When I first cleaned out my closet to begin my Lenten challenge of smashing my love idol of approval from others, I expected to feel panic. Doubt. Fear. Could I really do this? Am I crazy? And do I really want to write about this journey for everyone to see, letting the world in on my private struggle and the most awkward parts of my journey?
I expected to feel those things after I made the last trip downstairs and looked into my newly-bare closet…..but I didn’t. Instead, all I felt was relief.
The burden was lifted, and I was free.
The next morning, though, things became challenging. I was still relieved to be free of the thing that caused so much anxiety and distraction, but now a new challenge arose: what, exactly, was this whole thing supposed to look like? How was this going to work? How, exactly, would reducing my clothing options for a few weeks change anything? How would it draw me closer to God’s truth?
What I have found, though, is this: my brain is like a wayward sparrow. Left to its own agenda, it will flit and fly aimlessly. It doesn’t know where to go, so it goes everywhere….and nowhere, all at the same time.
Because as I said yesterday, it has never been about the clothes. My problem is not simply an addiction to clothes and nice things, but rather is the relentless, obsessive pursuit of what those clothes and nice things can get me. Approval. Compliments. Acceptance. Things that I believe I cannot have without the clothes.
And like any obsession, it is all-pervasive. My thoughts, though, are the main battlefield.
No, it’s not about the clothes. It’s about where the clothes lead my mind.
All too often my mind rests on thoughts of other people. Thoughts of you, to be honest. What will you think of me? Will you like me? Will I come across the way I want to? Will I look right? Okay? Acceptable? Good?
And while I’m standing at the door of my closet, trying to figure out what to wear, the destructive thoughts that invade my mind are often echoes of actual words spoken in the past.
“We DO notice what you’re wearing. It’s hard not to. We all see you up there. You’re on stage with bright lights on you. Of course we notice!”
“I think of you as my style icon. I try to dress like you.”
“You always look so chic….so put-together.”
“You have a real gift of putting outfits together. Everything is always perfectly coordinated.”
Those words – and others – ring and circle through my mind, one after the other after the other. They intermingle and drown each other out, each shouting louder than the others until it’s nothing more than a clamoring cacophony – meaningless, senseless noise.
And as the words scream, one message comes across: “Keep it up. Keep it up. You’ve gotten yourself to this place – they actually like you. Keep it going or they won’t like you any more. They’ll see that it was all an act. Keep it up.”
This shirt or that shirt or those pants or wait, those were too tight the last time I wore them and that shirt doesn’t go anyway and she would never wear that and what kind of image does this project about you – our church – God if you are onstage wearing that and what if she’s there and maybe they’ll remember you wore that last week and you did talk to them for awhile after church so they probably will remember and wait, that shirt might be better but then what shoes and that necklace won’t work after all and….and….and…….
Before long, my mind flying, I fall in a crumpled heap on the floor of my closet. Hands over my ears, eyes scrunched shut, knees drawn up to my chest in an effort to protect my heart from all that seems to be coming at me. It goes on and on.
No, it’s not this bad every time, but yes, it happens far more often than it should. When I take away the options, though – the possibilities that become a trap – my mind is at rest.
Open closet. Pick something. Close closet. Get dressed. Boom, boom, boom. On with the rest of my morning.
And what’s more, I’ve been making a deliberate effort to replace those meandering, self-destructive thoughts with what is more helpful. With truth. With light.
Whatever is true. Noble. Right. Pure. Lovely. Admirable. Excellent. Praiseworthy.
Because that wayward sparrow? It has to land sometime. It can’t fly forever, but has to settle somewhere. It flies and flits awhile, but eventually it has to land somewhere. And when it does, by removing the things that make it fly, I’m leaving it nowhere to land but on truth.
The thoughts behind the clothing options are not where my mind should rest; I’m removing the clothing options in an effort to steer my thoughts in the other direction. (And really…….that’s the approach I need to be taking to all areas of my life, but that’s a whole other story.)
So I’m focusing on some Scripture memorization and am praying a whole lot more. My attention is not on the things of the world, but much higher than that. My focus is on God, and I think it’s safe to say that’s going to work out a whole lot better.