It is not unusual in the spring and the summer to see signs on major roads and side streets for a garage sale. As the weather warms up, many people take the opportunity to take inventory of all of the things they have collected and get rid of some of them. Accumulating items throughout the year means our homes get more crowded and pretty soon we can see that it’s hard to find space for what is essential because we’ve filled it with so many extras.
We can do the same thing with our time. Thinking about what fills the hours of our day, week or even the whole summer can be surprising and even embarrassing. Smartphones have a feature which tells us how much screen time we’ve had each day. Without even thinking, we can mindlessly fill our time with such fleeting preoccupations that we run out of time (or energy!) for what is most important in our lives.
Taking inventory of our material possessions or how we spend our time should not leave us feeling awful or condemning ourselves. It should remind us of the need to make priorities in our lives. As disciples of Jesus, this means committing ourselves time and again to putting Christ first in our lives and in all areas of our lives — family, work, friends, fun — keeping this identity at the forefront. So how do we do this? Here are a few easy steps to help you declutter your spiritual life this summer.
1. Find some silence
I grew up in a large family (I have nine brothers and sisters) and when we were home for the summer, I remember my mom making us all go outside to play after breakfast so that she could have her quiet time to pray. We usually interrupted it with some problem, but she was determined to find some quiet time to be with the Lord in prayer. This image of her praying when we would come inside reminds me of how important her spiritual life was to her.
Everyone’s life situation is different, but too often we don’t look or work hard enough to find the time to be alone with God in prayer. For my time of silent prayer, does it mean I need to wake up earlier? Do I need to give up part of my lunch break or forgo something else? It can be tempting to think that I need to fit my spiritual life into the other parts of my life, giving my relationship with God the leftovers or the crumbs of my life. If I do not make prayer a priority, I know it will slip away, and the other demands of my life will push it out.
Where can you make time for silence with God in your life?
2. Silence is good but it needs to be ordered
Buddhism is about emptying for the sake of being empty. Christians empty themselves of sin and pride not to be empty but to be filled with the life of Christ who is the Holy Spirit! Think about it as the difference between emptying your house because you want a minimalist design compared to removing some furniture from your house to accommodate a great party. Perhaps both houses have a similar component of removing things but the purpose could not be more different!
As Christians, our silence has an active component; it is oriented toward God. When I am silent, it is so that I can hear the Holy Spirit speak to my heart. God is love, and “love is patient, kind … not pompous, not inflated…” (cf. 1 Cor 13:4). Therefore, the love of God in the Holy Spirit rarely forces itself on us but waits for us to be ready for him. After you have carved out some silence, you can pray the words of Samuel, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening” (1Sm. 3:9-10). Sharing your heart — the good, the bad and the ugly — with God and then actively listening is the heart of prayer. Active listening is like deer hunting. You are quiet and still, but attentive to what movements are happening. Is God moving my heart with joy, enlightening my mind with understanding or motivating my will to take some action?
3. The spiritual life is not detached from the rest of my life
It is the engine that drives my ability to live daily for the Lord. Therefore, we are not meant to spend our entire day or life in silence — unless you are a hermit reading this, in which case, wow! Most of us have to move out of the silence and into the work of our lives. Far from being something less, our everyday life should put into concrete reality what God has done for us in prayer.
Because I understand God’s love for us — and I experience that love in prayer — I am able to love my spouse, children, neighbors, even my boss in a self-sacrificial way! And because God’s love for us always takes shape in the concrete circumstances of our lives, our love for others must be just as concrete. The way we are called to love others is as varied as there are people and circumstances. If I am going to be able to love as I must, I need to be docile to the Holy Spirit.
Carving out time to be alone with God in silence is not selfish. In fact, it is a generous investment in our relationships with others. This summer, instead of decluttering your house or deleting apps on your phone, make your spiritual life a priority. Find some time of silence, speak to God from your heart and listen to what the Holy Spirit has to say. And then put it into practice in your life. You will be storing up treasures for yourself in heaven, and providing blessings for those around you as well.