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MAN OF THE HOUSE | Clearing away physical — and spiritual — clutter

“The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth.”

What if you can’t even see that there is a road at all?

Piles of treasure and trash alike can obscure the trail right in front of us. Sometimes, we become blind to the point of not having a clue where the path leads — even if the destination is eternal paradise.

St. John of the Cross called that paradise “Divine union.” Of course, it’s hard to unite with anything, embrace anyone, when you’re clinging to loads of “stuff.”

So it was when I looked into our garage. And the basement. And some of our closets, our drawers and spaces in some bedrooms.

Please don’t get the wrong idea. We aren’t hoarders. Our home wasn’t an unlivable place with no room to move. We just had accumulated a lot of things. Besides, I once heard a psychologist say clutter is a sign of genius. So … maybe we’re just smart?

Or maybe I just can’t let things go.

That was before. Most of it is gone after hours and hours of work. Some of the clutter had usefulness remaining, so we donated plenty of perfectly good clothes, furniture and even a couple of appliances.

But I now appreciate that most of the stuff mattered only to me. Here’s the thing: It didn’t occupy just a physical place in our crowded house; it provided emotional and spiritual congestion as well.

In those scary, boring, uncertain early months of the pandemic, the Lord blessed me with what I understand to be one of the first steps toward heaven: Humility.

Letting it all go, one bit at a time, proved excruciating. Spiritual experiences often feel that way.

God really does work in mysterious ways. He can use any circumstance for good if we cooperate.

Back in 2020, our two-car garage was so jammed with stuff that we couldn’t even wade through it. Then, the fridge stopped working (we found out much later it had just become unplugged!), which meant all the meat in the freezer went bad, pungent juice leaking onto some boxes and cabinets below.

Everything close to the fridge had to go. I took vacation time to toss all that into a dumpster; Donna and I used the opportunity to sort through everything else. Each item was a memory — some warm, some upsetting.

I kept sensing John of the Cross, my spiritual guide. If you thought cleaning out a garage — and then a full basement — sounds like hard work, trust me when I say John’s words can make it all the more challenging.

“The soul that is attached to anything, however much good there may be in it, will not arrive at the liberty of Divine union,” he said. “For whether it be a strong wire rope or a slender and delicate thread that holds the bird, it matters not, if it really holds it fast; for until the cord be broken, the bird cannot fly.”

I found report cards from when my kids were in grade school. Letters I received from readers decades ago when I was a sportswriter. Books I always intended to read but wound up stacked in a box in a corner, textbooks from college classes I had passed, notebooks filled with scribblings from interviews for stories I wrote 20, 25, 30 years ago.

I smiled looking at some of those things. I cried at others. I squeezed hard before deciding whether to toss something into the dumpster or perhaps save it for … for what?

After a while, I had to admit the clutter wasn’t just in the garage.

My mind and heart and soul were filled with “stuff” — some likely treasure, some definitely trash, much of it unnecessary. Could God make better use of that space if given the opportunity?

Perhaps that could be a gift to ourselves — and to others — this holy season.

The world tells us to give with love and receive with joy, never moreso than at Christmas. And as a kid, I tried to remember it was “spirit of the gift that counts,” but I always have liked a really nice gift. The stuff.

Ah, but if I can just clear away the stuff, slowly but surely, a road gradually may open before me.

Eisenbath is a parishioner at St. Cletus Parish in St. Charles.

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