Clearing the Weeds“Truly, less can be more.”
A few weeks ago, I was weeding a flower bed that had been neglected for several months. Dead stalks from flowers now long gone, crunchy tree leaves that the wind had blown in, gangly vines from creeping bushes and random grass and weeds all needed to be dug out and disposed of. As I stood back to admire my work, I was surprised that the before and after was so shocking. What was left looked like it should be there. The rich soil showing through added to the effect, almost framing each of the tended flowers and hedges like a picture. As I hauled my heavy bag of weeds to the trailer, I couldn’t help but smile with satisfaction. I promptly brought out my lawn chair and a cup of tea to relax and enjoy the fruit of my labor.
It reminded me of a time in high school when I wrote a speech for class. I wanted to sound smart, so I filled the paper with all kinds of words and phrases I found in a thesaurus, to the point of sounding ridiculous and redundant. My teacher praised me for my outline but chided me for the excessive verbiage. She said, “In order to create the best speech and make it shine, we have to subtract those things that hinder.”
Have you ever noticed on large trucks they often have a sign on the side that says, “Load Capacity ___ lbs.”? The truck was designed and built to withstand only so much weight. To go over that maximum load would put the truck and driver in danger, possibly damaging the road and causing unsafe conditions for everyone. Our homes also have a load limit. If we over fill them with “stuff,” we can’t move freely. We feel trapped. The vital places where so much living happens—such as cooking surfaces, bathrooms and beds — cannot breathe. As humans we also have a total body load. If we take on too much, our body can begin to break down. We can feel trapped in our overloaded bodies, and they no longer serve us in the way they were designed to by God. What would make you happier in your home? What would make you happier in your body? In both cases, it has a lot to do with what you bring in and set down.
Professional marketers are trained to shape our buying behavior. Their job is to manipulate your mind by persuading you to click the “buy” button. One of their favorite ways of doing so is to deceive you into thinking you are deficient and that adding that item will make everything in your life better. Author Leidy Klotz explains that humans are biologically wired to add rather than to subtract: “Loss aversion is powerful, widespread, and well publicized. But loss aversion should not excuse our subtraction neglect. The subtraction we are after is an improvement — and improvement is not a loss, even when it comes via less.” Truly, less can be more.
Scientists tell us that human brains are hardwired to deliver a small dose of the hormone dopamine when we go looking for something we want and successfully find. This was useful for those in the stone age, who had to hunt to live. But these days, getting that jolt of pleasure is more like feeding an addiction. For us, a wiser use of our energy may be a matter of looking around at all we already own, maybe even digging a bit and discovering things we forgot we had. A great activity to open your eyes to what’s around you is to count all the items in one room, or maybe even start with one drawer. Researchers tell us that our homes have more television sets than people. What else might you find you have in excess that is taking your time and energy to assemble, display, store, stack, shelve, clean, maintain, insure and keep track of?
Author Trevor Crenshaw shares a story about 18th-century theologian John Wesley. One day Wesley’s house burned to the ground. Neighbors ran to him and told him the house was completely gone. John responded by saying, “That’s impossible. You see, I don’t own a house. God gave me a place to live in. I only managed that house for Him. If He didn’t put the fire out, then that’s His problem. He’ll have to put me somewhere else.” Crenshaw explains, “John Wesley’s perspective of stewardship aligns with God’s perspective of stewardship. His idea of stewardship had its impetus in God’s ownership of everything, which included Wesley’s possessions. Even though Wesley lived in the house, he acknowledged God as the ultimate owner.” A Bible verse such as Psalm 24:1 reminds us, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (NIV).
While I am certain that few of us would react exactly like John Wesley if we heard our home had burned down, his perspective is a wise way to consider our homes and the possessions we use every day. We need to keep a divine perspective of stewardship, and remember “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” As we take care of the possessions that we have accumulated, we want to remember that God is longing for us to be faithful stewards who hold everything lightly for as long as we need it; who use what we have to bless those we serve, and then pass things along to others when we have no further use for them. A friend with the gift of hospitality once told me, “See your home as a blessing and opportunity to serve others. Don’t ‘serve the home’ (filling it with unnecessary stuff). Reorient your efforts into how the home might best serve those who live there, and those you invite into it.”
Author Diane Leclerc shares another point we can learn from theologian John Wesley. She says, “Part of John Wesley’s teaching was a spiritual practice he calls, ‘blessed subtraction’ — removing non-essential things and activities in your life. This practice focuses on the active form of self-sacrifice. Wesley believed we can draw closer to God when distractions are willingly set aside.” In speaking about drawing closer to God, Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (NIV). It’s a great reminder to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, not for earthly possessions and popularity, but for you and your family’s health and vitality. God designed us to be dependent on Him. It can be painful to “subtract” possessions and distractions. It is the opposite of what our culture expects of us. However, it is vital to subtract the unnecessary to give us the energy and focus we can direct towards our relationship with God and others.
Just as when I cleared out the flower bed, don’t be afraid to subtract the unnecessary to make room in your life and your home. The open spaces on your counters and in your calendar will be useful to let the important things that are left take priority. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” Matthew 6:21 (NIV).
Major Janene Zielinski is the Territorial Social Services Secretary in the Western Territory.