Preparing for Advent: Cleaning House
A voice is calling,
“Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness;
Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.
Let every valley be lifted up,
And every mountain and hill be made low;
And let the rough ground become a plain,
And the rugged terrain a broad valley;
Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed,
And all flesh will see it together;
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
A voice says, “Call out.”
Then he answered, “What shall I call out?”
“All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
When the breath of the LORD blows upon it;
Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
But the Word of our God stands forever.”
It was time to clean off the dining room table.
It was September, and we hadn’t eaten on that table since June, when I began my summer support-raising work. No joke. Cold. Rain. Heat. Guests for dinner. Guests for days! Birthdays. And regular meals. Everything was eaten on the living room floor or out on the front porch.
After sixteen years of nearly full-time ministry alone on campus, alongside mothering three children, I was over-ready for a sabbatical. I had spent the past few years fluctuating daily between gratitude and despair. I loved my work, and life and ministry were fruitful and enjoyable, but I was living with an aching, crushing weight inside. It was surfacing more and more frequently, and left me crying sometimes all day with a kind of confused hopelessness that—as a Christian—I felt guilty about.
The culprit seemed to be the accumulated mess that we were living in—the literal clutter that was underfoot, on the stairs, in piles along the walls, spilling out from under the beds and off the tables…everywhere! But “cleaning my house” didn’t seem like a legitimate reason to take a sabbatical.
As I contemplated quitting work and quitting life, God began to orchestrate the pieces of a semester-long sabbatical. It all came together—the right timeline, the right resources, a co-worker to step in for me on campus, and a student leadership team that was equipped to lead in my absence.
I also began to sense that the physical clutter was linked to the mental and spiritual clutter in my life—the physical a representation of the intangible.
Outward signs of an inward reality.
The chaos and disorder that literally hindered me from moving through my house with ease and living in peace helped me realize that perhaps I was untidy and weighed down spiritually as well. What was I tripping over in my heart? How could I “run the race” well if I was stumbling over obstacles and getting stuck in spiritual muck? I hoped that as I let go of the physical clutter, God would reveal the deeper issues that prevented me from following Him fully.
The Sabbatical began. It was time to clean house.
God began to expose things to me. Although I believe I live a rather simple and modest life, I’m selfish. I cling to possessions for security. I want what I want, even when others need it. Which tells me this: I don’t trust God. The way that I live my life, day in and day out, says something different than what I profess with my lips. I say that I trust God. I teach my children and my students to trust God. But my life tells a different story.
So I began with my dining room table.
I knew that I couldn’t just think or pray myself into a new way of life. I had to have time and space to touch and repent of the physical manifestations of my idolatry. And so I started sorting through the stacks. Some were easy. Some were harder. And there were two questions I had to answer, over and over again: What do I keep? and… Why?
In every room, I struggled to know what to save and what to discard. I wanted physical reminders of the life that I’ve lived, and especially of my children—how they grew, what they were like, and what they’d accomplished. But God began to remind me that He remembers completely and perfectly, even if I don’t. Even more, God Himself is the One who should be remembered and noted with diligence and care. It is God’s glory that should be on display, not my own.
As I began to tackle the boxes, papers, books, toys, and clothes piece by piece, Isaiah 40 took on new meaning for me.
I knew this verse, of course, but had never seen it like this. I wrote in my journal:
A physical decluttering that has a spiritual significance, by which the Lord’s glory is revealed! Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness... then the glory of the Lord will be revealed!
In what ways have I been hindering the arrival of the LORD, obscuring His glory? As our King prepares to return, will He find a smooth highway prepared for Him in my life, or a wilderness and rugged terrain?
A voice is calling, “Clear the way!” How will I respond?
Advent is a time of preparation. It is also, for me, a time of house-cleaning—preparing my home for the celebration of Christ’s first arrival and preparing my heart and mind in anticipation of His coming again. The Lord Himself is the One who makes all things new, but my goal is to continually smooth the highway. I want to be open to receive His glory as it is revealed.
Mollie Little has served students for 18 years as CCO campus ministry staff at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania.