Over the next few months, I thought it would be a good idea to post a few chapters from the Christian non-fiction book I am working on here on my blog. In a nutshell, I’m writing about finding the transcendent God in our everyday lives (‘Finding God in All Things’), and this is Chapter Two. I’d be delighted to know what you think! Just click on ‘Leave a Reply’ when you are finished reading. Thanks in advance for your suggestions and recommendations. I very much appreciate it! With God’s help, I am planning on having a manuscript ready by the summer. –Chuck
Chapter Two: Organizing Your Garage
One of our family rituals is organizing and cleaning the garage. Every spring, we pull our car out on to the street and spend an afternoon reorganizing and sweeping. We try to make it as fun as we can, but it is still work. Hanging things up, throwing things out, cleaning the floor, repairing anything broken, raking stray leaves… It usually takes us the good part of an afternoon to get everything done.
A garage is one of the few places where everything has a place to rest. Aging brooms, snow blowers, bikes, motor oil, recycle bins – all find a home in a well-ordered space.
It’s like our lives. As we grow older, we often appreciate things more when they are organized. We are comforted knowing where everything is — more prepared and protected somehow –knowing if we need to find something in a hurry, we can.
And that’s a good thing.
Which is why, I think, we get so discouraged and upset when things are not the way they are supposed to be. In small things as well as large, disorder is frustrating. Sometimes it can be even be overwhelming.
Most people hate when their life becomes chaotic. That’s why they do everything they can to restore order, to restore meaning. It’s what we all do. We make meaning of the things around us. In fact, we always have. Take, for example, the beginning of the Book of Genesis.
In the beginning… when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. (Gen 1:1-3)
The Bible begins with chaos, a formless world, cold and without light, only water. No humanity yet. No life as we know it. That’s desolation. That’s loneliness. That’s disorder.
But then, something amazing happens. The Holy Spirit, “a mighty wind”, sweeps over the waters and everything is changed. Everything. Light and darkness are balanced, as the earth and sky, plants and animals. From deep within kairos (“God’s time”), all things organized. Basically, it’s good to keep in mind that God organizes the world into existence.
Just like us.
Think about it. When we try to make sense of the world, to organize, we are doing the exact same thing God is doing. We experience a mini-Genesis, in some shape or form, every day. Sometimes chaos rules the garage, sometimes it’s the pile of stuff on our desk. Sometimes we need to get our kids dressed, and they are not up for the challenge. Or, sometimes the stakes are higher — a job change, a second marriage, a new house, or entering a 12-step program. By organizing our lives, we imitate God’s actions. We are creating something new when we organize, just like when God created the foundations of the earth. St. Luke understands. He begins his Gospel this way: “It seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus…” (Luke 1:1)
We are like little mirrors, reflecting the true nature of our Creator, the source of all light. We organize things in the same way that God organizes. Using our logic and reason, we work on keeping our lives in balance. We desire order, because there is something about ‘order’ that makes our lives complete, that desire to make things ‘right’. That’s why no one is really telling us something new when they tell us to get our act together – we know why we should, and, almost always, we know how we should as well!
It’s like the story of the little bird and the big city.
Every day at sunrise, a little bird flew all over the city to collect twigs and sticks for her nest. Unfortunately, there were not many trees or shrubs around, so she would improvise with whatever she could find: candy wrappers, shoelaces, plastic can holders, cigarette butts. After a few days, she had built one of the finest nests in the city. It was long before all the other birds were gathering around the wonderful nest, a monument to the value of hard work — and a keen eye for trash. All of the other birds were impressed, and said as much.
But there was one bird who was not impressed. As he came closer to the nest, he sat down and said “This is nothing more than a pile of trash, arranged to look like a nest. There are no branches, no twigs, nothing that makes this a genuine nest. Who would want to lay their eggs in that?”
The little bird sat up straight, wiped off her brow after her long days at work, and approached the older, larger bird. “Perhaps you are right,” said the little bird said. “Perhaps it is nothing more than a collection of trash. But I needed a nest. And now, I have one. And the streets are so much cleaner because of it.”
We know where things go. We know what needs to be done. We organize things for a purpose, and we are not happy until the job is complete. There is a ‘blessed deliberateness’ to our nature, a seemingly Divine inspiration that shines through our deeds as if our actions were a nothing more than an opaque lampshade, a thin veil with God beaming underneath. That desire, that drive, that passion to complete the job is the voice of God in your life, perhaps at times arriving without notice. Perhaps, as the little bird experienced, despite the fact your good deeds are met with sarcasm or disapproval.
Take the ancient Israelites, for example. After having fled from the oppressive Egyptians, Moses listens to the voice of God as he prays about building a place of worship. The result is the tabernacle, the traveling home of the Ten Commandments, the Arc of the Covenant. Now the Tabernacle is a place where God dwells, and God has a very specific design on the dimensions, the rubrics, and the people in charge. And God tells them so.
If that’s the case for the Israelites in the desert, couldn’t the same be said of us? Couldn’t there be a plan for our lives, perhaps one that we are not even yet aware of? Maybe God is awaiting our loving response to put each plan in action?
God has big plans for you. You are asked to organize your life into a sacred space, a place where God can live. Like our garage, God wants us to keep things in their place, not for His sake, but for our happiness. To be ordered is to know where things go in your life – like faith, hope and love – and, in doing so, mirror God’s best intention.
Of course, as nice as all this sounds, we struggle with keeping things orderly. We know how difficult it can be, day after day. Disorder creeps into order. Chaos can rule our lives for a time. Our garages do get messy, and sometimes there is nothing we can do about it. But we know, deep in our hearts, that all of these things are phases, and that God’s promised never to abandon us, not matter how chaotic.
So, find consolation in the fact that God understands your chaos. God has seen some pretty disorganized things in Scripture, yet things always turn out just like they were supposed to. With patience and great love, we are called to do the same. Albert Einstein said, “Out of clutter, find simplicity. From discord, find harmony. In the middle of difficulty, lies opportunity.” That’s what we need to do, even if the disorder seems overwhelming at times. God assures us that each phase of our life is an opportunity, not a condemnation or curse. That no matter what you are going through, God is right by your side.
Bottom line: If your hope is in God — the creative Spirit that organized our world into existence – then you can be assured you will survive the daily disasters, and live to see all things ordered again. That’s the promise of the Cross. That’s our Christian faith.
But… what if you can’t seem to get your garage in the order that you think it should be? Or, how you think God thinks it should be? What if you have, like so many of us, a perfectionist attitude? How organized, really, do you have to be?
Chapter Three: Doing the Laundry