We all know what the passage of time can do to an attic. It gets crammed full of stuff – most of which we no longer find useful. If not discarded, this stuff begins to spill into our homes and the living space we need for daily life. This usually means it’s time for a yard sale. But did you know that, according to the spiritual masters, the same thing can happen to our hearts?
Scripture makes it quite clear that we need to do a better job keeping our hearts clean because, as Jesus says, “Wherever your treasure is, there also is your heart,” (Lk 12:34).
With 2018 still young, this is the perfect time to ask ourselves if our hearts are full of what we treasure, or have they become like the attic, full of useless things that are cluttering up our life? Is it stuffed full of the world, creatures, fears, desires, and maybe even a few smelly old grudges and resentments?
If so, the meaning, the purpose, of our life can get buried under that mess. All of a sudden, we realize that our lives have been reduced to just “getting it done.” We can no longer discern God’s purpose for our life because of the constant clutter of odds and ends that are taking up all the room in our hearts.
If this is the case, it might be time for a spiritual yard sale.
Known as taking custody of the heart, today’s frenetic culture makes this even more imperative for the spiritually minded. It means learning how to live and work prayerfully, always in the Presence of God, always mindful of what we’re doing and – most important of all – of why we’re doing it.
The perfect place to start the cleanup is to go back to the beginning. All the way back – to our Baptism.
This is where we’re given “the power to live and act under the prompting of the Holy Spirit through the gifts of the Holy Spirit” (CCC No. 1812).
In other words, the kind of meaning and purpose we’re searching for can only come about after we clear out the clutter and make time for daily consultation with the Designer of our lives.
This is an easy fix! All we need is daily prayer, preferably 30 minutes, and at the same time every day. Spontaneity in prayer might be fun, but just like any other relationship, sooner or later it requires a commitment if it’s going to grow into something more real and lasting. It works the same way with God.
This 30 minutes must be His time, and His alone – not something we do while driving in the car or vacuuming the living room. Once we set ourselves on this path, and clear away all the empty rattling of worldly cares and occupations, we will quickly realize how much easier it is to discern the gentle voice of God.
Another benefit of this practice is that time alone with God is bound to shine a light on some of the hidden junk in our hearts, such as sinful behaviors. We may have hidden these bad habits under a collection of rationalizations, most of which can be swept away in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and leave us feeling much cleaner and less cluttered inside.
“For my interior life will be what my custody of heart is,” writes Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard, OCSO, in his classic work, The Soul of the Apostolate.
A Cistercian monk, he was plagued by many demands and often torn from the cloister by the hand of God to call priests, religious, and laity to a life of closer union with God while involved in social action. He taught them that in order to live a powerful but serene and joyful life, they must remain united to the Source of life.
This isn’t as hard as it might sound. In fact, for most of us, it’s much easier than living as slaves to a myriad of worldly affairs that keep us running from dawn to dusk. If we keep God in our sights, we won’t fall into the trap of being the slave rather than the master of our daily activities.
As Father Chautard once prayed to Jesus: “It is a mistake to imagine that certain kinds of work, because of their nature, or because of the time they involve, might so dominate my life or cramp my freedom that it would become impossible for me to be united with You. Not at all: You want me to be free. You don’t want activities to imprison me beneath their weight. You want me to be the master and not the slave of activity. And to that end you offer me Your grace, on condition that I am faithful in the custody of my heart.”
We must get into the habit of starting every day with prayer, but our communication with God shouldn’t stop there. It should go on throughout the day, and it can do so without requiring us to run off to pray every ten minutes. Just a glance toward the Lord who resides within us, or a whispered “Jesus!” is enough to recall Who is with us, why we’re here, and why we’re doing what we’re doing.
This practice goes a long way in helping us to take control of the pace of our lives – which is often to blame for the frantic feeling we have inside because of hearts that have become crammed full of too much to do.
St. As St. Francis de Sales writes, “When Our Lord corrected St. Martha He said, ‘Martha, Martha, you are solicitous and troubled about many things.’ Notice that she would not have been troubled if she had been merely diligent, but she was over-concerned and disturbed and therefore hurried about and troubled herself.”
St. Francis recommends that we strive to undertake all of our work with a calm mind, paying attention to the task at hand rather than thinking ahead to all we have yet to do. Take it one task at a time, he says.
Unfortunately, for most of us with busy lives, we’re often rushing around because we’ve taken on too much.
“Flies do not bother us because of their strength, but because of their numbers,” St. Francis once wrote. “And so also affairs of importance do not give us as much trouble as do many trifling things.”
Too many useless affairs do more than just sap our energy and add to the clutter in our hearts.
Let’s put some of those unnecessary affairs out on the front lawn with a big “for sale” sign on them. Someone else can do it, but they probably won’t as long as you’re doing it for them.
This is almost as important as the fixed daily prayer requirement because, as the great spiritual director, Father J. P. de Caussade writes, “Natural bustle and activity is the enemy of self-abandonment, without which . . . no true perfection is possible. It hinders, spoils, or prevents every operation of grace, and substitutes, in the soul possessed by it, the impulse of its own intelligence for that of the Holy Spirit.”
Not a good thing!
And it gets worse, particularly in regard to good works which, when carried out impetuously, may “begin in the spirt but end in the flesh,” as St. Paul says.
We may have the best intentions but if we’re not keeping custody of our heart, self-love may begin to insinuate itself into these works. What we started out doing for God or in serve to others may end up being done because it’s fun, or is expected of us, or makes us look good to others.
The bottom line is that custody of the heart is worth the effort. It will leave us with a lot less useless clutter and make room in our hearts to enjoy the true purpose God meant for our lives.
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It’s easy to accumulate junk. In Addicted to Stuff, Catholic author Dale O’Leary tells us what we can do about it.