A resolution is a goal we make –written down or pledged to another – a goal to change ourselves into the people we want to be, and being a movement that is based on transformation, the Christian church, the Christian community has something to add to the conversation. And goals can be good – they can help us develop into the people God made us to be; they can refocus us on a forgotten gift or passion; they can bring us around to where we’d like find ourselves in this world: more content; more ‘at peace’ with ourselves and our choices; healthier, happier and more giving.
So this year, through the month of January, we will examine the top resolutions by looking at the messages we hear in scripture, and by confronting some of the examples in our faith tradition; What does our faith say about, for example, our bodies and how can that help our resolution to “get fit”. What does our faith say about our priorities and how can that help us deal better with time, busyness and feeling rushed all the time.
Do you have a New Year’s resolution?
If our resolution is to “Get organized” this year, then we can conclude that some sort of “disorganization” has impacted our lives. Piles of papers, things lost in the mess, clutter and excess, or just the absence of a “system” : these things contribute to a feeling that we’ve lost control of our lives, of ourselves, of our households.
Here are some statistics from 2010 about the problem of “clutter” and “disorganization”:
- The United States Department of Energy reports that one-quarter of people with two-car garages have so much stuff in there that they can’t park a car inside.
- According to the National Soap and Detergent Association (now the American Cleaning Institute), getting rid of clutter would eliminate 40 percent of housework in the average home.
- Harris Interactive reports that 23 percent of adults say they pay bills late (and incur fees) because they lose them.
- If you rent a storage facility to store your excess belongings, you’re contributing to a $154 billion industry – bigger than the Hollywood film business!
- Stephanie Winston, author of The Organized Executive, estimates a manager loses 1 hour/day to disorder, costing the business up to $4,000/yr – $8,000/yr. (1)
The motivation for this resolution is this fear: if there is chaos on my desk, in my household and disorder in my life, perhaps that means I have a defect in my heart. The state of our outside says something about what we value inside…. As Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:21 “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” And sometimes – in some occasions – this type of behavior – collecting, not throwing things away, piling and piling – can be an indication of a serious condition, but most of us go through disorganized periods. And my intention is not to answer the question “How do I get organized?” – There are books and websites and whole industries devoted to tip and tricks to get organized. But our question today is this: How do we approach our organization or lack of organization as a matter of faith:
The first thing to ask ourselves is WHY:
Why do we have things? Why do we save things? Why can’t we throw things away? Why do we feel this connection between our heart and our treasure?
We find some answers in our lesson from the Psalms today:
* Psalm 37: 3-4
3 Trust in the Lord, and do good;
so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.
4Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
AHA! Security…. What a nice and comfortable word. Security is a deep passion for us in a changing and confusing world, the desire of our heart. With the chaos surrounding us, our hearts long for security. And – I think – especially those of us who live lives of wanderers, long for something non-changing, something that is controlled and controllable…. When we move into a new land and everything is out of control: new jobs, new schools, new language, new culture… what do we do? We nest – we unpack our things and create a home for ourselves, surrounding ourselves with familiarity. Our things bring us the security, the control we are longing for.
But our psalm gives us an important warning too. Let us read it together:
16Better is a little that the righteous person has
than the abundance of many wicked.
So the Psalmist warns us, there is wickedness in having too much… it is better to have a little, than to have too much like that of the wicked. There must be a balance between having things around us and having TOO MUCH.
* And that leads us to the example of the Church in Macedonia:
The Apostle Paul was apparently very fond of the Macendonian church and visited them quite often. Paul refers to Macedonian Christians, or the province north of Greece, 16 times in six of his letters. Three of his letters were to churches in Macedonia, a prosperous region with the Via Egnatia, a major east-west route, running through it. Although the province enjoyed economic advantage, Christians in M acedonia were extremely poor and had experienced severe discrimination. Yet when faced with the opportunity to help the beleaguered church in Jerusalem, their response was magnanimous. (2)
The church in Macedonia is used as an example for us, as a community whose heart is in the right place: These are people who go out of their way for strangers, for wanderers, for traveling evangelists; these are people who include those marginalized (as women were in those days) and these are people who give not out of their abundance, but give from their poverty…
2 Corinthians 8: 3-4 says “they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, 4begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints.”
Paul, in 2 Corinthians 8: 13-15, encourages the church in Corinth to be more like their Macedonian brothers and sisters, but in doing so, explains:
13I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between 14your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. 15As it is written,
‘The one who had much did not have too much,
and the one who had little did not have too little.’
This last line is a reference to the story of the Israelites wandering in the desert. Remember that the Israelites followed Moses out of the Egypt, far from the safety and security of their things, into the unknown. Author Walter Brueggemann explains that when they began to fear for their lives and complain about their hunger,
“God’s love comes trickling down in the form of bread. They say, “Manhue?” — Hebrew for “What is it?” — and the word “manna” is born. They had never before received bread as a free gift that they couldn’t control, predict, plan for or own. The meaning of this strange narrative is that the gifts of life are indeed given by a generous God. It’s a wonder, it’s a miracle, it’s an embarrassment, it’s irrational, but God’s abundance transcends the market economy. (3)
* God provides. There is nothing to fear. By using this phrase in his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul reminds them of their ancestors who feared for their lives and restates, “Just as God provided manna in the wilderness for our mother and fathers, so God will provide for you – as the Macedonians provide for each other, achieving a fair balance.
In so many ways, the solution to our new years goals is just that: Balance.
- Do we have a problem with clutter – the answer is balancing how much is too much.
- Do we have a problem with food – the answer is balancing too much, too little, what is good food and what is not good….
- Do we have a problem with time – the answering is weighing our priorities to achieve the right balance.
By putting our house in order, by finding what is lost, by finding a place for unwanted and unneeded “extras”, we can calm the chaos of our hearts, we can do our part to create some control in our lives and we can select some things to share with others. Our faith tells us we need to go further to ask WHY we feel the way we do about our things, our clutter, our mess. Do we look at life through the lens of scarcity – there is not enough to go around and so I must hold on to what I have – or do we see the world from our lens of abundance – the world is full of God’s blessings and I am privileged to have my portion.
Duane Elgin, the author of Voluntary Simplicity and the “father” of the Simplicity movement, encourages his readers to live simply, which means “living an examined life where one has determined what is truly important and enough … and then just let go of all the rest. ” (4)
The Church in Macedonia had enough. Even though they had little, they gave from their hearts to others. May we in our abundance, use our gifts to provide for ourselves and our families, and may we use our “extras” to provide for others. May we dig out from the mountains of mess and clutter to find an examined life, determining what is important to us and letting go of the rest. And as we organize our lives this year, may we refocus on what truly matter: not things, but people; not wealth, but love; not power and control and security in ourselves, but in the grace and mercy and love power of God.
- “The statistics of Clutter” by Joshua Becker, on Becoming Minimalist, January 19, 2010, http://www.becomingminimalist.com/2010/01/19/the-statistics-of-clutter/
- Found on http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=2710
- “The Liturgy of Abundance, The Myth of Scarcity” by Walter Brueggemann, found on http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=533
- Found on http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/102949.Duane_Elgin