Visual Clutter, Mental Overwhelm, and Spiritual Distraction
What happens in our environment affects what happens in our minds, and what happens in our minds trickles down and affects what happens in our spirits.
Snowball Effect. Have you noticed that rarely is used to describe the onslaught of GOOD things happening? Frequently the snowball effect starts as something minor. It's like a snowball rolling down a snowy hill, picking up speed until we feel we're being rolled over and crushed. Today, I want to look at three things that roll into one another, growing and gaining power over us: our environments, minds, and spirits.
I talked to one of my ministry team members this week, and she had reached a breaking point with the stuff in her house. It was just everywhere and too much, and she felt like she couldn’t get to the things she wanted to do because there was just stuff in the way. Man, I get that. I do not function well when my house is a wreck. Why is that? Because visual clutter leads to mental exhaustion.
According to the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, “research shows disorganization and clutter have a cumulative effect on our brains. Our brains like order, and constant visual reminders of disorganization drain our cognitive resources, reducing our ability to focus. The visual distraction of clutter increases cognitive overload and can reduce our working memory. In 2011, neuroscience researchers using fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) and other physiological measurements found clearing clutter from the home and work environment resulted in a better ability to focus and process information and increased productivity.”
In 1 Corinthians 7:35, Paul says, “I say this for your own benefit, not to put a restraint on you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord.”
He is speaking about the benefit of staying single because your devotion and concentration won’t be split between God and your spouse. Now, he does say this is his opinion, and there is nothing wrong with being married (kinda crucial to that whole “be fruitful and multiply” command), but the point stands. The more things we allow to take up space in our environment, calendar, and mind, the less we can focus on God and what HE wants to put in our field of vision. I know it is hard for me to focus on prayer when surrounded by stuff. I have difficulty giving God my focus when the sink is full of dishes.
Taking the time to “secure undistracted devotion to the Lord” often starts with cleaning up and clearing out the spaces in which we dwell. Clearing off your desk, cleaning out a closet, NOT letting the kitchen table become a massive drop post of everything you carry in the house (preaching to myself on that one), can all help remove distractions that take up space.
Simplenotstressful.com states, “Like physical clutter makes our home feel like it’s too much, mental clutter is anything that makes our minds feel like they’re in overdrive. It’s our thoughts while we’re awake, and though we know thinking is a part of our lives, some of our thoughts can make concentrating hard.”
Just like a cluttered environment visually distracts us, a cluttered mind makes it feel like our thoughts are in as much disarray as our closets. How does a mind get cluttered? We fill it with things we were never meant to keep there for the long term. We take on the world's responsibilities, worries, and expectations when God did not intend for us to live as the world lives or live up to the calling the world placed on us. We are not here to control and manage but to surrender and trust.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
When we choose to put forth an effort to clean out our minds just like we did to clean out that junk drawer in the kitchen, we find order and function; this clean-out does not mean throwing away but laying down. We do the work to lay all the things that were not intended to be ours, or not intended to be ours long term, at the feet of Jesus. And after we have laid it down, we make an effort to walk into his promised peace and never look back.
Luke 10:40-42 ESV
But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
So many of us are Marthas desperately trying to be Marys. We are in a world that demands and expects us to be Martha while our soul cries out to just sit at the feet of Jesus and be loved. Martha’s house was not up to her standards, so she frantically tried to clean up. I think we can understand that. How many of us have had the “Oh no!” moment when we have twenty minutes to make the house look like no one lives there before company arrives? Martha was a servant, and shouldn’t we all be first to sign up for every single volunteer opportunity the school, the church, and the community posts? Or is all that on the floor, the calendar, and our brains…those truly good and noble endeavors…distracting us from the good portion?
Lord, clean us up today. Remove every distraction from our environment, our minds, and our calendar that was not meant for us, and help us to clear away the clutter so that we can give you the undistracted devotion our soul craves.