Spiritual Hoarders

Have you ever seen Hoarders? It's a show on A&E which takes an in-depth look at people who are victims of a difficult pattern of excessive collecting which usually leads to the hoarder possessing large amounts of objects. Perhaps you have a family member who is a hoarder, or maybe you are one.

Watching the TV show, like all "good" "reality" TV, is like watching a train wreck. As it happens.

You see, hoarders are not coin collectors or entomologists (yuck). Sadly, hoarders compulsively, and without control, collect things which, to the outside world, seem to be useless, have no value, or actually endanger the hoarder.

Most of the people on the show once had "normal" lives, but the stacks and stacks and piles and piles of the things they can't let go of have now collected to the point where they are cut off from family, ashamed to invite friends in, unable to clean house, and often, living in unsanitary or even physically dangerous situations.

Even more tragically, anyone who does know about the often-secret hoarding can see that the behavior, the inability to let go, is a danger to the hoarder. The things--piles and stacks of things--warp the hoarder; they no longer sense that they are in danger. They can no longer know that they are ill. And all too often, the effort to remove the stuff is more than the hoarder can bear. Far too many have emotional crises, scream, weep, and shut down.

It often makes me feel superior. It always makes me want to clean house.

But do I really have a one-up on these folks? Maybe my physical house is in order, but what is the condition of my spiritual house? What piles of detritus do I have piled in the corners, and what spills over and shows those closest to me that I am hurting, sick, and unable to cope?

We tend to collect these things, you and I. Small hurts which are, in some secret way, pleasant to go and touch, like a kid wiggles a loose tooth, part pleasure, part pain. Larger injuries bleed and color all that we see and interpret through its real or perceived reality. Hemorrhages, the life crises which make everything different; the breath-catchers and grief makers.

We collect these things, you and I, because they define us. They are forever part of our story; they are too difficult to let go. We hold on to them; we stack them away in piles and mounds, papers and plastic bags and storage boxes of the heart. We hoard our hurt, and everyone around us sees the piles and mounds knows we're ill. What we're holding on to is making us sick.

Embrace the crisis moment. Like the TV hoarders, scream, or cry, or shut down for a while. But you can't stay there, can you? We all want to know the end result in ourselves: we all want to see the clean house. It's only place where we can really live, where friends and family can come and sit with us, where we love them and they love us over the metaphorical cup of tea.

Forgiveness is the trash bag. It's the garbage pail, broom and mop. It's the giant dumpster than pulls up and  hauls everything away. It's the painful act which lets us breathe, carves out room to live, and gives us a home.

What does this have to do with worship? Everything.

The altar is the central place of reconciliation and atonement of the ancient faith in Yahweh. At the altar, the sacrifice, freely given, enables us to be unified with God, and to be forgiven for all the big and small ways that we don't "measure up" to a perfectly holy God. This is a transaction just between us and the Lord, right?

Well, not so much. Jesus tells us that if we are standing at the altar--the place where we are justified before God by sacrifice--and we realize that a fellow believer has something against us, we must go and straighten that out first, and then come back and make our offering. This is the act of cleaning house: to ask for forgiveness, and to receive it. To say "yes" when someone asks you to forgive them. This is the only way to get the piles and mounds and years of yuck and clutter out of the spiritual house.

Though Jesus didn't come out and say it, it seems pretty clear: in order to be fully in communion with God, we must forgive. We must let go. It's also not lost on me that this parable comes just after his words of solace: blessed are you, the humble, blessed are you who mourn, blessed are you who are starved for righteousness, blessed are you who are persecuted, for you will be comforted, you will be completely satisfied; you will inherit the earth and the Kingdom of God. Blessed are you, pure in heart, for you will see God.


For help with material hoarding, call or visit 1-800-HOARDERS.COM or find help in your area at HoardingCleanup.com.

For help with spiritual hoarding and forgiveness, please talk with a trusted friend, counselor, or someone who gives pastoral care at your church.

I'm not affiliated with these resources, nor responsible for their content. I hope they help.