I’m not very good at keeping house. I have great plans of having a beautifully organized home with everything in its place, but it rarely comes to fruition. A few dirty coffee mugs here, a couple empty Amazon boxes there, and soon I don’t have a place to sit on my couch.
It wasn’t always this way, though.
For most of my life, I lived in a community. Whether it was my family, college roommates or a religious community, I had motivation to keep my life in order. If I left something on the floor or didn’t return coffee mugs to the kitchen, other people were affected. Out of love and common courtesy, or maybe simply a fear of being judged, I kept things neat.
The difference now is that I live by myself. In living alone, I don’t mind if things get a little bit cluttered, and I figure I will pick them up before someone comes to visit.
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When we know that other people will see us, we are much more inclined to keep things in order. Whether it’s our homes, our personal dress or our social media pages, we want to appear presentable and neat.
But there’s one place no one else can see, and it’s a place that can easily become cluttered and fall into disrepair: the human heart.
Our hearts can become cluttered as we’re going about our daily lives. Just like leaving a dirty coffee mug on the table or a pair of shoes in the middle of the floor, we can hold onto a grudge when someone offends us in passing or worry about what people think of an idea we shared. Things that started as ways to kill a little bit of time while waiting for an appointment, such as scrolling social media or listening to true crime podcasts, can start to take up hours of our evening — time we had previously spent reaching out to loved ones and friends.
No one else can see these things that clutter our hearts. In many cases, we might not even know that they are affecting us. But whether they are sins or simply bad habits that keep us from living lives of complete freedom, they take up precious real estate in the part of ourselves where God himself dwells.
In his Letter to the Galatians, St. Paul says, “God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Gal 4:6). The Holy Spirit literally dwells in our hearts, right alongside our concerns about what people think of our job performance and the impulse to constantly refresh social media feeds.
If there are too many other things taking up space and making noise in our hearts, these habits and sins and grudges and worries and concerns can drown out the voice of the Spirit in us that longs for God. This is often why going to Mass might feel like it takes a great amount of effort, but going to an event that will be perfect for Instagram seems like no big deal. Our hearts are cluttered and other things that aren’t God have taken up more room.
The Church sets aside the season of Advent as a time to declutter our hearts to make room for Jesus because everyone — yes, everyone — needs it. It is a time of year when we focus on creating just a little bit of room for Baby Jesus — room that can grow and allow him to take over our entire lives with his consuming love.
Jesus is not just one more concern that needs to take up space in our hearts. No, he is the only thing, the one thing that matters (cf. Lk 10:42), and we don’t want his voice to get lost in the midst of the other clutter that we have accumulated.
To declutter your heart, begin with taking inventory of what you have allowed to enter into this precious space. A first step might be looking at how you spend your time and whether or not it adequately reflects what is most important to you. Like an examination of conscience, this is an opportunity to honestly check in with yourself and where you are.
Then, looking at what you are carrying with you, the next step is to group them into four categories: areas that you want to grow, things that are fine as they are, concerns that need to take up less space, and things that absolutely need to go. For the things that absolutely need to go, take some time in prayer to hand them over to Jesus so that they don’t live in your heart anymore.
This process allows you to keep what is most important, while also acknowledging that you are a human being who lives in the world. We will never be completely free from concerns or even sin while we are on this side of heaven, but we want the voice of God to be the one that reverberates most loudly in our hearts.
The only person besides ourselves who has access to our hearts is God himself. Now is the time to make more room for him.