paper, paper everywhere

One of the things I promised myself is that during my sabbatical leave I would sort out my desk. There are piles of papers that need filing, binning or shredding. There are bits and pieces that need to go back in their proper places. Somewhere there are books still to be read. There are loads of bits of paper I have acquired relating to my sabbatical studies. And there’s what I would call ‘assorted debris’. It accumulates because either I don’t have the time to deal with it, or because it’s something I would rather not deal with at the moment.

Today’s the day. I am going to deal with the desk. It is long overdue. But once it’s sorted, how do I prevent it from re-acquiring the clutter? There are several answers to this. One is to put all the new clutter and paperwork in another place. That way the desk remains visibly tidy and I can work at it. But the clutter has simply been relocated.

Another is to have what our pastoral studies tutor called ‘dustbin days’. Once a month he recommended to us trainee Ministers that we have a day set aside to do all the adminny stuff we have been putting off. That way the piles of papers don’t reach the ceiling and the chances of overlooking something important are diminished. It’s helpful advice and I will include it in my list of things to get around to… if I can find it on my desk.

A third approach is to deal with the items as they arrive and sort them as they are completed. It’s by far the best approach. But it requires time and discipline. And, if I am honest, it may require the help of someone else. I was at my most administratively efficient when I worked as a litigation lawyer and had my own secretary. I was efficient because my secretary was efficient. I had to keep up with her. Yes, she would deal with things like filing but I had to ensure that I was able to lay my hands on papers I needed to use, so I also had to keep a tidy desk and have a system where I knew where I had put everything.

When I worked in the office of the Baptist Union of Great Britain I had a three-tier filing tray. I called it my ‘hokey cokey filing system’: I labelled one tray ‘in’ (for letters and so on that were arriving on my desk). I labelled one tray ‘out’ (for letters and so on that were leaving my desk). And, yes, I had one that was labelled ‘shake it all about’ which was for letters and so on that needed to stay on my desk while I dealt with them. I had to be disciplined to keep ‘out’ and ‘shake it all about’ relatively empty because they were underneath others so they had limited capacity.

I guess we apply the same sort of approaches to our lives. There are things we would rather not deal with and keep putting off, or have become ‘too busy’ to deal with. Yet they lie around, cluttering up our lives. That apology we need to offer or accept. That forgiveness we need to ask for. That persistent sin that we keep falling into.

On Sundays I think many of us operate on the ‘relocation’ model. We put aside all those things and present ourselves at church looking like we have everything in order. But when we get home it’s still there.

Some of us operate ‘dustbin days’. Every so often we reach a moment where we feel we have to deal with these things and make an effort to sort them out (usually starting on our knees asking God for his forgiveness and help). But the debris builds up again.

The best approach is to deal with stuff as it arrives in our lives. That way it does not have time to fester (like the three-week-old sandwich underneath a pile of unopened letters)* and we can keep short accounts with God and with others, which is a healthier way of living.

And perhaps the ‘hokey cokey’ is not a bad approach. Some things in our life can be dealt with quickly: ‘in’ and ‘out’. But some needs to be shaken around a bit, we need to dip into it and out of it, we need to play with it and discover what approach is best to deal with it. I suspect Jesus would quite like to join us in putting our right leg in, our right leg out…

And by the way, ‘administration’ is listed by Paul as a spiritual gift. I think I need to pray for it.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

A young minister had just started in a church and felt really excited. He sat in his study and there was a knock at the door. The Minister was thrilled to have a visitor, but wanted to appear busy.

He picked up the phone just as the man came in. “Yes, that’s right. I can see you later today, but I only have half an hour. Yes, I’ll expect you ten past two. Alright. No later. I’m a very busy man.”

He hung up and turned to the man waiting. “May I help you?”

“No,” said the man, “I just came in to install the phone.”