Thursday I finally bit the bullet and announced to my class that it was time for them to clean out their desks. Of course my declaration was met with the expected mix of “Ugh!” “Yes!” and “Oh man!” but I knew it was important so I knowingly smiled and spent the next few minutes going over the ground rules (yes, they are necessary — especially for fourth graders) such as:
No turning over and dumping your desk all at once.
If your desk is already clean you must help someone else.
Scrub the inside and outside with a wipe to clean and disinfect.
Organize what you still need then put it back neatly.
Anything that is unnecessary throw it out.
For this undertaking we needed the BIG garbage can from the hallway so when I asked for a volunteer to go fetch it they knew I meant business. The second I finished speaking, papers began to fly creating what looked like an active war zone. Protractors, rulers and dry erase markers magically appeared after weeks of being lost in the seemingly endless pit of a student’s desk. “Mrs. M! HERE’S your book!” “Oooh look! My breakfast from a week ago!” “Oh, so THAT’S where my homework has been hiding.” I’m always amazed at how this can happen especially since I try to stay on them about being organized. But kids can be sneaky, careless and forgetful. (Sound familiar?) I’ve seen kids mindlessly shove things into their desk that seconds before I specifically told them to put away carefully. I’ve watched as they’ve tried to shove more and more papers into an already overflowing desk, yet they’re always determined to fit just one more thing into their desk-turned-dumpster. Perhaps it’s the hope the desk will somehow eat their homework or magically finish it for them and then spit it back out complete with all the correct answers.
Within just a few minutes of starting, the amount of garbage that covered the floor was impressive. It’s interesting to see the way some kids will just scoop up EVERYTHING and dump it all at once into the garbage can without caring what any of it is (including library books!) while others sit quietly and insist on examining every paper they’ve stuffed away for the past month. It is both horrifying and entertaining. I circulated the room giving encouragement and tips while keeping my fingers crossed that no one would come into my room amidst the chaos to see I was not teaching about number bonds or fractions. But I strongly believe even kids need the opportunity to clean house and start anew so I was fully prepared to defend my assignment.
They were so excited to show me their progress and accomplishments whether it was their expanding mountain of garbage or newly organized desk insisting that this time they would get it right while promising to forever keep their desk clean and organized. I too was hopeful but I’m also pretty sure that within a few days many desks will be bursting once again. But it’s a perfect time to have the conversation about making a fresh start — even metaphorically.
The entire time the kids were cleaning I couldn’t help but think of how perfectly this scenario applies to life. Don’t we all need the opportunity to take stock of our lives, clean house and make the committment to start anew? Afterall, we often get too comfortable or we get caught up in the rat race so we mindlessly stuff things away we don’t want to deal with hoping to forget about them as they slowly accumulate. But unless we keep ourselves in check we can ever so slightly begin to fall apart without even realizing it. Just like when a student accidentally bumps into their desk causing their supplies to fall out, they have the choice to stuff it back in (which is always more difficult the second time around) or throw it out. Am I like the kid who sweeps it under the bookshelf to avoid the effort and hope no one notices? Or do I want to stop and face whatever it is head on so it does not come back to haunt me in the future?
If we don’t do it regularly — acknowledging what we’ve hidden away — it starts to build up. Life gets messy and becomes overwhelming. Digging up our dirt, our garbage, especially the rotten and stinky stuff all the way in the back, can be downright unpleasant. However, if we never deal with it, the mess only gets worse and eventually ruins everything else it comes in contact with just like the rotting cinnamon roll that makes everything around it sticky and gross. It takes up valuable space reserved for the necessities — the good stuff — like dry erase markers, folders and notebooks. Or how about peace, love and forgiveness?
When all’s said and done, after a volunteer has dragged the garbage can back into the hallway so all the ‘junk’ can be permanently taken away, a feeling of accomplishment permeated the room. Once it was finally gone and we officially closed the door on it the whole environment was noticeably more relaxed. There was a feeling of relief and hope as well as the occasional “Thank God that’s over with.”
Just like the students in my room who know that I’m having them do this for their own good to help them be more successful, I know that God wants us to release our garbage to Him so He can take care of it. I remind my students over and over to stay neat and organized. I suppose I could just do it FOR them but then they will never grow and ultimately they’ll lack the necessary skills to be successful later on in life. Doesn’t God want us to learn the same lesson? Unless we make the committment to reflect and then release our baggage, what good would it do for Him to just take it from us without any effort on our part? We would just keep making the same mistakes over and over. But if we truly and willingly surrender our junk — throw it out, give it to God and allow Him to erase it we will have a much better shot at getting our lives in order and being at peace. Is it ever perfect? Of course not. Life begins to consume us, we become forgetful, complacent and we are stubborn. In other words…we’re human. But if we remember from time to time to stop and look at what’s on the inside in order to evaluate what is important and what’s disposable then commit to giving it up we will reap the benefits. God will always take our junk and make us clean again. But we have to be willing to LET IT GO! He knows we’re all just like a bunch of fourth graders who really can’t do it on their own despite all the nudging and gentle reminders they are given. But ultimately it is up to us to begin the process.
I ended our cleaning project by saying, “Now don’t you feel much better?” and surprisingly everyone agreed. Then I imagined God saying to me, “Don’t you feel better getting rid of all that junk and allowing me to help you and cleanse you?” Yes God, of course. “Next time don’t wait so long. But regardless if you get it right or not I’ll still be here ready to guide you and help you, but YOU have to do the work and make the DECISION to give it up for good.”
I thought about my ground rules and how they might apply to me:
“Don’t dump it all at once.” I know if I allow myself to carelessly turn everything upside down I won’t take the process seriously. I will rush because I don’t fully intend on giving it my all and whatever comes out I will scoop up and dump all at once without knowing what was really important. I’ll have the “I’ll do it, but I’m not gonna care too much” attitude.
“If your desk is already clean you must help someone else.” God wants us to love and support one another. If we have been through something then it’s our duty to help others deal and teach them what we’ve learned in order to lead them to the Light.
“Scrub the inside and outside with a wipe to clean and disinfect.” Once we’ve purged our garbage, God is there to wipe us clean. He is the only one who can truly make us whole and He is ready and willing. We often spend a lot of time working on our outside while ignoring what really counts on the inside because it seems impossible. But with God, and ONLY with God, nothing is impossible.
“Organize what you need and put it back neatly.” There are parts of us that make up who we really are and God does not want us to ignore that. He loves us and he wants us to take stock of our lives in order to make the most of it by acknowledging our gifts and then continuing to use them to glorify Him.
“Anything that is unnecessary throw it out.” ALL of our baggage. ALL of our struggles. ALL of our ugly sins…God wants us to confess them and then GIVE THEM UP! He does not want us to dwell on them or beat ourselves up over them. He wants us to learn from our mistakes and then move on so we can have room inside for HIM. The more we allow HIM to take up residence inside us, the less room there is for future garbage. When this occurs we have the ability to be at peace but we must accept the opportunity and regularly take stock of our choices and our lives. We must listen to the ultimate teacher and make a commitment to stay in line with His will for us. Don’t you think the creator of the universe knows a little bit more about this life than we do?
I don’t know about you, but I need to take a moment to reflect and ask God to walk me through my mess so I can face it and then give it up for good. I’m ready and willing to leave my baggage with Him and allow Him to take it and make me whole.
2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!