SOURCE: Dr. Henry Cloud
It felt a bit like I was taking my work home, but I still found myself engrossed in an episode of “Hoarders” on TV last night. If you are not familiar with the show, it lets you see in great detail the struggles of people who hoard. Close up and personal, you get to see what happens to people’s lives, families, marriages, health, spiritual well-being, psyche’s and souls, when they are beset by one basic problem: the inability to let go of “stuff.” Whether it is memorabilia, toys, electronics, appliances, clothes, or whatever, the basic issue is the same. The person just cannot let it go. So, he or she keeps it around.
The problem is that life is not a one-stop shopping event. Reality is that as time goes on, we get even more stuff. We need and buy more clothes, sports equipment, toys for children, or gadgets for daily use. We take more pictures, collect more souvenirs, and keep up with changing trends and styles. Nothing wrong with that, and in fact we would question anyone today who was showing off their 80’s style. The problem is that as we are accumulating and gathering new “stuff,” we have to recognize that there has to be a parallel process of not only gathering the new, but letting go of the old and the broken as well. We have to make room for today and tomorrow by saying goodbye to yesterday.
The second principle is pruning. In the same way that a rose bush needs pruning to get beautiful roses, for us to have a healthy life, we have to continually prune as well. A gardener must prune a rose bush in three instances: First, the bush produces more buds than it can sustain and feed and there are too many buds taking the resources of the bush.
So, the gardener prunes the “good” ones, and keeps only the “best” ones so they can fully mature. Second, there are diseased branches that are not going to get well. Even after trying all that she can try to bring them back, they “refuse” and so are pruned away. Third, there are some branches which are long since dead and are taking up space that the healthy ones need in order to stretch out and grow. If all three of these pruning functions are done regularly and well, then the roses thrive.
Think what would happen if the hoarder did the same three things: 1) only keep the possessions that best add to their life, the life of the family, and other loved ones. (2) Get rid of what was broken beyond repair. (3) Toss out the pure junk that had no life left whatsoever. Then, they would get their homes and their lives back, and their children could thrive as well.
Put the two principles together, seasons and pruning, and you get a clear realization of how life was created: there are “necessary endings” that we must embrace to have the life that we’re meant to have.
In the physical world of hoarding “stuff,” this problem is easy to see. You can’t even walk through their houses, much less create happiness in all of that clutter. We can all see that and sometimes want to cast stones. But, let’s make it more personal to us. While most of us don’t have a hoarding issue that could make TV, we probably can all confess to the hoarding in some context of life.
Said another way, most of us avoid facing the fact that the season has passed for some aspects of life that we are still invested in, and we should let go of them. But, for a variety of reasons, such as not wanting to upset someone, guilt, or fear of the unknown, we hang on. Similarly, in terms of pruning, there are some areas of life that might be “good,” but are not “best” for us to be giving ourselves to. They are taking time and energy from the “best” things that we should be invested in. Or, some things in life are broken and not going to get better, and should be pruned just as the ones which are clearly dead. The idea here is that for you to be able to build the marriage, family and life that has called you to have today and tomorrow, there are always some things from yesterday that have to end. You have to say “no more,” or “good bye.” Here are some examples:
• A small group, or groups, which served you well in a particular season of your spiritual life, or marriage, is no longer doing so. Its legitimate season is past. But you are not free to find and invest in a group that is appropriate for this time of life because of fear or guilt. Or, you don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings.
• A group of friends or social circle (once important to you) is going a different direction in life, with different values than you wish to build in your marriage, family, or friendships. Spending time and energy there is keeping you from investing in the friends that are heading in the same direction and should get the best of your time.
• A good practice, such as every holiday at a parent’s house, may not always be best at every holiday because your own family needs some holiday traditions of its own as well. Yet, you are afraid of the conflict that may bring.
• An extended family member, with whom you have tried all you know to do, continues in their denial causing your marriage or your family unnecessary grief. Every time you interact with them, your own family suffers in some way as you are not as emotionally available for them in the aftermath.
• You attend a church whose season is past, or is toxic, or is not the best for what you, your marriage of family is being called to be. Yet because of some kind of fear, you are afraid to pull up roots and find what you need.
• You spend time on a hobby or other practice that, while good, might be keeping you from investing time and energy pursuing something that will build more life for you or your family.
• Your kids or family is simply overextended in too many sports, clubs, spiritual activities, arts, or social functions and as a result, the quality time that you need with each other doesn’t happen.
• You give financially or in service to help a person, or organization that is not being a good steward of your gift. Yet, you are afraid for some reason, usually guilt, to let go.
All of these scenarios are common to life. And I am not saying that we should just “throw away” all of our activities or relationships that are not “feeding us” in some way. That would be a selfish way to go about life, as we are called to commitment and redemption. But, I am saying that sometimes commitment and redemption are only served well when intentional stewardship is applied using the principles of seasons and pruning. We should be wisely choosing where we spend our time and energy, and pruning what does not fit. We are commanded to do so, and will be held accountable for our choices when we don’t.
These “necessary endings” are never easy. But, if we are going to have an abundant life and our families are going to thrive, we will have to recognize what seasons we are in, and always be pruning with courage and faith.