Sitting in the Middle of the Mess

Atop the Ruins

Now that I am no longer at my day job, my days are full of sorting through all the material goods I have accumulated over the last 24 years, deciding which are worthy of accompanying me on my cross-country trek, which should be stored for the future, and which should be given away (or in a few cases attempted to be sold) to bless others.

This is no easy task, as I come from a long line of pack-rats, hoarders, spend-thrifts. “I might want that some day!” “That could come in handy.” “Oh, I was keeping that for this project…” “That cost good money!” None of these statements are life-giving – they are traps. They’ve been passed down to me from an era when war and financial ruin made resources hard to come by and every little thing you could keep a precious commodity. A time before craigslist or freecycle. I’m learning little by little to let these burdensome thoughts go, along with stacks of unread books, unused craft supplies, unfinished and forgotten projects, unflattering clothing.

Lately I have been thinking a lot about the topics of community and brokenness in the context of ministry and Christian life. I am reading a book with the other members of my church called “Life Together in Christ” by Ruth Haley Barton, a look at the story of the two disciples who met Christ on the Emmaus Road after his resurrection and what that story can teach us about growing together as Christian community.  I’m also re-reading “The Wounded Healer” by Henri Nouwen, which I think I need to make a habit of reading once a year – even though it was written in the late 70’s, his wisdom about the problems facing our modern age and how to minister in the midst of cynicism, aimlessness, and uncertainty is still quite relevant.

More on the topic of community another time. The concept that tied these two books together for me is one I’m quite familiar with from my days studying mythology and ritual: liminal space, the in-between. As Barton puts it, “[liminal space is] a particular spiritual position where human beings hate to be, but where the biblical God is always leading them… that needed transition when were are moving from one place or one state of being to another. Liminal space usually induces some sort of inner crisis: you have left the tried and true (or it has left you), and you have not yet been able to replace it with anything else.”

As I sat yesterday in the middle of my piles of boxes and bags, the physical clutter and mental clutter, and the spiritual unease that accompanies these, I realized:

Seeking comfort as a goal hinders us from following Christ and ministering to others. Liminal space is where we experience our greatest growth and our greatest capacity for encounter with God. It’s only by experiencing these places of discomfort, dis-ease, and uncertainty that we can learn how to meet others in their own life messes. Only through letting go of attachment to things that ground us to this life can we ground ourselves in Christ.

This was a weighty conclusion and one I’m still struggling with. After all, I like to be comfortable. I like my routines, my warm bed, my familiar surroundings. I like having a collection of books on hand to draw on for inspiration, bins of craft supplies on hand for when I’m feeling creative or need to solve a household problem (ie. need a sign for my blanket fort, yarn to make a hanging plant basket sling, cloth to sew last-minute gift bags, supplies to make last minute gifts). I like to know where my next dollar is coming from and where my next meal is coming from. It’s true: I HATE living in liminal space. It’s a fun place to visit – carnivals, festivals, Halloween festivities – but having it invade your life is messy and scary.

Routine can be good, and God certainly gives us the blessings of comforts to enjoy them. But we can get too entrenched in routine and comfort, to the point where we don’t know how to step outside our own vantage point and see things from a different angle. It prevents us from truly empathizing with people outside those walls of comfort.

I will be glad when I am done with this downsizing process and can move to the next stage of my adventure. Letting go of my belongings is painful and stressful, and they seem to just keep coming. Sometimes I wonder how I’ll be able to finish in time. The idea of leaving the apartment and roommate that have been home for the last four and a half years isn’t an idea I really like (although the more our ceiling leaks and our heat goes out on cold days the more I grow to accept it). I am praying lots of prayers these days for inner peace and supernatural help. But I also know that this is a time that God is stretching me, teaching me to trust in Him more each day and learn how to live life His way, not my own.

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