My elder daughter will be turning six soon and she has decided that this is The Year of the American Girl Doll. I remember hitting this phase as a young girl, along with my two sisters. We would wait on pins and needles for the latest catalog to arrive, then all take turns reverently perusing through the pages, carefully examining the contents old and new and judiciously (or… not so judiciously) marking each item on our “wish list” with the appropriate initial. Even with all of the unabashed commercialization that has happened to AG over the years, I still love what it has to offer my girls by way of imaginative play throughout different periods of our country’s history.
My younger daughter (who is 4) inherited my old American Girl doll, along with a handful of outfits and a doll bed. So when Big Sis started asking for her own doll and supplies, I knew it was time to Clean Out The Room. I explained that if the girls wanted to “graduate” to AG dolls, they would need to get rid of some older toys that they no longer played with. I saw the gleam in their eyes as they imagined piles and piles of new doll clothes and accessories. I, in turn, had stars in my eyes as I imagined by girls peacefully playing together in their room, discussing the various troubles faced by colonists and immigrants and aspiring to be as spunky, courageous and resourceful as the likes of Felicity, Addy and Kirsten.
But the task of getting rid of old toys completely shattered my starry-eyed dreams. The girls have so many cute, wonderful toys that they have outgrown: things they never play with anymore and had even forgotten existed until I fished them out of the bottom of the toy bin. I held up each item and asked: “Okay, girls: keep or give away?” “KEEP!” shouted my younger. I could at least see the hesitation in my elder daughter’s eyes, but inevitably she came to the very “rational” conclusion that she did, in fact, play with that particular toy and it would only make sense to hang on to it.
Momma was getting frustrated. How can I make my kids see that I’m only asking them to do this so that I can give them gifts they will enjoy more???
I am not sure what clicked all of a sudden, but at some point halfway through I decided to change my language. “Okay, girls,” I said as I held up another toy.
“Shall we keep this, or make room for something else?”
The phrasing of the question struck them differently than before. All of a sudden, the focus was shifted from “getting rid” of something or “giving it away;” now, they were asked to focus on a goal: to make room for the coveted American Girl Stuff. I switched the vocabulary and the thought process from something negative, to something positive.
My almost-six-year-old caught on at once. “Oh! I don’t use it that much. Maybe I should make room for something else.” Her sister jumped on board. “Yeah! Make room!”
It took about an hour, but we went through two catch-all bins, a stuffed animal hammock and a full toy chest and came away with two large shopping bags full of items so that we could “make room.” I felt like an awesome mom. Mission accomplished with no tears and no fights and for the most part, I concurred with their choices. Plus, now the girls are excited at the prospect of having a place for new dolls, outfits and accessories.
But I’m not writing this to brag about my ability to get my kids to clean out old toys. I’m writing this because as soon as I set about tidying up the rest of their room, I was struck with the realization that I am a lot like my kids when it comes to making room for God in my life. Like my kids, I am growing and changing in my relationship with Christ and perhaps it would be wise for me to stop once in a while, take stock and realize that I need to re-evaluate the “things” which may be cluttering up my life.
Now is one of those times.
In a very tangible way I am definitely thinking of “things” as in “possessions”: do I own or am I hanging on to anything that is prohibiting me from growing closer to God? Do I own any movies, books, memorabilia, clothing, etc. that distract me or even worse– pull me away from God? I’m not saying that having possessions, even a lot of possessions, is inherently distracting or sinful (although, Mk 10:25 and all). I’m not saying we shouldn’t take delight in some of our possessions, but I’m just saying that it is good to remember that “Everything belongs to God, and all things were created by His power” (Heb 2:10a) so we shouldn’t be attached to our possessions for their own sake. Thus, everything I own and use should somehow bring me closer to God, whether through contemplation of Beauty, or by strengthening my relationship with my kids and my spouse. I recently got rid of a few books, movies and CDs that were “leftovers” from high school and college. I needed to realize that there is a big difference between material that requires a mature audience (thus, fine to keep around) and material that is just plain hyper-sexualized and violent for its own sake. Maybe this material didn’t register as being offensive or hindering my path to holiness even a few years ago, but they sure do now. Why keep them around? MAKE ROOM!
Taking it a step further, I think it would serve me well to think about “things” that clutter my life in terms of “activities”. Do I have any bad habits that distract me from God? The biggest and perhaps most common issue I have is with that blasted smart phone. I may pick it up with the best intentions (call my mom, send a happy note to a friend), but inevitably I end up getting pulled in to Facebook or some other time-wasting site. Ten minutes may pass before I think, “What am I doing?” I’ve been working very hard at limiting this time when I’m around my kids or my husband, but even if I have time to spare, do I really find it edifying and life-giving to spend my time finding posts to “Like?” I’m not saying smart phones can’t draw one closer to God– you can do Liturgy of the Hours, communicate with loved ones, read Sacred Scripture, or engage in evangelization efforts. These are all good things. But that’s not always how I use my phone. So one thing I’ve decided to do is lock my phone and use a swipe pattern to unlock it. My pattern is the cross. And as I swipe that cross on my phone I say, “Lord, help me to use this time wisely.” That’s it. I may not be ready to “give up” or “get rid of” Facebook or my favorite blogs, but I am willing (at least in theory) to make room in my life for God in those things.
The hardest part of this examination process is also thinking about “things” in terms of “people.” I am so blessed to have beautiful, sincere and uplifting people in my life. My family and friends are wonderful– and it’s not because they are all Catholic. It’s because they are all kind and virtuous. I won’t pretend to conflate the two. But reading this article in Verily Magazine a while ago got me thinking about so-called “toxic” relationships in the past, and whether I had been emotionally hanging on to people that needed to be let go. And I was. I mean, I am. I need to learn to let go of exes, failed friendships, nay-sayers and everyone else who has injured me– because stubbornly hanging on to these hurts poisons my relationships today, especially my relationship with God. To put it differently, I realize that God is asking me to forgive. And make room.
It’s a work in progress. And part of it is rather painful and some times I’m tempted to think it’s all just silly. Does God really care about my choice in TV shows at the end of a long day? Don’t I deserve to veg out and just enjoy myself, relaxing with my husband? I think He definitely cares about bad habits or attitudes that I may subconsciously develop from watching certain things, and the simple fact that I have to face each day is that I don’t deserve anything. All of these good things in my life are gifts from the Father and as much as I may like to hang on to something, I also need to be open to the fact the God is always trying to give me something better– namely, Himself. In order to receive those things, I may need to get rid of some stuff… or at least rethink how I’m using it.
So I’m embarking on a mission of “Spiritual Spring Cleaning,” trying to identify those things in my life that I should “keep” and those things I can let go of in order to Make Room.
Who wants to join me??
By way of meditation, I offer you a passage from St. Augustine’s “De doctrina Christiana”:
Some things are to be enjoyed, others to be used, and there are others which are to be enjoyed and used. Those things which are enjoyed make us blessed. Those things which are to be used help and, as it were, sustain us as we move toward blessedness in order that we may gain and cling to those things which make us blessed. If we…wish to enjoy those things which should be used, our course will be impeded and sometimes deflected, so that we are retarded in obtaining those things which are to be enjoyed, or even prevented altogether, shackled by an inferior love. To enjoy something is to cling to it with love for its own sake. To use something, however, is to employ it in obtaining that which you love…Thus in this mortal life, wandering from God, if we wish to return to our native country where we can be blessed, we should use this world and not enjoy it, so that the “invisible things” of God “being understood by the things that are made” (Rom 1:20) may be seen. (De doctrina Christiana, Book One: III-IV, trans. Robertson, 1997)