Friday, February 27, 2015

Decluttering and Shifting

For Lent this year, I am doing something different.  In the past, I've given up things like caffeine, artificial sweeteners, sugar, dessert, TV, etc.  This year I am doing 40 days of de-cluttering, or “crap-shifting” as a friend of mine aptly calls it.  Each day, I’m de-cluttering different areas of the house and gathering items to give away.  I've cleaned out my closet, dresser drawers, a book shelf, makeup, fingernail polish, dvd’s, and games so far. 

(Can you believe I found duplicates of fingernail polish colors in my stash!?)

I’ll take my items to donate to Bridges Thrift Store, which benefits Bridges Safehouse for women and children here in Cedar Hill.

I enjoy cleaning things out, purging, making more space, and getting the old gone.  It makes me feel so productive!  Usually, though, I just do it when the mood strikes me—and not 40 days of it nor in every area of the house! 

Watch out, if you’re still too long in this house in the coming weeks, you may find yourself bagged up and ready to donate!  

As I’m giving up “stuff” every day but Sunday for Lent, I’m thinking about how, where, and with whom my time and energy is best spent—and asking God to direct this.

We also do this kind of de-cluttering and shifting in our brains unconsciously and continuously.  Our amazingly designed brain is capable of taking in every single thing around us, and then evaluates for the task at hand what is needed and what is important, what should be discarded, what should be kept and where and how it should be stored.  The brain can take in every single blade of grass when looking at a park scene, for example, but if it stored every single blade of grass (along with everything else)—we would become overwhelmed and overstimulated very easily!  Instead, the brain just takes the grass in as a whole—a lawn—because that is what is needed.  

If the information we’re receiving is not new or necessary information, our brain quickly skips over it or stores it in our short term memory files.  Information does not make it out of short-term memory unless we do something with it and use it, if it connects to something else, or builds upon a current foundation. 

Our brains also “shift the crap”—if we learn information that makes previous information incorrect, our brains decide which of the contradictory information to keep and shifts the discarded information elsewhere.  Once new information replaces old, incorrect or outdated information then the brain fashions and shapes itself according to the new belief or information.

This is all a simplified explanation of how the brain changes and adjusts continually, but once the brain changes, we act differently and view information accordingly.  The brain does not stop going through these processes and is always changing, adjusting, shifting, processing, and forging new connections.  

Our brains are made for this!  So cool!
Go, God!

Because our brains, lives, and beliefs are continually changing as we encounter new information, internal de-cluttering is necessary.  Just like stuff builds up in my house, closets, drawers, and cabinets, my brain would fill up, overload, short-circuit if we kept every single image, sound, thought, piece of information and observation. Our thought lives do not remain fixed or static.  While our brain processes everything, we do not need everything stored the same way or accessible to us—just like our lives and our homes.

As Keith and I learned about better ways to handle money, we adapted to them and changed our financial practices.  Once confronted with instances of racism and the ignorance of others as parents, our views and responses changed.  As we learned and experienced more about God, our faith changed and we searched out new faith communities more in line with our changing beliefs.  Dealing with mental illness and suicide and all of the effects, concerns and possibilities has been a huge learning curve, one drastically changing our beliefs and knowledge—and our actions.  Keith’s de-conversion has brought about a lot of learning, adjusting, renegotiating in our marriage and family.  While we see the emotions and changing practices, the brain has made many more changes around this information.  When friends distance themselves from your messy life and emotions, the brain changes around the new experience and relationship. When new people enter your life, changes occur as they make meaning in your life and a relationship is formed.

Generally, these processes are occurring without our conscious knowledge.  We see the results of these processes in our lives.  Sometimes these changes are exciting.  Sometimes they are painful. 

Faith and beliefs change through these same processes.  I believe they are supposed to.  As we have taught our kids as we all handle new information and beliefs in this arena, 
faith is a journey, not a destination.  
We will not someday arrive at a position of belief in which we have found all the answers and we know and believe all we need to know and believe.  Faith is a relationship, no matter where you are on the journey—and relationships are fluid.  Faith and relationships ebb and flow, sometimes easy, beautiful and wide is the path.  Other times, the way is narrow, twisting, blind and just hard. 

John Pavlovitz refers to levels of faith as a continuum and suggests we are not as far apart as we would like to believe.  He calls it “faitheism” and says we are all on one continuum at various points in between belief and disbelief, faith and atheism.  

Although I know many Christians who will be quick to deny this, I do believe Pavlovitz is on to something with the continuum.  I have come to see in recent years that those most unwilling to consider this are often those most afraid that their faith is not static, who don’t want to admit it can change or even worse—be lost.  As much as I would like to see things in black and white, clear-cut and well laid out, when it comes to the reality of faith, it just is not that simple.  Being aware of the continuum, of the fluid journey that is faith, allows us to ride through the tougher times, knowing that this is not the end and we will continue moving up and down as we strive and reach toward God.

In life, we have mountain top moments and experiences, and we have wilderness moments and experiences.  These experiences, knowledge, and our observations in this life change us.  As we live, we are de-cluttering and shifting based on these.

Refining, reshaping, reflecting, and reviewing.
What we need.
What is old.
What is unnecessary.
Ever changing.

In our homes, in our lives, in our brains.
In our hearts.

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