Spiritual decluttering: A fresh start for a new year
A UMC.org feature by Joe Iovino
One of the wonderful things about each new year is that it brings with it a sense of a new beginning, 365 days of promise and possibility.
Some use this time to bring freshness to their lives. They may decide to declutter the junk drawer, attic, or garage. It may also mean removing many of the sugars, fats, and carbohydrates from our diets.
As a United Methodist church member, parting with some things for a season, may help declutter your spiritual life. Doing so helps make room for a new movement of the Holy Spirit in the months to come. What might you set aside in the next year?
Pastors often know where each member of their congregation sits each Sunday. Some of us worship from the very same pew every week. More of us tend to gravitate toward the same general area, like somewhere in the last two rows on the right.
Choosing to worship from a new seat for a season will give you a new perspective—literally. You will see the service from a different point of view, but more than that, it may also change the people around you each Sunday, the usher with whom you interact, the members of the choir or praise team you can see, and more. All of this can help you stay more focused on the worship service as you see things a little differently.
John Wesley instructed his pastors to “Never trifle away time” (2012 Discipline 330.5.d.19.a). Instead, they were to be engaged in the practice of ministry or the development of their spiritual lives. While we may not want to get rid of all time-wasters since we need times of rest, there are diversions we could remove and replace with something more beneficial.
Consider finding ways to free up time to volunteer at a local food bank or other mission, to make regular calls to old friends and church members you no longer see, or join a class or small group at your church.
A version of the Bible
If you have been a Christian for some time, you probably know the Bible fairly well. There are verses you know by heart, and stories that are very familiar. Reading from a different version of the Bible can help bring new life to those passages. A translator’s decision to use one word over another may give you some new insight you hadn’t thought of before.
If you regularly read from a modern version like the Common English Bible, consider a more traditional translation like the New Revised Standard Version. If you gravitate toward the more traditional, try something more modern. Search the web for Bible reading sites and apps (there are many free ones) where you can access a new version of Scripture.
Devotionals are helpful aids to lead us in Scripture reading and prayer every day, but we can become stuck in a rut with them as well. If you have been using the same book or website for more than a year, you may benefit from trying something different this year. A new devotional resource, like an unfamiliar Bible translation, can bring new life to your time with God.
There are many devotional helps available online and in physical and digital books. The Upper Room from Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church, is a very good source. Try something new.
A favorite author
Many readers have favorite authors. We like the way they turn a phrase, develop a story, or how they put into words what we have thought or felt for some time. Growth, though, often comes from thinking about things from a variety of perspectives. Reading a variety of authors can challenge us to do just that.
When looking for a book to read for spiritual enrichment, from Cokesbury or Abingdon Press, consider something new to you, which may be something old. You might want to read from a theologian whose work you have heard is important but you have never read, a person on the best-seller list whose views you think may be different from yours, or a recommendation from your pastor.
A class or group
Give yourself permission to take a break from that class or group you have been attending solely out of habit. It’s OK. Try a new class. Join a group that discusses things that interest you.
Be careful with this one though. Connections to other people of faith are vital, so don’t pull away from all groups. If you take a break from one group, make sure you find other Christians with whom you can share and from whom you can learn.
Although we do not like to admit it, there are seasons when many of us can fall into patterns of negativity. Discouraged by the news, the theology of others, policies of our denomination, and practices of our congregation can become sources of stress and fodder for complaining.
Removing negativity from our lives and choosing instead to find things to celebrate can lift your spirits and renew your passion for that which matters most. Find where you see the love of Jesus in the world and celebrate it.
Some of us do things in the church that bring us no joy. We’re not really sure how we ever got the job. We don’t really want it. Yet, we are pretty sure that if we don’t do it, it won’t get done. Those types of obligations often lead to church burnout.
After the New Year is underway, schedule a conversation with your pastor. Ask how you can step away from that obligation and into a new way of using your gifts to serve your church or community. That will be a blessing both to you and your congregation.
The New Year can be one of new experiences in your church and spiritual life. Make room in days ahead for the Holy Spirit to do a new work in you. Then see what happens.
*Joe Iovino works for UMC.org at United Methodist Communications. Contact him by email or at 615-312-3733.
This feature was originally published December 31, 2015