But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.
I was going through my closet once again, deciding what to keep and what to give to charity. I had done this several times in recent past and there were always a few things that escaped the garbage bag and were allowed to hang around until my next purging session. One of those things was a sweatshirt that I bought 19 years ago (no lie) when my friend and I were running around downtown all day and heard there was going to be an outdoor concert that night. Not having a lot of extra funds after buying the tickets, we scoured the clearance racks at Gap and I found a pretty basic sweatshirt that was perfect in look, function, and price; and I kept it all these years. The sweatshirt no longer had even the tiniest bit of softness to it as the fleece inside had worn away. There were no longer cuffs on the sleeves or a band around the bottom because I ripped them off after the holes in the seams became too numerous. The sleeves were a constant annoyance. There were small tears around the letters on the front of the shirt. It was literally falling apart. I held it, realized its awful condition, and then carefully placed it in the pile right next to the bag I had been filling for charity. That shirt needed to go into the actual garbage.
It had taken me a long time, but I finally let it go.
I didn’t know why I hung on to things for so long. I didn’t know why I was hesitant to let them go. That sweatshirt had been worn, washed, folded and put away countless times in that less than fair condition. I wore that sweatshirt around the house at the end of long, hectic days and on those Saturdays when I never left the house. Maybe it was the sentimental value that caused me to keep it for so long? That sweatshirt reminded me of one of the happiest times of my life. Coming off of a not-so-great relationship and having been spending time with all my friends; that outdoor concert was the cherry on top of a super fun day during a time when I was feeling more myself than I had been in a very long time.
Still, I think it was more that I was so used to wearing that shirt, so used to grabbing it at the end of the day. It was worn. It was comfortable. It kept me warm on chilly nights and wrapped me in comfort when I was sick. On the flip side, though, over time, it looked terrible. It had holes and tears and no cuffs on the sleeves. It was annoying. The sleeves got in the way and got wet when I washed my hands. It actually inspired my daughter to declare on a school assignment that she would buy her mother new ‘comfortable clothes’ for Christmas because the ones she had ‘were worn out and full of holes’. (Yes, true story. How embarrassing, right? Thanks, Sweet Pea.)
That sweatshirt had definitely served its purpose.
But it was time to let it go.
I had been doing a lot of thinking about my life as we rang in the new year. There were a lot of things that I needed to let go. Like that sweatshirt, though, I still held on. I was so accustomed to the way things were, I hadn’t noticed that some things had become tattered and worn, some holes had been forming in the seams of some of my relationships, some obligations had become cumbersome and less appealing — I had to take a closer look at the people, commitments, and possessions in my life. There were holes in my heart through where my joy and my passion and my energy were escaping. My calendar didn’t have even the tiniest of holes in it. It was packed. I was fitting in so many things that I barely had time to breathe. How many spaces on my calendar did I have to fill? How long did my ‘to do’ list really need to be? How many things did I need to bring into this house? What purpose did any of it serve in my life? What joy did it all bring? Was I holding on to everything because it added value to my life or because I was just used to the way things were and had always been?
Like that sweatshirt …
It wasn’t valuable anymore and barely functioned as it should; but I was used to it being there, so much so, that I didn’t even see how it had been deteriorating before my eyes.
As I cleaned out the clothes hanging in my closet, I started thinking about the relationships in my life, too. My circle, as I liked to call it. There were people in my life like the clothes that never made it out of the laundry basket because they were worn so many times. They were easy, comfortable, and always around for me, whenever I needed them. There were people in my life like the clothes that had hung in my closet for a long time, always there, showing up when I needed them, or for special occasions. They were loyal, strong, and I knew I could count on them in a time of need – the little black dress, the black heels, the white blouse. Then, there were the clothes that used to look fabulous, that used to fit just right — but now they seemed to be out of style, misshapen, or just didn’t fit like they once did. These were the people who seemed distant, who never showed up, and who just weren’t the people they used to be. I needed to take some serious inventory. I needed to surround myself with people who were the right fit, who made me feel good, and who were really there for me. I wasn’t going to cut people out of my life; but I was going to be more selective about those in whom I was investing my heart and my time. What those TV fashion designers said rang true for clothes and for relationships — I didn’t need a lot … just a few good, solid pieces.
Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. (Colossians 3:12)
I also needed to clear my calendar. I had to find that white space I so desperately needed. When things were overwhelming, I felt the walls caving in. I spread myself so thin that I barely recognized myself sometimes. I had to fix it but that wasn’t easy either. When clearing your schedule, what do you knock off? I had to ask myself the tough questions. Do I keep doing the things I have always done? Am I holding on to something because I enjoy it or because I never thought about giving it up? Do I keep the commitments that keep me from what truly brings me joy? I had to say ‘no’ to obligatory social engagements, unimportant tasks, and chores that could be delegated. My long-term side effects of my medications were starting to build. Fatigue was a constant companion. My energy was as precious as my time and I had to start using it wisely. God wanted us to enjoy this life and He wanted us to rest. I had to let go of the things that were in the way so that I could enjoy the things that I wanted to do. I wanted to read. I wanted to write. I wanted to sit on the couch in the quiet and hear myself think. I wanted to have a cup of tea while looking out the big window in my morning room. I wanted to cook meals and bake cookies for my family. The only thing standing in my way … was me and to what I had become accustomed.
Many are the plans in a person’s heart but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.
How do you decide what stays and what goes? Do you release what is ripped or in disrepair or do you mend and fix? Do you decline those invitations to make time for the things you love or do you accept them out of obligation? Do you hold on to relationships because they are good for you or because you are afraid to let them go? Often, the answers are right there in our hearts but they aren’t always easy to admit. We sometimes hold on to things that we should have let go a long time ago … but we have to be careful not to throw away those things we shouldn’t. Some things can be fixed. Some things cannot. We have to be mindful of our hearts and the hearts of others when we clean out our relationships and our commitments; but in the end, we need to do what is best for us. We have to remember that although we should always be kind to others, we should also be kind to ourselves.
What do we do when we release those relationships, obligations, and things we don’t need? Do we dare to carve out time for ourselves to do the things we love? Do we allow ourselves that luxury without feeling guilty? Yes! A thousand times, YES! I think when we get rid of all the extras, we can more easily focus on what matters. When we clear our hearts and minds of the clutter that piles up around us and drains us of our time and energy; we open ourselves up more fully to the things that bring us joy. When we let go of things that don’t serve a purpose, we can more easily find the purpose that God has planned for us. When we let go of the relationships that are no longer good for us, we become free to be the people God intended us to be. When we clear our schedules of the things that aren’t really worth the importance we placed on them; we give ourselves the gift of time and the gift of peace. When our lives aren’t filled with constant activity and noise, we can quiet our minds and hear the messages God puts on our hearts.
That is what I want.
I want to be quiet so I can hear when God speaks to me.
I want to be open and available to follow whatever path God places before me.
I want my heart to be open for those people God chooses to bring into my life.
I am ready to let go of what has been weighing me down.
My life’s closet will be clean.
My life’s calendar will be clear.
It started with a sweatshirt full of holes … but it is going to end with a heart full of joy.
Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil. (Proverbs 4:25-27)