My heart pounded louder with each list that came around. Our leaders’ hope to prepare us for our upcoming trip to the Holy Land only caused my anxiety to rise because each list revealed what I didn’t have for the ten day excursion.
My reality? I had no idea how to prepare for such an extensive trip. I took a long, deep breath.
My friend, and experienced world traveler, must have heard my sigh because she reached over and scribbled a little note, “I will help you.” I nearly cried. She saw the need of this pathetic peripatetic and reached out in compassion.
Over the next weeks, she helped me consolidate the lists, collect all the supplies, and even plan how to pack. But, as I laid out my clothes and shoes, as well as all the medicines, electrical converters, and sun hats, I couldn’t figure out how to get it all packed in my allotted bags.
What had begun as an exercise of preparation turned into a practice of priorities. I could only pack what was absolutely necessary, so little by little, I purged. Then put all the pieces in the suitcase like a puzzle. In the end, I was packed and ready.
This is exactly where we find ourselves on our Journey of Joy — we’ve spent weeks preparing for this adventure, and now it’s time to pack!
How to Pack for Joy
If we look back over our weeks of preparing, we’ll discover we’ve been creating a packing list of all the things we’ll need for the rest of our journey:
First, we need to pack HOPE — for any adventure, hope is a must-have, but especially so for this one. Our “power word” for the trip encourages us:
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”Romans 15:13
God is our source of hope, Jesus is the reason we hope, and the Holy Spirit offers us power to hope. What a beautiful portrait of the Trinity’s offering to us. The hope they give is not wishful thinking — it’s hope anchored in the reality of God’s love for us.
Second, we should pack TRUST — as we’ve already discovered, trust is a necessity. To know God fully is to love Him. And to love Him is to trust Him. We believe His faithfulness, His genuine desire for a relationship with us, and that He only wants what is good for us. Out of all that believing rises up a trust in God, a trust that opens doors for joy.
Third, we’ll pack WISDOM, which we obtain from our Guide Book and from travelers who’ve gone before us. Wisdom goes beyond mere knowledge — it is actually knowledge applied. In the practice of reading and meditating on Scripture, our understanding of who God is gives us wisdom. We also get to see how believers who’ve been living out their faith have walked in His wisdom.
Fourth, all of these require a life-essential — the BIBLE. We’ve been pouring over passages throughout our preparations, and while we are memorizing a few, we don’t want to be without His Word. As we learned last week, we need to abide in His Word, so pack that Guide Book!
Fifth, we need to pack our WANT-TO. Before we ever set out on this journey, we dug into our desires to establish a will for finding joy. And, while our departure is oh-so close, there will still be obstacles and delays on this journey, so let’s make sure our want-to doesn’t get left behind.
Sixth — it’d be nice if we could pack some maps, but what we’ve learned is that charting a course for this trip looks more like following arrows. So, while we may not be packing a literal plan, we can throw in our PATH — all those rhythms, routines, and practices that are needed for a life of growth in Christ.
One of those practices is giving God space to do His work. And as we’ll discover in our time together today, this space makes room for the stillness and silence we need to hear from God and to discern our priorities.
So, we have our packing list. There’s no magic formula for achieving joy, but if we carry these items with us, we’re headed into life with what we need to find joy.
Space, Silence, Stillness
Just as I had that, “It’s not all gonna fit,” realization when I packed for my big trip, we’ll each look at everything we try to bring with us on this journey and see it’s just too much.
In order to create the space we’ll need for spiritual journeys such as this one, we’ll have to declutter our soul — an idea Emily P Freeman uses for the process of becoming a “soul minimalist.” She elaborates:
“…when our souls are filled with clutter, what is meant to be complex and awe-inspiring can become complicated and exhausting. …Becoming a soul minimalist does not mean that you should hold on to nothing but rather that nothing should have a hold on you.”Next Right Thing, Kindle edition page 26
Packing is an exercise in sorting through the clutter to get to what matters. So it is for our souls. We have to clean out all the distractions and deterrents to our soul-growth.
The first step in decluttering our souls is to BE STILL.
Probably the most well-known verse about this idea is Psalm 41:10:
“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”
Be still is a command that comes from the Hebrew word, rapha, meaning to be weak, to let go, to release — as in, “cause yourself to let go” or surrender. On his website, John Parsons explains that know actually gets the emphasis in this verse, implying “we are to surrender in order to know that God is in control.”
According to this verse, we are meant to let go of our desire to control in order to know that God is in control, but we can also be still literally — because to do all that surrendering, we’re going to have to slow down.
The American culture is fast-paced and competitive. It’s loud and full of distractions, so it will be hard to break old habits if we aren’t intentional to create new ones that help make space in our souls. Sitting in some silence and stillness are key:
“Silence and stillness are how I sift through the day’s input. The silence serves as a colander, helping me discern what I need to hold on to and allowing what I don’t need to fall gently away, making space…to hear the voice of God” (Next Right Thing, 27).
I love how Emily’s view fits so perfectly with our command to be still and know — space, silence, and stillness help us discern what we need to hold on to and allow what we don’t need to fall away. Silence as a colander gives me a visual of how these work to clear away the clutter.
Stillness and silence are practices we employ to create the internal space we need for God to do His work. But, we must also make space in our lives for them.
It may seem impractical or even impossible to find space in your current life situation, but Emily has a few suggestions:
“Silence may be more accessible than you think. Begin to notice the naturally silent spaces in your days—the first light of morning, your office space when you arrive early, the walk to the mailbox, your apartment before your roommate gets home from work, the drive to the grocery store. Rather than filling these times with sound, or holding on to the soul clutter by rehearsing past conversations or future possibilities, decide instead to let yourself be quiet inside the silence and see if your friend Jesus has anything to say.”The Next Right Thing, 30
We have silent spaces in our day — the trick is capitalizing on them. We have habits of filling those natural silences with sound, so take out the ear buds, turn off the TV, and set down the phone. This is decluttering. This is making space. Allow the silence to fill your stillness so you can sit with Jesus and hear from Him.
Do you get the feeling there is more clutter in our lives than just the tangible? When Emily mentioned that we can hold on to soul clutter by rehearsing past conversations or future possibilities, all kinds of whistles went off.
I’ve spent the better part of 18 years learning how to take control of my thoughts, and I’ve learned there are three basic ways our thoughts tend to travel:
- We might fixate on the past, regretting all the “if only’s.”
- We might get stuck in the present, stewing on the “this isn’t how it’s supposed to be.”
- Or, we might fret about the future, worrying about all the “what if’s.”
Whichever we tend toward, we get sucked into the dark hole of thoughts that play on repeat and steal our joy!
As a natural “what if’er,” my mind can clutter quickly with conversation rehearsals. If I don’t stop those thoughts, I’ll spiral further until my emotions have taken over, causing my stomach to hurt and a headache to throb.
This is soul clutter. There’s no creating space for God when my mind whirls out of control. There’s no silence, not when my thoughts are screaming!
So, I’ve had to learn how to create silence by stopping my vicious thought cycles. I’ve identified triggers that send me in a spiral and specific thoughts that launch me into never ending rehearsals. These are my red flags. When the flag waves red, I know to stop where I am and speak truth over my thoughts — truths of Scripture I’ve memorized, like God hasn’t given me a spirit of fear or God is for me not against me or God goes before me to make a way.
When I choose my thoughts, I can create silence. When I choose my responses to life’s challenges, I can step into stillness. When I choose truth over what isn’t real or right, I can make space for God to speak over me and into me.
This is soul decluttering.
It’ll look different for each of us. But I hope this gives you ideas of what might be cluttering your soul. This week’s journal exercise is to sit with God — in stillness and silence — and ask Him to reveal to you what clutters your soul. Maybe it’s your thought life. Or perhaps it’s a habit or an addiction. It could even be fear or shame or sin. Identifying, or what Emily calls naming, is a huge first step toward release and wholeness.
Once you’ve named what’s cluttering your soul, journal a letter to God, asking Him to lead you in the way of releasing it all to Him. We can each surrender the things that have a hold of us because we trust God and we know He is able.
This will be a process. Naming it is one step in that process. So, as we put these spiritual practices into our life rhythms, it’s also important to build in some accountability and support, which requires asking someone to come alongside us in this decluttering.
I’m praying for each of us — that God would meet us in the spaces we create to speak into our souls, that in the silence He’ll guide us in the ways we should go, and that in our stillness, He’ll provide all we need.
We know that to prepare for a trip requires the process of prioritizing what stays and what goes. So, as we step out on this next leg of the journey, we’ll discover we’re less encumbered yet prepared for what is to come.
Our word of joy this week will sound familiar. It turns out Jesus said this three times to his disciples in the Book of John — I think that means it’s important and we should take note:
“I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”John 15:11
All that abiding we learned about last week — well, this verse comes directly on the heels of that teaching. He’s telling us that when we make space for Him in our lives, we’re better able to abide in Him and, ultimately, to find joy in Him.
This joy we’re seeking — it’s here. It’s ours for the taking. But it requires us to lay down all that distracts and has a hold of us. Then, we have space for Jesus and His joy.
Let’s close with Emily’s prayer:
We confess we live distracted lives, and our insides often shake with constant activity. We have grown accustomed to ignoring our low-grade anxiety, thinking that it’s just a normal part of an active life. This might be typical, and it might be common. But let it not be normal. Instead of trying to figure out how to calm the chaos and hustle around us, we rejoice with confidence that we don’t have to figure our way back to the light and easy way of Jesus, because you have already made your way to us. We have your Spirit living within us, which means there’s hope for us after all. You invite us into each moment to simply do the next right thing in love.Next Right Thing, 29-30
So ready to make that space for God to settle in, Shelley
- Don’t forget you can check out The Joyful Life* website. This ministry offers studies, solid devotional books, and most uniquely, a quarterly magazine — all with the focus of JOY!
- Take time to process this week’s journaling prompts within the post.
- Let us know how you experience the decluttering of your soul in the comments below.
- Have some fun — find the “Easter egg” in this week’s post!. It’s a travel word.
- Last week’s travel word was vagary, Latin for a wandering journey.
- I mentioned Emily P Freeman’s book, The Next Right Thing* in today’s post. Emily’s books flow like poetry for the soul. This one in particular equips us in decision-making, specifically, and for spiritual journeys in general.
- Our Journey of Joy playlist on Spotify follows this journey — it starts with us admitting and announcing where are. Then the songs shift to this idea of rejoicing in God even when we don’t have all our answers yet. I hope these songs help you declutter your soul before God.
*This is an affiliate link, so I’ll receive compensation for any purchases made.