How many of you have heard of Marie Kondo? For those of you who haven’t, she is a Japanese organizing consultant who is also a bestselling author and has her own Netflix special. Her organizing principles are called the Konmari method, which is coined from her name. Her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up invites you to keep only those material things in your life that spark joy. How do you know what sparks joy? Kondo invites you to pick up each item and see if it makes you feel the way holding a puppy makes you feel. Think about that for a moment. How many items in your house would give you the same pleasure as holding a puppy? Would that ratty old sweatshirt you have been saving for the time you need to paint your house and it might just be cold enough for a sweatshirt? What about the gift someone gave you that you don’t want but you are afraid if you get rid of it they will ask you about it?
I remember the first time I heard about Marie Kondo and her spark joy way of living. I was standing in line with a friend and she was telling about what she had learned after reading Kondo’s book. I thought, “That is the weirdest thing I have ever heard.” I was trying to imagine holding any clothes in my closet and experience the same happiness as when I’ve held a puppy. I thought to myself, “I would have an empty closet.”
And then the Marie Kondo craze began with full force. My friends started talking about Marie Kondo-ing their homes. Suddenly this woman’s name became a verb. Kondo has a very specific process for tidying up. First you start in your bedroom and in your bedroom you begin with your closet. You take everything out and pile it on your bed….for most of us that would be a huge haystack. Then you pick up each item of clothing to see if it sparks joy. If it does, you keep it. If it doesn’t you hold it and thank it before folding it up to donate it. The Konmari method requires that instead of thinking about what you want to get rid of in your life, you start with what you want to keep.
This was a Brethren value long before Marie Kondo was born. The Brethren never wrote a bestselling book about it or got a Netflix special but from our inception the Brethren have believed in simple living. Only have what you need…the rest just gets in the way of living. Our tag line for the Church of the Brethren is: Continuing the work of Jesus. Peacefully. Simply. Together. Where the Brethren went wrong was that we didn’t tie our practice to joy but to obedience and therefore simple living didn’t catch on like the Konmari method…and even most Brethren have forgotten about the value of simple living. But the Konmari method is traveling across the world like a forest fire….thrift stores in the United States report that their donations have gone up by 300%.
The reason that people are kondo-ing their homes isn’t really about tidying up their living space. It is about something much deeper. If you have ever watched Marie Kondo’s show you know she enters a family’s home with a sense of deep spirituality. Kondo spent five years of her life as an attendant maid at a Shinto shrine. When she enters a home the first thing she does is kneel in the living room to greet the house and give thanks for the shelter and comfort it provides. How would we feel about our homes if every day we greeted our house with a grateful heart?
Kondo’s Netflix special depicts how she coaches different families on how to tidy up their homes…and their lives. One episode features a widow whose husband was a collector. She finds it so hard to clean out his closet and let go of the things he cherished. There is the family of four living in a very tiny apartment in Los Angeles, trying to create order in a very small space. There is the family who wants to have another child but if they don’t deal with their crammed home there will be no room for another baby. Kondo greets all of this confusion with joy. She loves the challenge but more importantly she is sure that what she has to teach each family will change not just how much junk they have in their homes but the whole way they live. Each show ends with a family crying with gratitude …not because Kondo helped them figure out how to clean up the garage but because they seem to love life again.
I was thinking about Marie Kondo as I read our scripture from Luke today. This scripture has bothered me my whole life. I am Martha. I am the inviter and the doer. I am the one who worries about all the practical details while others get to bask in the joy of a well-planned and executed event. I’ve always been a little angry at Jesus for not jumping up when Martha complained and saying, “Let me help you.” But when I Marie Kondo-ed this story it took on a whole new life.
I would be the one to invite Jesus home for dinner and then be so worried about all the details that I wouldn’t get to sit and spend time with him….which would have been the whole point in the first place. I wouldn’t have been thinking about what sparked joy. I wouldn’t have thought about what I most wanted to keep from an evening with Jesus. Mary did choose the better part. Jesus was in her home and she knelt down on the living room floor and was grateful. Mary Marie Kondo-ed that evening.
And so on this Mother’s Day I wonder what it would look like if we Marie Kondo-ed parenthood? My children are grown and out of the house but when I take a backwards glance I know that there are so many things about parenting I would do differently if I had a chance to start over…which is the way most, if not all, parents feel. Parenting is tough work and I have never met someone who said, “I got everything about parenting right. I have not regrets.” I think I would mother another way if given another chance, but who knows? Parenting is like taking a walk on a beautiful day and then all of a sudden a thunderstorm comes and you are deluged in water and you find you are without an umbrella. You do the best you can with what you have under the latest unforeseen turn of events. The way I deal with my look backwards is to say, “I did the best I could with what I had at the time and by the grace of God it has to be enough.”
When I think back on my children’s growing up years the memories I treasure aren’t the ones where they got their chores done without me asking. The snapshots I carry in my brain are of when each of my children was being fully himself. I remember when my oldest son watched Mary Poppins for the very first time. Towards the end of the movie he burst out in tears. I went running to him and said, “Are you okay?” “Yes,” he said, “I’m just so happy. That dad finally saw what was most important…. flying a kite with his children.” It was the first time I had seen Matt cry because he was happy. I went to his baby book and created a new line on the page of “Firsts”. “First time to cry because he was filled with joy,” I wrote. I wish I had kept on creating that “Firsts” page: First time to disagree with an adult because of his convictions; First time he said “Thank you” because he was truly grateful and no one had to prompt him; First time he realized his parents don’t know everything; First time he schooled me on theology.
In my mind I wish I could go back and focus, not on how to mold my children into good people, but on being present….loving each moment…listening with joy and declaring each step as precious. I would claim Mary and not Martha this time. I wish I would have paid less attention to what I didn’t want my children to do and concentrated instead on helping my children be their best selves…on keeping what matters….on what sparks joy in them…on what makes them stop, kneel on the living room floor, and say, “Grateful”.
I know when I was actively parenting I rolled my eyes at every person, who didn’t have children running through their home, who was trying to give me parenting advice. I hope you don’t hear my words that way. Consider this instead an invitation to choose the Mary method…the Marie Kondo way of living….whether you are parenting or not. Martha wanted Jesus to focus on the details and he invited her to be fully present in her own life. Jesus invites us to see a bigger picture and claim our joy…claim what you most treasure and want to hold on to and then get rid of the rest. What gives you joy spirituality, emotionally, socially, materially? Keep those things. Then stop, kneel down and just notice the simple gift of life and family and love and shelter and each other. Amen.