Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Secret to a Clean (Emotional) Closet

by Emily Conrad

I mentioned in a previous post that to make room for our exchange student, I moved our filing cabinet out of the closet where I’d stuffed it away. What I conveniently didn’t tell you is that our filing system has been a growing mess since April, 2017.

When I mentioned moving the filing cabinet, what I actually pulled out of the closet was a giant to-be-filed pile a year and a half tall, a shred pile about a year tall, two boxes of files that need to be reviewed and thinned out, and one mostly-empty filing cabinet.

It’s a mess, and it’s now in plain sight.

I started working on it within a day. I’d let the filing fall behind by about a year, but after shredding, consolidating, sorting, and filing, the mess is already half gone, and this work started a week ago.

As I sat at the table, feeding paper into the shredder, I was struck by how getting the mess out in the open forced me to deal with it.

I like my closets, physical and emotional. I err on the side of quiet 9 times out of 10, and I’ve taken it too far, waiting until the closet door bulges before I consider opening the door.

Preparing for an exchange student forced me to take action with the physical closet. Likewise, relationships are good at forcing me to visit emotional spaces so I can see what’s collecting and find an appropriate time and place to drag it out.

Though risky and sometimes painful, being open about a problem is the first step toward coping and healing. Once the mess is plain to see, we’re so much more likely to deal with it.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that someone close to me has cancer. It’s my dad, and until recently, we weren’t telling anyone outside the family because he does not want to talk about it. With anyone. At all.

Because of this, the rest of us have spoken about it very little as well. By keeping silent, I shoved the mess in a closet. I didn’t realize how high a stack of emotions had accumulated until Dad’s situation affected a church committee’s plans—in a small way, but nonetheless, in a way I felt I needed to mention.

The brief mention of it and the short discussion that followed made it all so much more real to me.

The simple interaction brought the mess out into the open. I didn’t air it all out in front of the group, but I went home surrounded by boxes of emotions I hadn't noticed before. They’d been boarded up in the closet of silence, but now they loomed around me like the cardboard boxes of files waiting for attention in plain sight.


The task of dealing with the mess is overwhelming, but in some ways, being overwhelmed is a blessing.

Awareness of my inability to cope leads me to prayer in a more serious and focused way than I approach it under other, less humbling, less stressful circumstances. It also makes me more desperate than proud, so I’ll reach out for help; clean-up goes much faster when we all get our hands dirty together in the pursuit of clean hearts.

I didn't open my home to an exchange student to motivate myself to clean the closet. I didn't mention my dad's cancer at the meeting to become more self-aware. Finding the mess in both of these cases was an accident, and that goes to show just how necessary relationships are.

Not every conversation should be a therapy session, and not every relationship will lead to growth all the time, but a general openness to connecting with others naturally leads us toward solving problems--those we know we have and those we haven't taken inventory of in a while.

Of course, if this is what relationships can do when we're not purposely looking to grow, imagine the impact of a relationship we're diligent about fostering for growth. If we obey James 5:16, we will purposely open the door to reveal a mess, and with that comes healing. If we obey Hebrews 10:24-25, we'll gather together mindful of opportunities to help each other toward love and good actions.

We need each other if we’re to confront and overcome the messes we’d rather shove in closets and sweep under rugs. Relationships are the secret to a clean closet.










Connecting with others leads us toward solving problems--those we know we have and those we don't via @emilyrconrad
Hangers photo by Christian Fregnan on Unsplash
Locker full of papers and aisle of paperwork photos by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

6 comments:

  1. I love this! It's so hard to practice but totally worth it. And it saves a ton on therapy bills. ;)

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    1. I hadn't even thought of therapy bills :) It's much easier to keep up with things as they happen than to let it pile up for a long time. Thanks for stopping by, Robyn!

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  2. Love this analogy, Emily! What a great challenge to look for the closed closet doors of our emotions and tackle them before they grow too big to handle. And I'm really glad I'm not the only one with year-old paper stacks to clear out...sometime. ;)

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    1. Happy to lend you company in the year-old paper party ;)

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  3. I love the analogy of cleaning out papers and emotional honesty. It's good important work.

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    1. I'm sitting here trying to think of if I've heard the phrase "emotional honesty" before. Why isn't that in my working vocabulary!? Because yes, the work is so important.

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