There is something deeply powerful about getting rid of stuff.
I have too much stuff. I knew this already, but I am preparing to move so this has been revealed to me more clearly as I get ready for the removal firm. It would be easy to avoid the question of how much stuff we have. We are moving from a two-bed central London flat to a four bedroom house, so there is more than enough space for our things. But as we get ready to move, my wife and I are going through the process of decluttering. We tackle a room each day and work out what we need, and what we don’t.
This isn’t an easy process. Even if you know you own too many things, there are many motives to hold on to things you don’t need. “What if I need it later?” “I’ll regret it if I get rid of it.” “It doesn’t seem useful now, but I’m sure it will when we move.” “I haven’t used it in years, but I might.” We hold on to things and we hoard things in case they come in useful or prove to be valuable.
Our lives can get filled with clutter. Sometimes that clutter is physical stuff that needs to be cleared out (and I have still more stuff to donate to charity). But our lives also accumulate clutter in other ways too. Things we choose to do, or say, or think. We fill our lives, just like our homes, with stuff. The storage of our soul is crammed full of things we think we might need. This person’s approval, or that achievement at work; those goals we set for ourselves; these desires for our children. Just like physical things, we hold on to too much baggage and clutter. We hold on to them in case they are useful – useful to define ourselves and to forge our identity. We hold on to them because they might be valuable – valuable for finding our worth and security in life.
Jesus has some words on decluttering for a set of sisters in Bethany. Mary and Martha had invited Jesus into their home. While Mary sat at Jesus’ feet (the posture of a disciple), learning and listening, Luke tells us that “Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.”
Sure, there were preparations to make. Food to prepare and a table to be laid. Supper does not serve itself. But Martha has cluttered up her heart and mind with more than preparations. A worth that came from being needed; an identity that was shaped by being the ‘useful’ person; a desire to do her duty. All potentially good things, certainly, but Luke identifies them clearly: things that distract her from Jesus.
Jesus’ words come as a timely and kind rebuke:
“Martha, you’re cluttered” says Jesus. “You have allowed many things to encroach upon your heart and mind. But the reality is that very few of the things that fill your soul are truly needed. In fact, only one.”
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.”Luke 10:41–42
Martha needed to declutter her soul. And so do I. It’s helpful to clear out the cupboard in preparation for a house move. But am I willing to let Christ clear out the storeroom of my soul? Will I let him remove and dispose of things that I too often see as useful or valuable? Will I let him clear away everything until only one thing remains – one precious, beautiful, shining thing – Jesus himself?