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Life is like the refrigerator

Talk about your first-world problems.  I dig around in our fridge and there is so much stuff in there I just can’t find a single thing I want to eat.  Shift over the pickles and there’s the jelly.  Move the jelly and there’s some butter.  Peering around that I think I spy something only my wife likes to eat.  The next shelf is much the same story, on and on, over and over.  Oodles of perfectly good, and not-so-perfectly-good but gotta-have-anyway food.  But not a single thing I want to eat.  In a moment of feeling philosophical I realize there has to be something in there I want to eat – it’s just the drudgery of digging through all the things I don’t want that drags me so often to that whining phrase, “Mooooommm, there’s nothing to eeeaaaatttt!” much to the eyerolling annoyance of my dearly betrothed.  There’s food – right there in front of me, I’m just too overwhelmed by all the other stuff to even see it.

Life can be a lot like that fridge.  So many things that at one point seemed, or even indeed were, important and good, that the thing you really want and need now seems impossible to find.  Everything out there is competing for our attention, for just a smidgen of our time, and all of it is marketed by people using multi-million-dollar research to push our every last vulnerable impulse and convince us we’ve gotta have it.  Then some time down the road we look at it wondering why it’s here but feeling that slight pang from the vague recollection that it was once a have-to-have item, habit or pass-time.  Over time somehow our nice orderly refrigerator-life has accumulated so much stuff that even though it looks full from the outside, on the inside there are only isolated islands of importance surrounded by seas of … stuff.  And no matter how much you really want that queso that goes oh-so-perfectly with the chips in your hand the thought of digging it out is so daunting you trudge away and slightly bitterly munch on your queso-less chips.

The smart(-er than me, anyway) among us will say “that’s why you need to clean your fridge routinely”.  Indeed and exactly.  And that’s why we need to routinely examine the things we’ve allowed to attach to our lives to see if they’re really worth keeping.  No matter how tasty that first bite of Tom’s Blow Your Head Off Salsa was, remember how your stomach reacted and the reason why you never touched it since.  The same goes for the rest of life, both spiritual and practical.  That game, pass-time, habit, secret little pleasure may have been enthralling when you first touched it but has it perhaps gotten in the way of the more important things?  Have you collected so many little “oh it only takes five minutes a day” things that now you spend all your free time caretaking your five minute projects?

As Catholics we’re recommended to make regular stops to the Confessional – the “monthly cleaning” of our spiritual fridges.  But even beyond that, and probably to the surprise of many, a nightly examen is suggested to make sure we aren’t accumulating little bits of stuff that will make that monthly cleaning seem all the more daunting.  In my house my kids have a habit of stacking half-drunk bottles of water and such in the fridge; each of itself is no big deal, but when they accumulate at some point even finding the milk bottle in the back can be a challenge.  The examen is the spiritual equivalent of making sure those half-drunk bottles are taken out and finished or thrown away before they ever get the chance to accumulate.  And anyone who’s ever had milk go bad in the fridge can tell you, that is something you do not want to let happen.  Keep your spiritual life clean, know when it’s time to make a monthly cleaning.  And most of all, make sure you keep your milk right where you can see it.

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