There is a problem with quitting.
This problem arises after you’ve been quitting things for a while. Not just the little things, the easy things, or the inconsequential things. The problem smacks you full force in the face when you begin to quit the things that are worth quitting.
The types of things that are worth quitting are also the things that need quitting more than once. They are often big, or noteworthy. When you quit these things, they usually resist and cause a bit of pain.
Sometimes when you quit, there is a hangover. Worse yet there are cravings and longings.
But that isn’t the problem I’m talking about. Hangovers fade, cravings are subdued, and longings dealt with in time.
The problem with quitting is there is nothing there.
At the beginning of the year, Simon gave a message at church about finding joy. It was based in part, on the now popular book by Marie Kondo, The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying. The premise was to find joy. To nurture joy like a newborn pup. To remove from your life that which does not produce joy.
Since joy is listed as one of the Fruits of the Spirit, I set to work on finding the items in my life that brought me joy. Decluttering my house was a secondary benefit.
It became an exercise in quitting as much as joy discovery. I quit carrying around or storing the clothes that I never wore, letters that were read once and never opened again and the ever expanding of pens that failed to produce ink on paper. I reconnected with t-shirts from powerlifting competitions. It was reigniting an old friendship. Joy-producing knives, crockery and coffee mugs were elevated to prime kitchen real estate as I quit hoarding utensils that I didn’t care for nor use.
Books were significantly harder to quit. Every book I owned was stacked on the floor of my office. Painstakingly I held every book and asked myself “Does this book bring me joy?”
Once I began to let go of half (or more) of my collection I realised that I had quit carrying books from town to town. The books had served their purpose years ago and were never read again. Some books had seen multiple house moves without ever being opened.
I donated most of the books to bookstores that I thought would appreciate the genre at hand. Some I threw in the trash and hope that no one ever reads them. Mostly these were the books from a particularly unappealing unit in postmodern literature that I once studied.
When I looked at the shelves, the was relief. A burden somehow lifted. It was as if these books were literally and figuratively weighing me down. The shelves also had space on them.
Now when I spoke with friends about the emerging space, I was encouraged to see such space as opportunities to fill with new books. Initially, I agreed with this assessment. In the ten months since though, I have come to understand the beauty of leaving the space bare.
There is a certain elegant sophistication in leaving room on a bookshelf. It has become a celebration of the things that I have quit. When I look at each shelf, I see the books that bring me so much joy. Winton, Larson, Melville, Twain, Dickens, Pirsig and the Bronte sisters call out to me. Eugene Peterson and C.S. Lewis beckon me to go deeper with God. Shakespeare sits there with a wry smile. He’s bloody cheeky like that.
Now I also see what isn’t there. I see the beauty in the choices that I have made. Like the space between notes in a concerto, I understand the need for contrast in my life.
Books and space.
Activity and rest.
Talking and silence.
Now if I can just learn how to be silent long enough, I may just say something that needs to be said.