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Adventures in Decluttering

A Letter from Esther Wakeman, serving in Thailand

April 2018

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“Here’s the deal, Mom. I’d love to help you declutter your house when I come to Chiang Mai for three months this winter, but you have to show you are serious first. Do the minimalist challenge for one month. Get rid of one item of clutter on the 1st day of the month, 2 items on the 2nd day, 3 on the 3rd, etc., every day for a whole month. If you do this, then I will help you when I come.”

Honestly, my first reaction to my daughter Anna’s challenge was irritation. I’m the mom. I’m the one who gives conditions. But, I had to be honest with myself; in this arena she’s more mature than I am. I wanted Anna’s help badly, so I got to work — getting rid of stuff I had been disgusted with for YEARS!! Day after day I added an item — many days I tossed more than the minimum because it felt so good. After a month, a beginning had been made. And when Anna came with her husband, Dom, and gorgeous baby boy, Vigo, from Germany in November, she helped me transform our home. We gave away two truckloads of old furniture, bought a new couch, added floor-to- ceiling bookshelves in the study, and turned a small bedroom into a storeroom. The job is not complete — there are still some boxes, files, and clothes that need to be tossed — but I have a “new” home, and I love inviting people into it.

This semester I welcomed the final two students in our international MDiv program at McGilvary College of Divinity, Payap University, Chiang Mai, Thailand (it has been put on pause indefinitely), to meet in our living room for a course in spirituality. These men are members of ethnic minority communities from a neighboring country that have been brutally attacked for over half a century by their nation’s military. The focus in the course was Dallas Willard’s brilliant guide to Christian spiritual practice, Renovation of the Heart, which describes in detail how we can cooperate with the Trinity in decluttering and reordering every aspect of our being, so that we become more and more like Jesus. We were heartened by Willard’s challenge that the church can help people to be genuinely transformed into greater Christlikeness. It isn’t a mysterious practice — it requires vision, intention, and use of the spiritual disciplines. We can have renewed hearts, wills, thoughts, and feelings, and care for our bodies well.

One morning, we were talking about forgiveness, and “Tony” acknowledged with tears in his eyes how impossible it is for him to forgive the soldiers and government who have burned out villages and raped the women of his people for years. His vulnerability led us to pray for each other that Jesus would continue his decluttering work in our hearts, giving us the grace to give him the anger, bitterness, and resentment we cling to, and that our hearts will be ordered with his love and joy.

I’m writing this on Easter weekend, and contemplating how Jesus’ death and resurrection make possible this decluttering of our hearts. According to the tidying genius, Marie Kondo, fear is at the root of our hoarding. The key to decluttering is acquiring and keeping only what we really love; to stop buying and holding on to stuff because of anxiety about the past or the future. Fear is also at the root of our struggle to forgive — we seem to think that holding on to our anger makes us stronger. Jesus came to establish his kingdom of love — perfect love that casts out fear. Love that makes forgiveness and reconciliation possible, and the resurrection, which ends the fear of death. That love also gives us courage to speak up for truth and work for justice in Jesus’ peaceful ways.

At our recent Baccalaureate worship service, I preached on love that casts out fear and gives us courage to do the right thing in challenging situations. I shared the story of Rachael Denhollander, who was the first gymnast to testify publicly against the sexual abuse of the USA Olympic gymnastics team by Larry Nassar. Rachael’s courage was rooted in her faith and her experience as a beloved and valuable daughter of God. She kept speaking even when some of the worst criticism of her came from Christians. We talked about this during our spirituality class, too. And in addition to our prayers for grace to forgive, we prayed for courage to find creative non-violent ways to confront the evil and injustice happening in the places where God has placed us.

As we approach Pentecost, may we be filled with God’s Spirit, be empowered to let go of whatever we are holding on to in fear, and work courageously to bring the righteousness of God’s reign into our lives, homes, churches, and schools more and more.

Thank you for journeying with me in ministry, and for your prayers and support. If you sense God is nudging you to increase your participation, please don’t hold back! As I read the names of individuals, couples, and churches who are giving to this ministry, I’m filled with gratitude. I’m glad I’ll be able to thank many of you in person soon as I visit the US during April and May.


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