The difference between joy that’s sparked and joy that’s sustained

By Elizabeth Prata

I’m a minimalist. I have been since before it was a thing. I like to live a quiet life in a tiny house. I live a low-impact, moderately frugal and careful consumer lifestyle. Living small and frugal, one needs to be sure that item brings into the home will have a valued place. Also, any item brought in will need to have at least a dual function as well as be aesthetically pleasing.

Marie Kondo is a Japanese professional organizer and lifestyle consultant whose work has been a huge hit in Japan. Her four books on the subject are bestsellers, and her soft approach to decluttering has endeared her to many.

In January of this year, Netflix released a series called Tidying Up with Marie Kondo

Kondo’s method of organising is known as the KonMari method, and consists of gathering together all of one’s belongings, one category at a time, and then keeping only those things that “spark joy” tokimeku, the word in Japanese, means “flutter, throb, palpitate”), and choosing a place for everything from then on. Source

Marie’s book from which the Netflix series is based is called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Marie defines tidying up (AKA decluttering) as a process of taking each item in your hand, asking yourself whether it sparks joy, and deciding on this basis whether or not to keep it. If you don’t want to keep it, you thank it for its service, and put it in the donate or rubbish bin. It is this process which helps bring ‘the magic that creates a vibrant and happy life.’

If this all sounds a bit touchy-feely to you, it did to me too. My old shirt is an inanimate object, designed for function and perhaps a pleasing aesthetic, but nothing more. The shirt doesn’t know I’m thanking it.

You are not imagining that there’s a subtext of religion that runs throughout Kondo’s work. Marie Kondo is a Shintoist. As a teen, Marie was actually an assistant in a Shinto shrine and it is that philosophy on which her decluttering empire is based.

Kondo says that her method is partly inspired by the Shinto religion. Cleaning and organising things properly can be a spiritual practice in Shintoism, which is concerned with the energy or divine spirit of things (kami) and the right way to live (kannagara). “Treasuring what you have; treating the objects you own as not disposable, but valuable, no matter their actual monetary worth; and creating displays so you can value each individual object are all essentially Shinto ways of living.” Source.

Many others have weighed in on the religious aspect of the phenomenon of ‘tidying up’ the Japanese/Kondo/Shinto way. I won’t weigh in on that. My interest for the purposes of this essay is the part where Kondo says to make meaningful decisions of each item in your closet or room that’s being decluttered, on the basis of whether it “sparks joy.”

Shintoism, for all its religiosity, is not a true religion. Only Christianity is. Ecclesiastes is an entire book of the Bible that discusses all the ways and means the unsaved heart uses to try and ‘spark joy.’

Personally, I attempted to find joy in almost all the ways mentioned in Ecclesiastes. I worked and toiled for acclaim. I went the political route. I traveled. I indulged myself. I had wealth. I lived frugal and minimalist. I obtained an advanced degree and was vetted for an even more advanced degree.

Why, oh, why, did those things not spark joy? They were enjoyable for a while, but after the diploma was given, the landmark viewed, the applause died down, the work ceased  … what was there? Only a lonely silence indicting me as to my withered soul and craven heart.

These things that Kondo tells her clients to pile on the bed and decide which of them sparks joy, well none of them. And all of them. At one time, all of them were things in front of your eyes pulsing with the promise of joy once you possessed it.

There is a reason that joy is only sparked in a secular soul. A spark is a fleeting and a small thing. Sparks go out. Quickly.

Before Christmas, children are the most joyful human beings on the planet. They radiate happiness with the expected bonanza of gifts and toys and candy and treats.  They beg and beg momma or daddy for this toy or that plaything and it seems like they will just die if they don’t receive it. Then Christmas comes and they open them up and squeal with delight. Then they go play with the box it came in.

Adults are exactly like that, only we hide it better. The shiny new golf clubs you wanted so bad, the new rug that the dog immediately threw up on and now is simply something that’s a pain to clean, the cookware that never gets used, the relationship you thought was THE one…. Oh, yes, those things sparked joy, for a fleeting moment.

These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:11)

Barnes’ Notes says

This promise of the Saviour was abundantly fulfilled. The apostles with great frequency speak of the fulness of their joy – joy produced in just the manner promised by the Saviour – by the presence of the Holy Spirit. And it showed his great love, that he promised such joy; his infinite knowledge, that, in the midst of their many trials and persecutions, he knew that they would possess it; and the glorious power and loveliness of his gospel, that it could impart such joy amid so many tribulations. See instances of this joy in Acts 13:52; Romans 14:17; 2 Corinthians 2:3; Galatians 5:22; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20; 1 Thessalonians 3:9; 1 Peter 1:8; Romans 5:11; 2 Corinthians 7:4.

We rejoice not because an old shirt or a picture or a tennis racket ‘sparked joy’ for a short time, but because our names are written in heaven forever. (Luke 10:20). Comparing these two kinds of joy, the minimalist, sober, Shinto-esque decluttering is revealed for what it is.

What joy that our joy is in Him, it IS Him, it is complete, and it endures forever. His love endureth forever, and our joy in Him and His love for us endureth forever. Our spark will never go out.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods,for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
(Psalm 136:1-3)


FUrther Reading

Can I have Joy In My Life? RC Sproul

Interview with David Murray, author of HAPPY CHRISTIAN: TEN WAYS TO BE A JOYFUL BELIEVER IN A GLOOMY WORLD

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