Magazine article The Christian Century

Clutter Counselor

Magazine article The Christian Century

Clutter Counselor

Article excerpt

YOU'VE MOVED across the country, and you're a long way from the town you know best. Time flies, and it's been a couple of years since you've been back. But something has come up, and it turns out you're going to spend a day or two there. When you go back, you can't not go and see that one person, the one who knows you so well and loves you despite it all, and from whom you tend to shy away because he's like a refiner's fire that burns away the dross and leaves you with no way to hide the truth. But you've been away a couple of years. You're a lot more worldly-wise now, and you're not going to be seen through as easily as in the old days.

The conversation starts simply. "What've you been up to?" There're lots of things to say to that. Then, "What're you working on?" That one's a bit harder, because you know it doesn't just mean, "What's keeping you busy?" but, "What's the part of you that's being tested, what are you learning, what's not working, and where are you having to grow through your mistakes?" You blunder on, offering up quite a few responses and hoping the number of different activities will prevent the conversation from settling on any single one of them. "That's a lot of things," says your refiner's fire. "Which is the one that really matters?"

Oh dear. You've dug yourself a hole. It's as if you've been buried in sand at the seaside. You can't avoid a question like that. It's too obvious. Your jokey manner and casual charm have failed. You admit that you could have avoided this conversation but that something drew you into it. Part of you wanted this. "Hmm?" says the refiner's fire, pointing out that you haven't answered the question. "Since you put it that way, none of the things I've mentioned is the one that really matters." You lower your eyes and look at the floor, because you feel shame. Shame that your life is so full of padding and that the real quality is buried inside. Shame that this person who knows you so well and understands life so acutely has gotten to the heart of it all in about five minutes. And then, surprising yourself, you say, "The one that really matters is ..."

And you begin to regain a bit of composure because you've said something good and true. And it turns out, you suddenly realize, that you're actually perceptive and full of self-knowledge and even wisdom. You think maybe the refiner's fire isn't so scary. Maybe we're on a level. But the refiner isn't finished. …

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