Clear out the unimportant

Partly to avoid the worst of the heat of the Australian summer, I spent some of ‘down time’ in January sorting through filing cabinets rapidly approaching the point of overflowing, and boxes that seem to have not moved since I arrived in my present home. It was a very cathartic and therapeutic experience.

It was amazing, and at times embarrassing, to look back over things that I have put in a filing cabinet or a box because I thought at the time they were important to keep. The passing of years – and a decade in some cases – provided a different perspective on what I considered important ‘back then’ as compared to now, and so the recycling bin was the beneficiary of many things that I realised that I no longer needed to keep. They joined the duplicates of many things I had gathered over the years because they were very important to keep at the time – and every time I came across them!

Needless to say, I now have less unmoved boxes and much more space in my filing cabinet. No doubt the unused space I have created over the summer will be filled soon enough with new things that I will believe at the time to be important to keep, and so will find myself repeating the summer clean out again in the next few years.

The task of clearing unimportant things from my filing cabinet and boxes reminded me that there is sometimes the need to do the same thing with other parts of my life. It can be difficult to let go of things that I hold to be precious and of great value, yet there is a certain freedom that comes from letting go of things that have become more of a burden than a source of joy. Getting the balance correct is the challenge.

I believe working out what is a burden and what is a source of joy requires two tasks. Firstly, there must be a rigorous, almost brutal, assessment of the item, whether it be material or some aspect of my life. I have to put aside emotional attachments, the “I’ve always thought that” syndrome, and any thought that I must do this or that, keep this or keep that. Unless I do this, there is no possibility of being sought one thing from another.

The second part, just as difficult, is to assess as to whether that which is under consideration is a positive or a negative at this particular point in my life. Again, emotional attachment and other considerations must be put aside so I can reach a decision. And reaching a decision is what I must attempt. I must either keep something or be prepared to jettison it, just in the same way I filled the recycling bin with discarded material recently.

I do not think for one minute that I got the decision correct every single time. Such perfection belongs to God, not to me. But I did make decisions, and those things which I have kept, whether material or not, are now those things which will become the source of joy, either immediately or in the longer term.

This process can also apply to the Church. In his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis went to great lengths to challenge all Christians to jettison those things that get in the way of being able to renew our personal encounter with Jesus Christ. When we seek to make that a priority – and Pope Francis encourages us to do exactly that – there will be things that will help, and there will be things that get in the way.

The process of ‘getting our own house in order’ is a challenge. It always has been and, I suspect, always will be. But we can do it, with God’s help, if we are prepared to be open to a realistic assessment of what falls into both of those categories, of keeping and strengthening the first, and rejecting or converting the latter.

So I’m going back to my clean up, of my filing cabinets, my boxes, and myself. I hope and pray that I might not be alone.

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Fr Andrew Doohan Image
Fr Andrew Doohan

Administrator Catholic parishes of Dungog and Gresford and Master of Ceremonies.

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