Living the Uncluttered Life
By Christine Hoover
In my kitchen, there is a small built-in desk. Everything that comes home in my kids’ backpacks—artwork, permission slips, library books, field trip announcements—goes on the desk. When my husband comes home at the end of the day, he throws his work-related papers on it. Most of the piles on the desktop, however, are mine—recipes torn from magazines, bills to pay, books I checked out from the library but haven’t read, and multiple to-do lists or reminders scribbled across scratch paper that have gotten lost under all the clutter. It seems like every aspect of my life passes through my desk and, although I’m generally organized, I struggle to keep my desk clean.
I’ve found that my desk is a microcosm of my life. Although I work to keep it clear, with the important papers and to-do lists on top, it’s rarely organized, with everything in its place.
Cleaned Out Lives
As women in ministry, our schedules are full. The demands on our time are endless and the needs of people around us are continuous. It’s easy to take off running each day, meeting this need and that, forgetting where we were running to or why we were running in the first place. Our lives, like my desk, become cluttered and unmanageable, leading to burn-out or lifeless ministry. Our lives need to be consistently “cleaned out” if we’re going to know and maintain our God-given priorities.
Lessons from Hoarders
Nothing makes me want to clean out every nook and cranny of my house more than an episode of Hoarders. As I watch families who have been weighed down with junk, both physical and emotional, I see people whose abilities to prioritize have been completely lost. They are unable to distinguish what’s important to them. So that we don’t become “ministry hoarders,” we can apply the same process hoarding experts use in helping people purge their homes. This process centers around three questions.
1. What should we keep?
When our lives are too full, it’s often because we’ve lost sight of who we are or what specifically God has given us to do. Instead of narrowing our focus, we believe the more we have our hands in, the more important we are, the more influence we’ll have, and the more we are doing to honor the Lord. Unfortunately, we become glory hoarders who are too busy to hear God’s voice and nothing we do gets done with excellence.
What if we became women of only a few fixed passions? What if we focused on those passions alone, growing in our spiritual giftedness and using them excellently “as unto the Lord?” Not only could God use us in a more targeted, impactful way, but we could also be free from feeling responsibility for every person and every need. When we know our calling and passions, they shape our calendars, to-do lists, who we spend time with, and what we think about.
If you’ve lost sight of what you should keep, ask yourself a few questions:
- Why did God call you into the ministry in the first place?
- What has God called you to do in your specific ministry role?
- What do you love doing?
- What are you gifted for? Does your calendar and task list reflect this?
2. What should we get rid of?
Often, when I clean out a closet, there are a few things that I don’t use, but I don’t want to throw or give them away. I feel an attachment to them or convince myself that I’ll use them in the future, which I rarely do. They usually end up in the trash heap during my next cycle of cleaning.
Discerning how God wants to use us in our ministry is usually not the difficult part of decluttering; it’s getting rid of ministries or tasks that we have an attachment to. We think, “But if I don’t do this, who will?” or “This isn’t really something that I’m gifted for, but I’ll keep doing it because I wish I was gifted in this way.”
These thoughts exemplify our problems in decluttering our lives: either we are discontent with the ministry God has given to us so we hold on even more tightly to what we want or we don’t trust God to sustain our ministry.
My husband and I are in our third year of church planting. In our former church, God used me in a much different way than He is now. Whereas before I was teaching and leading many women, now I am doing more individual ministry: discipleship, having people over for dinner, counseling women, greeting on Sunday mornings, and serving in our children’s ministry. My ministry is not as glamorous as it was before and I have struggled with rebellion and pride, wrestling with God over His calling for me.
At other times, I have taken on too much responsibility, thinking that everything depended on me. I needed to welcome each new family to our church personally. I needed to have my hands in all things, just to make sure they got done right. The list could go on, but God has reminded me of His sower principle found in 1 Cor. 3:6: “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.”
We are not called to do it all, to be all things to all people, or to imitate the ministries and gifts of others. When we are able to release ourselves from our own expectations and trust God to use us where He’s called us, we experience freedom, just like that “clean closet” feeling.
3. What should we give away?
How does a recovering hoarder keep from relapsing? Instead of mindless shopping or collecting, they learn the difference between a need and a want, trash or a treasure, good and best.
By learning to evaluate opportunities according to our God-given priorities and saying no to anything that doesn’t belong, we, too, can maintain a decluttered ministry. There are some aspects of our personal and ministry lives that no one else can do, but there are many others that we are either not gifted for or we can delegate to others.
Although it sometimes feels “unspiritual,” delegating is an important aspect of ministry. The disciples did it in the early church, found in Acts 6:1-4, when the many needs of the people kept them from their God-given priorities of prayer and teaching. We must follow their lead by learning to discern which tasks and ministries are essentials and which can be handed off to others who are gifted for such work.
As a church planter, it is a great temptation to add to the narrow focus God has given to me. As in any ministry, there is always more that could be done. Almost daily, I have to remind myself of the priorities God has given me: to be an abiding disciple, a loving wife, a purposeful mom, a wise keeper of my home, and a servant in church ministry. If I am obedient in these, God is faithful to do the actual ministry work in my family, my relationships, my church, and my community.