Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Prayer: the powerful tool for overcoming the fear of de-cluttering

This was a discovery I made in the beginning of October 2011 when I went home to visit my mom and dad, specifically to help my mom de-clutter.

My mom was very motivated to de-clutter, and that is saying a lot. Growing up from time to time she would let me organize a closet or a cabinet or a desk, but it was hard for her to let go of anything. This time, she felt she was drowning in her stuff, and all the fun things she hoped to do and wanted to do had ground to a halt because of all the stuff she had to sift through.

When I finally got home, of course I was excited to get started. I started on the kitchen desk, going through the drawers, sorting the pens, pencils, erasers, paperclips, rubber bands, and so on. I started asking her questions about the collection of flower vases and medicines.. We started making progress, but my mother, who is very articulate and aware of her feelings, began to feel a great sense of loss as we were getting rid of stuff. It brought her to tears. She was grieving over the things we were tossing that really needed to be discarded.

I could see that the decision-making process was becoming very difficult for her. The trouble was, in order to make progress, she had to make lots and lots of decisions. And those decisions needed to be mostly in favor of discarding stuff instead of keeping stuff.

My mother and I are very religious. We both have a firm belief in the power of prayer. We both have had many experiences of praying and having our prayers answered. We both know we can ask for God to help us do things that we have trouble doing on our own.

It was at this point that I realized we needed to pray.

But I didn’t suggest it yet.

My mom pushed through her emotional difficulties and then we started on organizing and de-cluttering the game closet.

Once again, we ran into the barrier of my mom’s emotions. She felt guilt because of the number of games we had that we had never tried to play. She felt loss because the prospect of letting go of so many games meant that opportunities for play and bonding as a family were being lost (even though it is only her, dad, her mother, and my youngest brother (a 20-year-old) were at home). Her distress may sound silly, but it was HER distress.

If there is one thing I know now, it is this—you can’t argue with emotions. Feelings are just as real as thoughts and they are a part of us. Emotions must be validated before they are dealt with. I let my mom explain why she felt distress. I listened to her, trying to understand her.

Mom is not just a bundle of emotions, though; she is also a very thoughtful person and she tries to make very rational decisions. It was a pleasure to listen to her reason over what kind of games were worth keeping and which were not. Perhaps you didn’t know that it was possible to evaluate a game, but let me assure you, I learned from my mom that it is. She could categorize games pretty well by looking at the rules and the boards and the cards. We both liked games that had an ingredient of unpredictability to them. We favored games that manipulated words. Since our family is large and most of the kids are grown, we kept games that were best for older players. But she also had a number of Bible games and games that taught morality. These games were geared toward young children and she kept these for the sake of visiting grandchildren.

Still, there were some games that were very difficult to evaluate because it was hard to tell whether they were something that would be appreciated in the future or something that would never be thought of. We discovered that to make a good decision, she needed to have the gift of prophesy and discernment.

This is when I finally suggested that we pray.

We both prayed. Mom prayed for prophecy and discernment to make good decisions about what to keep and what to get rid of. I prayed to be supportive and encouraging and to not be manipulative or coercive. I also prayed for my mom to have emotional and mental stamina so that she could make all the decisions she would have to make.

After that, we went back to work and she was able to let go more easily and with less emotional loss. She stayed focused and she was able to make so many decisions that I was starting to get tired before she was!

Each day after that, we made sure to pray for help before starting to de-clutter. We tried to pray very specifically for the skills that we needed to work together and to make good decisions. Altogether, mom sent about 28 large black trash bags of stuff to the Salvation Army. For her, that was absolutely miraculous.

Now, I realize that not all of you may be comfortable with praying for help while de-cluttering. Some of you may not believe in God. Some of you may believe in God, but may be unsure as to how to pray for help with de-cluttering. Let me say a few words to address both these concerns.

To those of you who don’t believe in God or don’t know if there is a God, I can tell you that I know there is a God, on the basis of years of answered prayers. He knows the nature of your belief or nonbelief, your questions, your skepticism, your incredulity. He knows all about it. You are His child. He wants you to not only progress, but to become more acquainted with Him. Try an experiment prayer. Tell Him how weird you feel praying. Tell Him about your feelings about de-cluttering and what you want to get done. Ask for help. Then get started.

To those of you who believe in God, but are unsure about how to pray for help with de-cluttering, here are some things that you can pray about. Tell God about how you’ve tried to de-clutter and get organized in the past. Tell Him why you feel it hasn’t worked. Tell Him about your emotional attachments to your stuff and how hard it is for you to let go. Ask for help with dealing with the emotions and ask to find ways of validating the emotions and memories and preserving them in such a way that you don’t have to keep stuff so much. Ask for help making decisions to let go. Ask for help to discover what habits might be keeping you from de-cluttering. Ask for emotional and mental stamina to make the decisions you know have to be made. Ask for the physical strength to carry out your decisions. Ask for the proper perspective about your stuff.

Prayer is tool to help us organize and de-clutter because it gives us access to the power of God on our behalf in order to conquer our weaknesses. It works. I've seen it work.

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