by David F. Maas
My parents had barely reached their teenage years when the Great Depression ravaged the country. Characteristic of so many individuals who had lived through the Depression, they acquired the pack-rat habit of saving things, sentimentalizing clutter, fearful of throwing anything away because it might prove valuable someday. Dad built a four-car garage back on the farm, but eventually no cars could be parked in this structure because it was full of accumulated things.
Though I never experienced the Great Depression firsthand, I, too, have picked up the "Great Depression" mentality. My garage is stashed (much to my wife's chagrin) with banker's boxes full of papers, books, and things—all waiting to be sorted, categorized, and, yes, thrown away!
Solomon emphasizes in Ecclesiastes 3:1, 6 that there is a time to "let go": "To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven: . . . A time to gain, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away." Some things are worthy of treasuring for the rest of our lives, while other things belong in the dumpster.
In his book, Weight Loss for the Mind, Stuart Wilde suggests that "letting go" is perhaps one of the most difficult tasks for a human being. He suggests that we instinctively "hang on to our family connections, to the certificate we got at school, to our money, we embrace and hang on to our children [sometimes attempting to micromanage their lives into adulthood], we lock our car and hang on to it." People may hang onto books, magazines, cassettes, records, shoes, egg cartons, plastic jugs, bottles, reusable cans, etc. If we keep these items long enough, we sentimentalize them, affectionately calling them antiques.
Dragging Our Trap
Henry David Thoreau in Walden compares our accumulated belongings to traps we carry around, suggesting
it is the same as if all these traps were buckled to a man's belt, and he could not move over the rough country where our lines are cast without dragging them—dragging his trap. He was a lucky fox that left his tail in the trap. The muskrat will gnaw his third leg off to be free. No wonder man has lost his elasticity.
The difficulty we have in freeing ourselves from physical clutter metaphorically parallels our difficulties getting rid of spiritual clutter. God's Word indicates, however, that we must make a full-fledged effort to rid ourselves of excess baggage. Notice Hebrews 12:1:
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. . . .
Perennial and chronic sin constitutes the unwanted weight or obesity that we desperately desire to shed. This accumulative set of reinforced bad habits and transgressions the apostle Paul identifies as the "old man." He admonishes that we ought to slough off the "old man" like an accumulated mass of dead skin cells or an old discarded garment: ". . . that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts" (Ephesians 4:22).
Paul gets more specific as he identifies particular obnoxious traits and qualities found in the old man—or our comfortable old carnal selves:
But now you must also put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds. . . . (Colossians 3:8-9)
Our elder brother Jesus Christ is more emphatic about excising habits and behaviors that may eventually take our spiritual lives:
If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. (Matthew 5:29-30)
Parallel warnings appear also in Matthew 18:8-9 and Mark 9:43, 45. Some people have failed to understand on the spiritual intent of this verse by severing the physical limbs or appendages from their bodies. The motivation for sin emanates from the deep recesses of the cerebral cortex, in the heart or mind of an individual (Matthew 15:18-19; Mark 7:20-21). If we would literally excise that portion of our anatomy, we would instantly die.
Consequently, the cutting, the excising, and the pruning Christ speaks of must be of thoughts, behaviors, habits, words, and deeds rather than limbs and organs. These body parts are only extensions and tools of the central nervous system, which itself is a servant of the mind.
Actually to amputate an evil thought or impulse is far more difficult than amputating a limb or excising a malignant tumor. Our thoughts and behaviors make up our self-image, which is highly resistant to change—even when the thoughts, words, and behaviors are self-destructive.
Dr. William V. Haney in his Communication and Organizational Behavior illustrates that people who hold negative or dysfunctional self-images tenaciously hold onto them, feeling their very "identities" to be at stake:
A man, for example, may regard himself as incompetent and worthless. He may feel that he is doing his job poorly in spite of favorable appraisals by the company. As long as he has these feelings about himself, he must deny any experiences which would not seem to fit this self-picture, in this case any that might indicate to him that he is competent. It is so necessary for him to maintain this self-picture that he is threatened by anything which would attempt to change it.
. . . This is why direct attempts to change this individual or change his self-picture are particularly threatening. He is forced to defend himself or to completely deny the experience. This denial of experience and defense of self-picture tend to bring on rigidity of behavior and create difficulties in personal adjustment. (3rd Edition, 1973, p. 88)
To hang on to this negative self-image rather than to conform to God's image (Romans 8:29) means to resurrect and hang onto the old man—with its obnoxious habits and behavior patterns. Some of these behavior patterns we may have reinforced so thoroughly that it has become part of us, somewhat like individuals who carry around benign or malignant tumors, accepting them as part of themselves, rather than a hideous and life-threatening alien growth.
A number of years ago explorer John Goddard brought before the Ambassador College student body a jar containing a parasitic tape worm which physicians had extracted from the extremities of his intestinal tract. Jokingly he told the students, "on cold evenings out in the wilderness, it was a comfort to know that 'Charlie' was there with me."
Pruning for Growth
Perhaps some of us have sentimentalized our faults and sinful behavior, considering them, annoying as they are, a part of us. We need to wake up and realize that these faults are incrementally taking our eternal life as we allow them to grow in our minds, crowding out space. For godly behaviors to be grafted in, pruning, purging, and excising must take place continually. Even as we begin having success in changing our habits and bearing fruit, God demands that we be pruned further: "Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit" (John 15:2).
Militant environmentalists often object to the harvesting of timber on public lands, not realizing that natural laws engineered by Almighty God periodically thin out excess growth by fire or disease. Forest rangers, anticipating these natural cycles, spray paint red X's on trees to mark them to facilitate clearing out the unproductive vegetation.
We dare not sentimentalize those unproductive branches that God removes, nor should we sentimentalize those destructive carnal habit patterns that are blocking the transmission of God's Holy Spirit. As Jude so picturesquely puts it, we must throw these evil behaviors and attitudes away, "hating even the garment defiled by the flesh" (Jude 23).
Unfortunately, we all have the natural tendency to cling to what is familiar, even it if proves detrimental to us. Like those who have adopted the Depression mentality, we fearfully and tenaciously cling to self-defeating and destructive behaviors. Many individuals have collected injustices and grudges throughout the years, nursing them and keeping them alive long after the activating event has ceased. Spouses who have gone through an ugly divorce carry these malignancies to the grave after having infected their offspring with the same malignancy.
Some of the grudges and hatreds which ethnic groups bear toward one another are hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of years old. God deplores a hatred that is nursed, reinforced, and embraced long after the activating event has ceased. Such an abiding hatred is described in Amos 2:1-2:
Thus says the Lord: 'For three transgressions of Moab, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, because he burned the bones of the king of Edom to lime. But I will send a fire upon Moab, and it shall devour the palaces of Kerioth; Moab shall die with tumult, with shouting and trumpet sound."
Like the current hatred held by certain factions in the Middle East, Moab's hatred was tenacious, abiding, and clinging. He just refused to let go, and God, in turn, promised heavy retribution in judgment.
In his Psycho Cybernetics, plastic surgeon Maxwell Maltz insists:
carrying a grudge against someone or against life can bring on the old age stoop, just as much as carrying a heavy weight would. People with emotional scars, grudges, and the like are living in the past, which is characteristic of [many] old people.
Robert Frost masterfully illustrates in his poem "Home Burial" how a husband, tenaciously and fearfully hanging onto his self-destructive pride, (an integral part of the old man) is unable to reconcile with his estranged wife. The normal-type lines represent attempts at humble reconciliation and the italicized lines depict the ugly marriage-destroying pride coming to the surface:
My words are nearly always an offense.
I don't know how to speak of anything so as to please you.
But I might be taught I should suppose.
I can't say I see how.
A man must partly give up being a man with womenfolk.
We could have some arrangement by which I'd bind myself to keep hands off
anything special you're a-mind to name.
Though I don't like such things twixt those that love .
. . . Tell me about it if it's something human.
Let me into your grief. I'm not so much like other folks as your standing there
apart would make me out.
Give me my chance.
I do think, though, you overdo it a little.
Like the turbulence of meteorological high and low pressure cells, the vacillation between humility and pride causes a turbulence in human relations and in relations between ourselves and God. We must excise, prune, eradicate, and destroy the useless trait of pride as we in humility practice "submitting to one another in the fear of God" (Ephesians 5:21; see also I Peter 5:5; Philippians 2:3).
Willing to Forgive
Another particular heavy weight we drag around is our inability to forgive others even though our Savior and Elder Brother admonishes us in the model prayer, "And forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us" (Luke 11:4; see also Matthew 6:12). To be unwilling to forgive others puts us in the same situation as the wicked servant in Matthew 18:32-34, who had great debts forgiven him but would not forgive others of their relatively meager debts. Contingent upon God's removing the burden of guilt from us is our obligation to reconcile with our brother (Matthew 5:24).
So we see that a major key to overcoming is to "let go" of our sins, confessing them to God, who forgives them (I John 1:9), and throwing them away. Notice Proverbs 28:13: "He who covers his sins [hangs on to them, protects them, stashes them away] will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes [gets rid of] them will have mercy."
Whether we depict our sins as leavening, dead branches, heavy weights, benign or malignant tumors, pet tapeworms, or boxes of sentimentalized clutter, we desperately need to follow Herbert W. Armstrong's vital mandate of simplifying our lives. Let's get rid of all excess weight and begin to throw things away!