sorrow at my mismanagement of God’s resources and my time. Like the sickness you feel in December after too many indulgences that leads to a cleansing diet in January, godly sorrow serves a purpose, and sometimes it’s necessary to bring about true repentance (that lasts longer than New Years resolutions).
- Tears over separating with stupid things, like burp cloths (really????), because they remind me that I’m halfway through the at-home parenting season, and it’s going by so quickly.
- Frustration and disappointment as I spend hours taking pictures of our stuff (with a dog who has a camera-phobia and totally freaks out every time I take a picture, barking and stomping all over the items to be photographed), posting them on Craigslist, and dealing with flaky people who say they’re interested and don’t show up.
- Day after summer day, feeling like the work will never be done, but knowing that I don’t dare quit because God told me to do it.
However, my summer project essay would also include:
- Discoveries of funny or interesting items to share with the kids, like stories I wrote when I was their age and my husband’s plant collection from his plant taxonomy class that got our kids excited to learn about botany and start pressing flowers for craft projects.
- The joy of passing along our treasures to others who will treasure them, sometimes through donations and sometimes through Craigslist – although it was hard to part with some of our well-cared-for toys when I discovered they were going to a daycare. (Don’t watch Toy Story 3 while you’re in the middle of this process.)
- Opportunities to teach the kids financial stewardship. The kids were given 10% of their earnings on their stuff to add to their allowance, and 10% to give in some way to the church. My daughter chose to give to the offering in children’s church that was raising money for children in Honduras to go to school. My son and I used our 10% to buy backpacks and school supplies for needy kids in our community.
- Opportunities to take care of unmet financial needs and fund family activities we wouldn’t otherwise have experienced if we hadn’t sold our things. At first, I took the passage from Mark literally, and assumed God wanted me to give everything to the poor. But as I reworked our bare bones budget to trim even more, so that we would be setting aside money each month for those occasional expenses like HOA dues and other annual fees, I asked God for financial wisdom and he graciously gave me access to the other 80% of our Craigslist money to fund new school curriculum materials and fun family experiences like going to the water park, drive-in movie, a favorite restaurant on my birthday, and the fair. These fun times with the kids kept me from feeling like there was no joy in my summer, and reminded me that money spent on experiences with loved ones is always more satisfying than money spent on stuff. God wasn’t bent on punishing me, but rather teaching me, and I was reminded that my Heavenly Father loves to give good gifts to his children. About the time I would start getting really crabby, we’d take a break to do something fun, and those refreshing times helped me to persevere through the not-so-fun days.
- Sweet times of fellowship with Christ as I took up my cross and followed him down the road of self-denial. About half-way into the process, when I was overwhelmed with discouragement, my daily devotionals turned to passages about Jesus’ road to the cross. Christ spoke to me loud and clear that he would never ask me to sacrifice anything that he had not sacrificed himself and that did not serve a purpose. Friends, we don’t serve a God who sits on high and hands down decrees for us to follow. Jesus invites us to be yoked with him, like 2 animals pulling a cart together, and promises that if we’ll work with him our load will be so much easier (Matt. 11:28-30).
- The revelation that in order for my burden to be light, I must: 1) be willing to deny myself that which would weigh me down – the desire for stuff to give me a sense of security, and 2) throw off everything that hinders me – procrastination and laziness that rob me of the joy of accomplishing the work God has created me to do (Eph. 2:10). When we procrastinate, we abandon the work God’s given us to do today in favor of wishful thinking that our problems will take care of themselves. But God wants me to live each day fully, abundantly, joyfully working alongside him. The joy is not so much from the task, but from the relationship that develops as I choose to do each task with and for the glory of God (Col. 3:17).
I can honestly say that I am forever changed because of this experience. Being surrounded by so much excess going to waste and having to deal with the results of my procrastination has left such a sour taste in my mouth towards the accumulation of stuff. I am no longer lured by the siren song of the bargain or tempted by junk at the dollar store just because it’s cheap. When I see something that looks appealing, I ask myself:
- Do I actually need this or can I get by with something I already own?
- Do I have a place for this in my home?
- Is it worth it to me to have to eventually take a picture of this and put up with annoying people on Craigslist in order to sell it?
You see, the truth is that even though I’ve always been good at finding bargains, I often bought things just because they were a bargain, reasoning that if I didn’t buy it now I might not find such a good deal in the future. Add to that our tendency to save things because “you never know when it might come in handy” and our “green” culture’s emphasis on reusing items and repurposing junk, and you end up with stuff ruling over you because you’re addicted to collecting it out of fear of what might happen if you don’t, and afraid to let it go once you do have it. Fear. The weapon of the enemy. But “God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline” (2 Tim. 1:7). I had to face the “What if I might want this someday?” fear with the truth that God always has and always will take care of my needs, as long as I seek him first (Matt. 6:33). It’s time to let go of the lie that stuff will take care of me. God will take care of me.
It’s also time to face the lie that procrastination is in my best interest. It’s not. When I put off doing what God has given me the time and strength to do today, I’m essentially saying to him, “I want to please myself today, so come back tomorrow and give me the strength to do my work when I feel like it. Which I never will.” When my kids were little, I had to prioritize because there simply wasn’t enough time in the day to do everything, so household projects went to the bottom of the list. And that was appropriate for that season of my life. But my “babies” are now 8 and 10, and “prioritization” had become a fancy way of dressing up procrastination because the truth is I DID have the time to take better care of my home and just didn’t want to. So day after day I was drained of energy to do my work and felt like I couldn’t engage in anything creative because there were disorganized piles, drawers, and closets screaming to be dealt with. Thankfully, God knew my heart and knew that I needed him to “prioritize” home-management so that I could justify setting aside other duties for awhile in order to accomplish such a daunting task.
That’s why, friends, I don’t want you to be impressed by me in any way because of the accomplishment of this project. Be inspired, be encouraged, even be warned! But don’t be impressed by me. Instead, be impressed by a God who cares enough about a little, lost homeschooler who doesn’t know how she can find the time and energy to creatively teach her children and Sunday School class, cook gluten free meals from scratch, survive on a shoe-string budget, manage her home, and write a blog, that he set aside 2 months of the summer to retrain her mind and habits.
I don’t procrastinate anymore. My house is clean. Our school year is off to a great start, and I’m full of creative ideas. I’ve also had the energy to not only cook but experiment with new gluten free creations – recipes to come! And…I have time to blog again. All the glory goes to God because in his infinite wisdom, he knew that when he asked me to deny myself daily (of the desire for stuff and decision to procrastinate), take up my cross (of choosing his work over my short-lived pleasure), and follow him (down the exciting path he’s planned just for me), that the death of my selfish pursuits would result in the most amazing, fulfilling, joy-filled life I could ever imagine. Have you ever sung praises to God while cleaning a toilet? I have, because it was the last thing on my to-do list, and I was so grateful that God loved me enough to make me do it! And you know what? God’s presence was there with me while I cleaned that toilet, as strongly as I’ve ever felt in any church service, because I was doing it for the glory of God. That’s true joy.
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” – Colossians 3:23-24
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