Clutter and Peace

Clutter. It’s the bane of my desk. And kitchen. And hall. And minivan. And purse.

School papers, receipts, bits of modeling clay, socks (mateless and otherwise), wrappers, notes, crackers, colorful pipe cleaners, jars, oatmeal canisters, coupons. This morning I even found a banana in my purse.

You get the idea.

Occasionally something (such as a banana in my purse) tells me that the clutter is a tad out of control, and in a burst of optimism (or denial; you decide) I determine that it would take but a  little effort to eradicate it. My attempts look something like this:

I carefully sort through the pile of junk mail, keeping a couple flyers and recycling the rest.  Sonny and Ace follow my instructions to transfer any clothes that are lying around to the laundry room.

Next up: recycling. Out go the notes, receipts, most of the junk mail, and oatmeal canister. Out goes the months-old cardstock “armor of God” craft from VBS.

Ahhh, looks better already.

J comes in with the mail. He starts a new pile of flyers.

I schlepp a large shopping bag through the house, filling it with various and sundry items. A broken robot.  Mateless socks. The infernal Superman book that I can’t stand to read even one more time. An outgrown  shirt. The monkey puzzle with a missing piece. I park the bag in the mudroom and, recognizing that anything destined for Goodwill is automatically pronounced a cherished favorite, cleverly conceal it with an old blue pillowcase.

Sonny comes inside and carefully sheds his wet socks, leaving them under the bench in the hall.

I collect a pile of magazines, make a mental note to bring them to the preschool, and stack them by the back door.

“Here comes suuuuuuuuuuuuper dinosaur rescuer guy!” Ace zooms past, sporting a cape fashioned from an old blue pillowcase. Meanwhile, burrowing noises from the mudroom. It’s Sonny: “Hey, this is my favorite shirt! And my favorite robot! And my favorite puzzle! Why is all this stuff in here? Can we read the Superman book?”

I read the Superman book through gritted teeth and follow the trail of puzzle pieces to The Bag, stuffing the rejects back into it.

Ace is dumpster diving. “Mom! You can’t throw away Sonny’s breastplate of righteousness!” (Well, no, not when you put it that way.) “And I can make an invention with this oatmeal box!” He marches into the kitchen, possessively clutching the oatmeal canister, and dumps it in the vicinity of the other craft materials.

Meanwhile, I reconsider getting rid of those magazines. I haven’t even read all of them yet . . .

It’s not tidying up; it’s Whac-a-Mole. Evidently I lose at decluttering.

So it also goes in my head. Last Sunday began the week of Advent that focuses on peace. I determined that it would take but a little effort to shed any mental clutter that obstructs peace.  But then:

I check an acquaintance’s CarePage, and the news is bleak.

The recently-cleaned house is suddenly not clean. At all.

I hear an ambulance stop nearby.

Why is he having stomach aches again?

I am worried about a friend.

Why is the dryer making that noise?

Did I say the wrong thing? Yes, I’m pretty sure I did.

I miss my grandpa.

I can’t sleep lately, so I am tired, so I am crabby.

My Christmas to-list is nagging at me.

And so on.

Some of these are not insignificant matters, but many are. And despite my resolve to shed this mental clutter, I can’t seem to do so. Even when one piece is quelled, another pops up.

Evidently I lose at achieving peace.

J turns on Handel’s Messiah. “And His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.”

I may lose at achieving peace, but that’s okay, because it’s not up to me.

May you find peace this season—clutter and all.

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Hope Is a Superpower

“Mommy, if you had a superpower, it would probably be a walrus superpower. Then you could break ice with your head!”

Two things here: First, what is it about me that suggests “walrus” to my four-year-old? (And please keep any inklings to yourself, because I really don’t want to know.) Second, as long as he’s doling out superpowers, why couldn’t he grant me a more practical one?

I began to mentally form a wish list of useful superpowers—none of which, you may notice, relate in any way to walruses.

  • The “prepare for Christmas in the blink of an eye” superpower.
  • The “beam laundry from the dryer to the closet” superpower.
  • The “instantly purge the house of clutter” superpower.
  • The “quell whining with one calmly spoken word” superpower.
  • The “inject everyone in the house with gusto for whatever I cook” superpower.
  • The “be astonishingly organized and never procrastinate” superpower.

Caught up in the very idea, I began to make frequent mention of my superpowers. I would use my superpowers to start the van! I would use my superpowers to make a  spreadsheet! I would use my superpowers to prepare lunch! Finally Ace, drained of patience, sighed. “Mommy. Mommy. You don’t need superpowers to do those things. You just use your regular powers.”

Oh.

Right.

Lunch-making would be a waste of a superpower, wouldn’t it?  As would everything on my wish list (with the possible exception of that whining one). All they take is regular powers and some extra effort.

So, what superpower would I actually choose, given a chance?

  • The ability to assuage the pain of grieving friends.
  • The ability to ease the holidays for those whose hearts have been broken.
  • The ability to console those whose outlook is bleak.

And so on.

It’s Advent, the season of spiritual preparation for Christmas, the time of waiting for the coming of Christ. This first week of Advent has focused on hope.  Unlike the word wish, hope indicates possibility and expectation. As Kathleen Norris wrote, “Hope has an astonishing resilience and strength. Its very persistence in our hearts indicates that it is not a tonic for wishful thinkers but the ground on which realists stand ” (Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life).

We lack the superpower to magically exterminate others’ pain, but we can use our regular powers to chisel away at it until hope begins to glimmer and gives them ground on which to stand. We can use our regular powers to relay a memory of the loved one for whom they are grieving. To bring them a meal. To pat a shoulder. To send a note. To sit in silence with them. To babysit their kids. To invite them to our home. To send a comforting poem or passage or song. To take them on an outing.

Use your regular powers to clear their path for hope. When one has hope, one can go on.

May you have hope, and offer hope, this season.