Cleaning Out Mind Clutter

I LOVED this article on getting rid of mind clutter at Becoming Minimalist.  It seems as hard as it might be sometimes to get rid of physical clutter in our lives, it’s even harder to let go of mental clutter.  And I’d dare say that it is far more influential to our state of contentment.  Simplifying what we choose to keep in our heads goes a long way towards our being satisfied in this exact moment.

We have a tendency (or at least I do) to hang on to negative things from our past and allow them to have far too much influence on who we are in the present.  It’s hard to let go of the hurts from an unfaithful ex, an abusive parent, an untrustworthy friend.  It’s hard not to fret about all the things that could go wrong in the future, or dreams that might remain unfulfilled.  If we really could apply the idea of packing up our mind clutter to move into a small, cozy apartment, would we really want to hold on to hurts, disappointments, dashed dreams, and other negative thoughts from our past?  Would we want to bring all those worries, fears, and anxieties about the future?

I like how the article says that it’s OK to choose some of those negative things.  Sometimes you just can’t let go of them right away.  But choose them knowingly, and don’t be in denial about it.  Acknowledge that they’re negative, and eventually you’ll be ready to send them packing.  Just remember that the more negative thoughts you allow to take up space in your head, the less room you have for the positive stuff.  Carefully consider what deserves the privilege of that prime real estate.

I’d like to add something here.  I’m a pretty optimistic person, and I’d say I have a lot of hope for the future.  But there is a VERY fine line between having hope for a better future and being constantly dissatisfied with the present because you haven’t reached your ideal future yet.  From the time you are born until you die, your life is a work in progress.  Don’t be discouraged that you haven’t yet reached the pinnacle of your life.  This seems to be a common issue with young adults who want to have the dream house/car/job/family RIGHT NOW that their parents and grandparents had to work for decades to acquire.  I think that’s the biggest allure of credit.  Borrowed affluence is not the same as owning your stuff.  Make sure you work toward your goals with the idea of OWNING what you have, not borrowing.  If that means owning less, so be it.

And I know I keep saying this, but it’s so important: try to spend more time dwelling on the positives than on the negatives.  Obviously you can’t get rid of every negative thought that might pop into your head, but try not to let it to take up any more time than it takes to chase it out the door.  Try to imagine sweeping them out of your head with an old-fashioned straw broom.  The longer you let these mental freeloaders hang around, the more they suck the life and happiness out of you. Those negative thoughts are roaches in your kitchen, leeches sucking your blood, whatever makes you most want to eradicate them.  Make a conscious decision to think about something more positive instead.  And not in an artificial, Pollyanna, “starving-kids-in-Africa-have-it-worse-off-than-you” kind of way.  Make it real.  Seriously, there ARE people who have it far worse.  And chances are, you can even think of moments in your OWN life that have been worse than this bad moment right now.  Cling to the idea that it’s going to get better instead of how bad it is.

I too, am a work in progress.  But I have noticed how my overall attitude has improved immensely since I’ve started trying to be conscious about the thoughts I dwell on.  Those negatives still visit me, sure; I am a bit of a worrywort.  But I am getting better and better at chasing those thoughts away and replacing them with something positive.  Keep plugging away, and you’ll start to see a definite improvement!  And even if you feel you’ve taken a step backward, just move forward from where you are right now.  The important thing is that you’re going in the right overall direction.  Try to take a step back and see how far you’ve come.  Work towards the person that you’d like to be in the future, and your “now” will benefit from it.

Why Your Kids Shouldn’t Be The Only Thing In Your Life

Even if you don’t believe in God, you can glean some good advice from this article, They Are Third {on holding our children loosely}

I have said this to many of my friends: Yes, we should adore our children and love them unconditionally, but we cannot hold them too tightly.  And we cannot put them before everything else in our lives.  Because above all, we are trying to raise them to be independent, mature adults, and eventually they will leave.

I have seen marriages fall apart because the parents (often the mother, actually) made the children more important than nurturing their relationship.  Not that there aren’t sometimes urgent things that require our attention, and our spouse time gets put aside temporarily.  But our marriage cannot ALWAYS be on the back burner.  Because ideally, our spouse will still be there long after our kids leave, and we are going to need to know who they are and how to connect with them.  It is far too easy to start treating a spouse like a roommate instead of a life mate.

I’ve said it before: We ARE going to grow and change, the trick is making sure that we grow together.  We do our children no favors if they always come first.  Besides the fact that we’d be teaching them that investing in our marriage is not important, we’d also be teaching them that they are entitled to always be the center of the attention.  And who wants to be around an adult who has grown up with that delusion?  Think about how hard those people are to stomach.  Is that really what you want your child to be?  Besides, if your kids know your marriage is weak, they will become EXPERTS at playing you and your spouse against one another in order to get what they want.

So I agree wholeheartedly with the idea that your children should be well aware that they do NOT come before your marriage, when they get old enough to understand that.  They know that I expect them to leave and lead lives of their own, and that their dad and I will still be together long after they’re gone.  We want to continue to grow together, instead of being struck speechless by empty nest syndrome.  Chances are, both our kids will be leaving within the next couple of years, and we don’t want to be one of those couples who are at a total loss as to what to do with themselves once the kids are gone.

And I’d like to take a moment here to add: Know who YOU are without the kids.  In addition to knowing your spouse (if you have one), every parent should know who they are on their own.  This is doubly hard for single parents, I think, because without a spouse it’s easy to let the kids become everything.  But again, your goal is that they will eventually leave.  You don’t want to be left floundering, directionless, and unable to be your own person when they do leave.  Nurture your own well-being, physically and mentally, and you will be better able to give your children what they need.  Constantly deny yourself and you create selfish, dependent children, and you’re too wiped out to give them what they need anyway.  It’s always a balancing act, but make sure you don’t spend all your time at the bottom of the priority list.

Now, neither of my kids have left yet, so I may be overly optimistic about my reaction, but I think I’ll be ok.  I think my husband and I will be ok.  And I think my kids will be ok.  I certainly pray that all of those things are true!  Those of you who have already survived the empty nest, please chime in and give the rest of us some sage advice!

Why Non-Christians Want Nothing To Do With Christianity

I know I said I was (mostly) going to avoid discussing religion and politics.  But something happened to a friend of mine recently that’s had me internally fuming, and I’m afraid you guys are going to have to tolerate one of my rants; I apologize at the outset.  For those who can stomach it all the way to the end, I’m hoping there’s going to be something redeeming about it.  Maybe even a lesson to learn.

Anyone who knows me hopefully knows that I am a Christian.  I try not to be one of those judgmental, Bible-thumping, gay-hating, abortion clinic bombing people you always see on the news, because I honestly believe that Jesus had no intention of having his followers behave that way.  In fact, it really upsets me when I get lumped together with those people, but maybe I should save that for another post.  Ook.  That means at least one more religion post.  😛  But for the purposes of today’s post, I’m going to make a separation between myself and the media portrayal of what a “Christian” is.

Let’s start with a little background, then.   I’m not going to debate whether Jesus existed or not, because that’s not really doubted.  Plenty of non-Christian historians have attested to the fact that he did in fact exist.  But I think all of the infighting, and in fact the thing that hurts anyone trying to live a Christ-like life, is that there is so much debate about who he was.  So since you’re reading my blog, you get stuck hearing my opinion.

One of the most prominent things about Jesus is that he was a minimalist. He hated the regimented, legalistic, ritualistic farce that the Jewish religion had become.  The leaders (Sadducees and Pharisees, if you want to know) had added rule upon rule of what a “good Jew” had to do in order to earn God’s favor.  (Sound like any other religions we know?) This was not ever what God intended.  Some of the rules God had set down, such as the ones we know as the 10 Commandments, were meant for everyone.  Some were meant to protect the Jews from getting sucked into worshiping the gods of the people around them, which in a lot of cases included some pretty freaky stuff like child sacrifice and cutting/burning/mutilating oneself as a form of worship.  And some were meant only for the Levites, who were the group that was supposed to lead in worship, and were to keep themselves to a higher standard.

But over the years the Jewish leaders had added literally hundreds upon hundreds of “laws” to the simple ones that God had first given them.  So Jesus tried to boil it all down, super-simple.  Two things:  Love God, and love your neighbor.  That’s it.  Not that it’s EASY, mind you, but it IS simple.  Truly every other rule, every one of the 10 commandments, is covered by these two things.  If you love your neighbor, you’re not going to steal his stuff, or lie about him, or try to take his wife, or hate him because he has more than you.  And if you love God, you’re going to want to show your love for your neighbor even more.

But humans are stupid and stubborn, and we tend to screw things up and make them far more complicated than they ever need to be.  And because we have this overwhelming desire to feel better about ourselves, we want to make other people’s flaws and mistakes worse than our own.  *I* might be embezzling millions of dollars from my company, but at least I’m not gay.  *I* might be taking money on the sly to vote the way an elite group wants me to, but at least I’m not a baby-murdering abortionist.  I know it sounds like I’m writing a parody here, but there really are people who feel this way, some quite loudly.

So all this to say, I have a friend who has had a very horrible couple of years.  She has had so many things go wrong in her life, and so very few friends to cling to and help hold her up through this tough period.  But she really wanted to resolve some things and clear the air with a couple of the leaders in a church that we had both previously attended, and was not only refused a simple meeting, but in fact threatened that the assistance that had been offered by their men’s group to help her move would be withdrawn.  Bullying at its best, from leaders of the church, no less.  It’s abysmal enough how they treat non-Christians, but they even treat their own like this.   No wonder the rest of the world looks at Christians and wants nothing to do with what they have to say.

The rest of the world  sees “Christians” on the news shouting at the top of their lungs about all the things they’re doing wrong, and trying to force their beliefs on others by passing laws ordering them to behave the way they want, but really the reasonably moderate Christians are the ones who need to clean house.  We don’t need to scream at the world, or try to legislate morality.  In fact, I’d dare say that we shouldn’t have to speak at all.  Our affiliation with Christ should be obvious to others around us without ever having to say a word.  We should put others above ourselves, offer help whenever it is within our power, and love those who don’t agree with us.  Even those who hate us because they associate us with those extremists who regrettably keep getting handed a microphone.

So I apologize to all of you for the prominent, visible and vocal representatives of Christianity you see on TV.  I assure you, the extremists are in the minority, even though it doesn’t seem like it.  And they are NOT AT ALL what Christ intended his church to be.  Unfortunately, you will find these hypocrites closer to home as well, maybe even right in your own family.  But I would ask you to do two things:  please don’t assume that all Christians are like that, and please remember that all Christians are still human and still prone to making some really stupid, selfish, sometimes hurtful choices.  Being Christians certainly doesn’t make us perfect.  We are flawed creatures just like everyone else on the planet, and when we forget that is when we do the most damage to the name “Christian”.

And if you ever see me behaving like that, please call me out on it.  I have many non-Christian friends and family who I love dearly, and I would never want any of you to think that your beliefs should jeopardize our relationship.  I don’t want you to avoid being around me because you’re afraid of what I might secretly think about you, or that we would get into a beastly argument.  Most of you already know this, but if you have doubts, don’t.  If you’re interested in civil debate, I’m all for it, but I’m just as happy spending time with you and enjoying your company without religion ever entering the picture.  Because to me, relationships are of utmost importance.  And I really think that’s what Jesus intended all along.