A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. —Isaiah 40:6–8
Every few years a new organizing and clutter-clearing trend makes the news. The latest one I’ve encountered is Swedish death-cleaning (döstädning). The underlying principle makes sense: From around age fifty, you should begin organizing your things and decluttering so that your children aren’t stuck with the task after you’re gone. I can appreciate this. When my mom died, we needed multiple large dumpsters to clear out her house, partly because she absorbed the household goods from several aging and deceased relatives. While this might seem to be more of a project for Lent, it can be a fruitful Advent pursuit as well. When we get out the boxes of Christmas decorations, often we find things at the bottom of the box or the back of the closet that never get pulled out. Not too long ago I found the flour-and-salt-clay diorama of a winter scene that I made in third grade. The plastic deer had a broken back leg and the clay itself was cracked in several places. I took a picture of it and let it go.
Sometimes we simply don’t think about our possessions in this way. As long as we have room for them, we keep them stored away. But they no longer have any meaning for the person we’ve become and even if they might have an emotional attachment for us, they’re not going to mean anything so significant to anyone else. If you’re not ready to death-clean your whole house, this Advent start with the Christmas decorations. When you put them away in January, the boxes will be lighter and maybe your heart will be as well.
TAKE A DEEP BREATH
We sometimes mistake the transitory for permanent and vice versa. As you pay attention to your breathing today, reflect on these words from Isaiah. You might be surprised by the emotions that arise as part of your prayer. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand for ever. (Isaiah 40:8)
A SIMPLE GIFT
Emotions run high during the holidays and big gatherings don’t lend themselves to serious discussions. But if this idea of anticipatory cleaning appeals to you, decide to find a time in the new year to talk with your children and close friends. If you know someone has expressed an interest in a precious possession and you’re ready to let go of it, consider surprising them with it as a gift this Christmas. If you’re not quite ready to let it go, make a point of telling them that it will come to them some day in the future.