Occasionally I’ll look around my office and notice papers, books, and other items starting to pile up. I’ll see my inbox is full and stacks are starting to develop. And although I recognize there are much more important things than a clean and uncluttered office, I’ve also found that bringing at least some order to my immediate environment is worthy of my attention.
On a practical level, a little organization helps me spend less time looking for things when I need them. Processing the papers that accumulate around me keeps them from distracting me when I’m in the middle of something else. Having some kind of trusted system for tracking my tasks and commitments, instead of letting physical reminders of them continue to pile up, frees me up to focus on the work at hand without the haunting feeling that I might be forgetting something.
But there’s another reason to bring a little order to my environment. And it’s not because of the benefits I receive. Rather, it’s because it’s one way to practice an important part of the vocation of us all. In the beginning, humans were called to not only fill the earth but to exercise responsibility over it. This wasn’t a call to exploit but to cultivate–to extend the order and beauty of Eden into the world around.1 Of course, there have been, and still are, abuses. But we also have the call, and the capacity, to bring order to our environments–to cultivate life and beauty in places that were once chaotic or barren.
In bringing order to chaos, the goal is not to bring so much uniformity that it suppresses all creative expression. Rather, the goal is akin to tending a garden: you pick weeds and prune plants, not to stifle life, but to create a place where life and beauty can thrive.
Cleaning up my desk–or whatever space I have around me–may not be on the same scale as cultivating a wild and inhospitable tract of land, but there are similarities. I can slowly and intentionally bring a little more order into the areas I have responsibility for–my desk, my office, my life. And along the way, I may discover some of the things piling up need to be pruned, not just reorganized; removed, not just filed away.
I’ll also see that entropy is a real thing: order and harmony don’t just happen on their own. They need ongoing attention–just like a garden. But with diligence, there will eventually be more order and less chaos in the areas I control. Sure, doing this will provide some practical benefits, which is reason enough to attend to it. But at an even deeper level, it’s one way to practice the call we humans have been given.
See Genesis 1, 2 ↩︎