Let Go of Stuff that doesn’t “Spark Joy”
Rev. Dr. Donna Giver-Johnston
March 24, 2019, Third Sunday of Lent
Have you heard about Marie Kondo? In case you haven’t, here’s the gist: she’s a Japanese organizing consultant who has set off a decluttering craze across the globe. Her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, breaks down her radical, two-pronged approach to tidying. First, pull everything out of your drawers, closets, and bookshelves and storage bins. Put your hands on everything you own. She says, The best way to choose what to keep and what to throw away is to take each item in one’s hand and ask: “Does this spark joy?” If it does, keep it. If not, thank it for its service and get rid of it. Second, once only your most joy-giving belongings remain, put every item in a place where it’s visible, accessible, and easy to grab and then put back. By keeping only those things that speak to your heart can you reset your life. Only then, Kondo says, can you reach the nirvana of housekeeping, and never have to clean again.
Today’s Gospel lesson is a messy one. It is cluttered with all kinds of stuff. How can we see what God wants us to see? By taking one thing at a time and examining it closely. In the first part, we find people asking Jesus about those Galileans--if they were worse sinners. We wonder the same thing today. We live in a world in which we compare ourselves to others. And truth be told, we want to come out better than others. We say, “We may have a messy house, a messy marriage, a messy life, but it’s not as messy as others.” For some reason this makes us feel better and lets ourselves off the hook of cleaning up our messes.
Jesus responds, “You all need to repent in order to be saved.” In other words, get your own house in order instead of worrying about other peoples’ messes. Then to make his point clear, Jesus tells them a parable using something that his listeners knew well--a fig tree. When the owner of the vineyard came looking for fruit on the fig tree, he found none. So he said to the gardner, “For 3 years I have come looking for fruit, and found none. Cut it down!” The gardener replied, “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good, but if not, you can cut it down.”
In the owner’s words, through Marie Kondo’s voice, ask yourself if this tree sparks joy for you. If not, then get rid of it. It is cluttering your life, taking away time and space that you could be giving to something or someone else. Let go of the stuff that doesn’t spark joy for you. Let it go. In so doing, you make space for something else to be, without being crowded out or lost in the dark recesses of your closet or buried under the burdens of your life. It’s not just about cleaning out your house. By having less clutter in the physical space around you, you will have more room in your heart for joy and peace.
Marie Kondo has a show on Netflix called Tidying Up. You can watch Marie go into people’s homes and lead them through the exercise of sorting through stuff and letting go of those things which do not spark joy. It’s fascinating to watch others struggle in de-cluttering their homes. It’s so easy to look at other people’s messes and shake our fingers of judgment at them, asking, “How can they live like that?” But what happens when the tv show becomes reality? When we get off the couch and dig into our own closets?
This Lent, in small groups, we are reading and discussing the book Satisfied: Discovering Contentment in a World of Consumption. Author Jeff Manion claims that we live in a consumer culture powered by relentless advertising. We are bombarded by ads every day, every where, telling us that if we buy more shirts, more shoes, more stuff, then we will be happy. Trouble is, the more we buy the more we want. And the stuff doesn’t make us happy. In fact, we become enslaved to our stuff. Manion says that the road to freedom requires that we learn a new language--the language of the contented, satisfied life. “Contentment is a satisfied heart, a spirit that is alive to God and to others, whatever our situation, no matter how much or how little we have.”
Our homework last week was to count our shirts and shoes--each and every one of them. Our small group shared that when we had to count them, we discovered shirts we didn’t even know we had and also that they didn’t fit anymore--they must have shrunk in the drawer. And we found shoes that we didn’t wear, but were holding onto just in case. Because we had to count them, we became embarrassed at how many we had and realized that we did not need so many. And so we gave them away--to neighbors, friends, thrift shops. In addition to getting rid of stuff we wouldn’t miss, we also had to give away something that had value for us. One man shared that he had a set of golf clubs that he loved. He used them well over the years. Although he didn’t play as much golf as he used to, still he played occasionally. But he knew his next door neighbor had two sons who were wanting to play golf, but had no clubs. And so the man gave his golf clubs to his next door neighbor. As we gave things--even of value--away, we agreed that we didn’t feel loss, but felt relief and joy in giving them away!
In the parable, the gardener asks for just one more year, and if the fig tree does not bear fruit, then to cut it down. In Bible study on Wednesday Barbara McKelway, who was leading our discussion, asked a tough question: If you knew you only had one more year to live, what would you do? How would you live? Would you live differently? It’s a good question to ponder. I can imagine that if we knew we only had one more year to live, we would live differently in many ways. One way is that we would not worry about holding onto stuff in our closets. I bet we would give our stuff away--after all, we can’t take it with us to the grave. I imagine we would ask ourselves, what brings us joy? And then we would hold onto that. Or even better, give it away. Share our joy with others.
I think this Scripture lesson is asking us to live as if we only had one more year to live and to make it the most clutter-emptying, care-free, joy-filled year. And at the end of the year, if we find that we have been gifted with yet another year of life, we have created a new habit, a new way of living a satisfied, contented life. We will have learned how to live with a satisfied heart and a spirit that is alive to God and to others, whatever our situation, no matter how much or how little we have.
Parables, like good stories, teach many lessons. The fig tree’s life is spared and given another chance to bear fruit. So, too, God gives us grace--amazing grace--and a second chance to turn away from those things that keep us from living a joyful satisfied life.
In this season of Lent, we seek to travel with Jesus in the way of discipleship. Just as the first disciples were called to put down their nets and follow, we too have to travel lightly.
What can you put down? What can you let go of? What can you clean out? What can you give away? So that you can more easily and faithfully follow Jesus.
Remember Jesus carried the heavy cross so that we don’t have to. Put it down.
Let go of the stuff that makes your heart heavy and doesn’t spark joy.
Because God wants nothing more than for us to live a full satisfied life, overflowing with joy, enough to share with others.
May it be so. Amen.