I’ve been reading a book by Nadia Bolz-Weber. She is a Lutheran pastor who is down to earth, funny, and unapologetic about all of the ways she doesn’t match the stereotype or the idealized version of a Christian minister. I find her work funny, meaningful, and incredibly inspiring. One of the reasons I like her so much is that she always makes the connection between the theological or the biblical and every day life. Now, I’m not going to do the same here as I have no interest in schooling you on the Bible or claiming any kind of theological authority, but this idea that Bolz-Weber put forward kind of stopped me in my tracks (metaphorically, I was reading on the couch, already stopped).
She’s writing about Advent, and I won’t go into it in too much depth (I do talk about Advent here, if that’s of interest to you), but she and a congregant begin discussing an idea about a practice for Advent, the time leading up to Christmas. She proposes to her friend that they make lists for Advent, you know like a Christmas list, but so not. A Christmas list includes everything you want to bring in, to add, to receive. An Advent list, on the other hand, includes everything that you’d like removed, everything (in her words): “we want Christ to break in and take from us. in the hopes he could pickpocket the stupid junk in our houses, or abscond with our self-loathing or resentment…” I am completely in love with this idea. I am so in love with it I needed to share it with you when the holiday season is half a year away. Patience has NEVER been my thing.
This whole idea of the Advent list really got me to thinking about how we see “better.” When we think about things getting better in our lives, we often focus on what would add to them: more stuff, more space, more vacation, more clothes, more shoes, more good food, more time and always ALWAYS more money (me too, yes please).
In my own personal development and growth these last few years, however, I’ve seen that my greatest happiness, my biggest joys, my clearest leaps forward have all been as a result of removing something rather than adding something new. Don’t worry, I’m not about to go all minimalist on you because anyone who’s seen my house knows THAT’s a laugh. The point here isn’t about the stuff, the cars, the house, or even the shoes (no, not even the shoes).
The point is that when it comes to our selves – our souls, our personalities, our essence(s) – it is rarely an addition that is needed.
Alright, WTH am I talking about. Let me share a little story.
Years ago, when I began to see my coach (yes coaches have coaches), I had a specific goal in mind. I wanted to figure out what to do professionally. The kids were growing up and I wanted to get back to work in some capacity. It was clear that the previous plan (me returning to the classroom) would not work when I began to feel nauseous (not in a nervous but more like a oh please no kind of way) every time I thought about it or got a call to substitute or did work towards renewing my certification. Every time. I decided to listen to the old God pod and explore other options.
My coach listened intently to my conundrum, the background story, the questions, the circular thinking, the distrust of my own preferences and she said, brilliantly: “I know you have a really specific goal here, but sometimes before you can deal with life on the first floor, you’ve got to clean out the attic.”
I laughed and shook my head, having known this was coming and not wanting anything to do with it. And yet, it was time. It was time to find the way forward by removing the impediments. It was time to find the way forward by dropping the shield. It was time to ask the questions WITHOUT having pre-scripted answers to run into. I needed things to be taken away. My relationship with religion has been somewhat spotty, but I do know miracles from humans when I see them. The work that my coach and I did together was nothing short of magical. She helped me find the junk that was in the way. She helped me clear the road, unclog the pipes, and clean out the attic. How’s that for whole lot of cleanup in a mixed metaphor?
If you measure my life in material terms, it’s pretty darned good, and has been for a long time. Since my seminarian and I embarked on our mid-life crises simultaneously, that material reality has changed. We have less. But what we’ve really done is changed the internal landscape so dramatically that the shift in our income matters far less than it would have years ago. We have less in the attic: less self-doubt, less resentment, less certainty about what can’t be, fewer fearful voices, fewer rules, less need to fit in, less desire to compete, less need to buffer ourselves against the dissatisfaction we created. We have less. Those boxes have been sorted through, the gems moved into places of prominence and the tattered dregs tossed to the curb.
We have less, and so we find that we are able to be more, and that’s all we ever wanted.
What’s on your Advent list? You have several months to answer that question. If you’d like, I’d love to be part of your decluttering team.