I'll admit it--I have been a paper hoarder. I have been loathe to throw away school papers, important papers, sermon notes (okay this is more German's hoarding but the papers are here in my office), things the kids drew, things the kids wrote, etc. etc. etc. So my goal for the past (2) years has been to GET RID OF THE PAPER.
I started easy. I started with sermon notes. I scanned the notes into pdfs, categorized them by book of the Bible in to a nice computer file, recycled the paper. I said I was getting rid of paper not content! Paper gone, I began to breathe a little deeper. I did not realize how much paper clutter was affecting me. With the sermon notes came 10 years worth of prayer notices from the church, since often the notes were written on the back. It was sometimes fun, sometimes heart breaking to read those prayer requests and know how the situations ended. Those I shredded, because they are someone's personal details and I didn't feel comfortable just tossing into recycling. Then I recycled the shredded paper.
Next step--college notebooks. Yes, I still had them. I actually still refer to some of them (especially my seminary notebooks) whilst planning home group and home school topics. So, obviously, I don't want to not have the content. But I also did not want the two boxes taking up any more room in my attic. So, more scanning. More remembering. Now I have neat computer files for each of my math classes, my seminary classes and a couple of other classes that impacted me. I can find material without hauling out a box when I need it. Won't my kids be ecstatic when they get to Calculus that I have access to my Calc I-III tests! Yeah, probably not, but I am thrilled. Again, volumes recycled. I am breathing better.
This summer I tackled my personal filing cabinet. This was the most difficult. Two drawers full of keep-sakes and work notes and things from my Mom. I tackled keepsakes first by scanning the ticket stubs or programs of concerts and college activities. There is now a computer file for each of the children with scanned copies of their early writing or drawing. I confess, I kept 2-3 for each of them, but recycled the rest. Out of five large keepsake files, I now have one very thin one. Very few things made the cut--a card from my grandmother when I graduated high school, DeForest Kelley (Dr Bones McCoy on Star Trek) autograph, the first poem I submitted for publication, a note from my Great Aunt my first year in college. That file now makes me smile, not hyperventilate! I have gathered writing that inspires me over the years. I re-read those, scanned the ones that still spoke to me--about half--and recycled the rest.
Then I tackled my work files. I scanned one copy of each of my resumes through the years and shredded the 25 extra copies I had kept. I scanned the my Education certificates from social work days as a record of classes taken and shredded the evidence.
That is when I hit the next file--the rejection file. Every rejection letter ever received during a very difficult job hunt nineteen years ago. I kept the letters! All of them! For what reason, I cannot tell you. But when I found the file, I had a gut-level, physical reaction of remembering all that rejection and uncertainty. AND, I had an internal debate with myself of whether I should keep them. You read that correctly, I considered keeping them! In the end, sanity won out and that file of rejection letters received its just-due. It was shredded. All of it. And it probably felt better than all the other reams of paper that had been shredded prior or since. It was more than paper. It was something that I had kept around, that in some sense was still defining who I was. Even though I had found the right job after that difficult search, and even though I made some of my very best friends in the jobs that resulted from that search, and even though it was NINETEEN years ago and I had been a successful social worker and was now doing something that I loved. Despite all the facts, I still defined myself, on some level, by the jobs I did not get.
Last night I watched Brene' Brown's amazing TEDtalk on shame. In it she differentiates between shame and guilt. She says that guilt says "I made a mistake" and shame says "I am a mistake." I don't know about you, but I grew up in a shame-based culture. There was very little emphasis on just a behaviour being wrong; the emphasis said that if you exhibited a behaviour it was a sign that you were wrong. And I internalized that for a long time. Keeping a file that says "you are a failure" demonstrates how deeply I had internalized that. But it is not true! I may have applied at places that were wrong for me--or perhaps the mistake is that they couldn't see how great I was for them. But the missing out on a job was not a failure--and I should not use it to define whether I am useful. Shredding that file was one more step in my saying that I would not be defined by a shame-based past.
Earlier this week I sorted through the last of the files, deciding what to keep, what to scan and what to shred. It was the file of our past church and the event that led to the shaming incident by the pastor which resulted in our leaving both the leadership and, eventually, that church. It was painful to revisit. I shredded over a hundred pieces of paper that were email conversations that had hurt so much that I had printed them to keep them. But now they are gone. What is left is the objective elements of that incident--the architect reports of what the church could achieve and the minutes of the meetings where it was approved and then denied. I'll keep the objectivity because it helped to define me. In fact, it was probably the first time in my life I could say "I'm sorry that what I did upset you and I apologize for (specific act) but I am not sorry about who I am." I never realised until this week that it was that extremely painful event that taught me the difference between "making a mistake" and "being a mistake" and that the biggest issue was that I refused to accept the shame that everyone wanted me to have (so that they would not have it). Mistakes were made. But I stopped letting them define me. And this week, I stopped holding on to them. I shredded them. All of them. Without regret.
Shredding my life has been life-changing. On a physical level I have four less boxes of paper that gets moved from place to place. AND I have learned to just go ahead and shred it rather than keep it so I don't end up with more paper accumulating. But, more importantly, on a mental and spiritual level it has been an exercise in letting go of things which hurt me and that I then allowed to define me. I'm slowly shredding the things of my past that want to cover me with shame. It is freeing. May I encourage you, if there are things that you need to let go, please stop defining yourself by the mistakes of the past and trust in the one who forgives it all.
Instead of your shame
you will receive a double portion,
and instead of disgrace
you will rejoice in your inheritance.
And so you will inherit a double portion in your land,
and everlasting joy will be yours.
“For I, the Lord, love justice;
I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
In my faithfulness I will reward my people
and make an everlasting covenant with them.Isaiah 61:7-8
image from www.morguefile.com, attributed to pippalou