Filling the Holes in Our Souls

"Simplify! Simplify! Simplify!" Henry David Thoreau

Oh, Henry, I wish I could! Like most people, I love my stuff family photos in pretty frames, art objects acquired on world travels, quirky furniture snapped up for a song at flea markets. Relaxation for me is poking around antique malls and combing through dingy thrift stores in search of that elusive hidden treasure at a to-die-for bargain price.

Unfortunately, sometimes my appreciation of pretty things and my compulsion to take advantage of every bargain I come across gets out of control. Art glass eggs are so crowded on my tables that their beauty no longer registers. Wicker bookshelves groan under the weight of coffee table books I rarely open.

Aromatherapy candles in every shape and scent compete for nostril time until my apartment smells like somebody spilled a quart of cheap perfume on the living room rug.

On and on goes the d cor overkill: Throw pillows piled so high on chairs, no one can sit down. Victorian furniture collides with futuristic Sputnik-inspired lamps from the '50s.

My 600-square-foot apartment is an homage to practically every decorating trend of the 20th century. The material things that were supposed to feed my soul now suffocate it. My eyes roam my surroundings in search of visual rest, but find none.

Every surface is covered, every nook and cranny filled. I know it's really bad when I have to rent storage space and buy plastic containers more stuff to hold my stuff.

I once tried to co-opt a little of the spare, minimalist design philosophy of feng shui, but my acquisitive nature simply wouldn't allow me to have a coffee table bare but for a single orchid. I simply had to add "tchotchkes."

And therein lies the problem. You can't fake serenity if you are not serene. You'll find it supremely difficult to unclutter your surroundings if the space inside your head is crammed with nothing but escapist fantasies.

The desire to escape manifests itself in all manner of seemingly harmless pastimes that we may not immediately recognize as cause for concern. But for those desperate to escape from an unhappy reality or from honest introspection so-called "hobbies" can easily escalate to addictions: Computer chat rooms. Soap operas. Small-stakes gambling at the local riverboat casino. In short, whatever we use to temporarily fill the holes in our souls.

A woman trapped in a distant marriage loses herself in romance novels. Another shops incessantly, filling her closets with clothes she'll never wear. A husband completely tunes out his family, lost in endless football games and 24-hour sports channels.

In my home state of Colorado, near the gold mining town of Cripple Creek, is a geographic curiosity named Mt. Pisgah. The cone-shaped mountain is actually a long-dead volcano. Tourists who brave the gravel road spiraling up the side are greeted at the top by dramatic 360-degree views of the Rocky Mountains.

The odd thing about Mt. Pisgah is that when you look down from the summit, you see layer upon layer of man-made junk jutting out the side. The volcano's crater has been filled with chunks of concrete, old automobile carcasses, large kitchen appliances whatever the locals could find to fill the hole. As the cars and washing machines and old refrigerators settle into the crater, they simply pile on more stuff, topping it off with another layer of gravel.

That's what it's like when there's a hole in your soul. You fill it with whatever junk you can find. And it's never enough. As one diet expert puts it, "You can never eat enough of what you don't really want."

I've been thinking a lot lately about the holes in my own soul the ones I try to fill up with fantasy, material things and constant, mindless movement. Examined under a microscope, my soul must look like a big moldy slice of Swiss cheese.

How about you? What are the holes in your soul? And what are you trying to plug the holes with? If you find you've been trying to fill them with all the wrong things, maybe it's time to get down to what 12-step groups call "a searching and fearless moral inventory." It may be time to get honest about those harmless "hobbies" that now seem to be taking over your life.

If you wrestle with behavior you think may be bordering on addiction, reach out for help. Find a competent Christian counselor who can help you begin to excavate the layers of junk that are keeping you from authentic relationships and genuine intimacy with God.

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