There once was a woman named Petra, who lived in a land actually very near to your own. She was a happy soul, and had many friends. Life was good, and the cares of the world seemed like something that belonged to other people, but not Petra.
To get to Petra’s house you had to walk down a long path, lined with flowers, trees, bushes, and small patches of lawn. It was relaxing and beautiful, and everyone loved to visit Petra’s property almost as much as they enjoyed her company.
On this particular night Petra was just finishing up an evening with some new friends. There had been food and drink for more than enough people, and she decided that she was too tired to clean it all up that night. It could wait until morning. She had thoroughly enjoyed all her friends, and had laughed until it hurt. Sleep was a welcome release after that much exertion laughing the night away.
The next morning when she awoke, she had the aftermath of her night’s reveling to deal with, but she really didn’t want to deal with having to be thorough about cleaning, so she just pushed all the leftovers and party favors into bags, and walked the distance to the lane where she lived and left the bags on the curb. When she returned to the house her new friends were calling her, wanting to have another get-together. They had enjoyed themselves as much as she had.
This new batch of friends enjoyed themselves more than her old friends had. She felt oddly liberated by their willingness to abandon themselves to the pleasures of each other’s company. The more time she spent with them, the more she forgot other duties and responsibilities. One such responsibility was the waste that was produced by her now consistent partying. She managed to haul it to the lane, but the pile kept growing.
By now the smell was becoming uncomfortable to be around, so she would drop the garbage off at the edge of the pile closest to the house, and retreat to her home so she wouldn’t have to deal with the growing mound. Day after day, week after week, and month after month she added to her trash heap. The smell intensified, and the flies came, but she quickly retreated to her home where she didn’t have to look at it or think about it, and could continue to enjoy her parties with her friends.
As with all actions in life, there comes a time of reckoning. Petra had been avoiding dealing with her ever growing trash heap for so long that it now stretched from the lane all the way to near the house. Not only was the walk to the house becoming increasingly problematic for her guests, who had to deal with the flies and the smell, but she started to have the attendant mice and rats entering her home, chewing on her furniture, and eating her food. And if the breeze blew in just the right direction, she had to endure the stench of the rot her trash had created.
The day came when she could endure what she had created no longer. It had become a plague in her life. Petra’s friends would no longer come to her house, and people mocked her and ridiculed her for the slop she now lived in. Instead of the beauty she was once proud to show off, she was filled with shame for the blight she had created.
You say, “But all she had to do was get rid of the garbage!” And you are right. That was all she had to do, but she was too distracted by her new playmates and her activities to deal with what it took to clean up her life. Now she was surrounded by mountains of her own makings, and all the attendant discomfort such things bring. The garbage seeped and oozed into the ground, poisoning her plants and lawns, killing them and causing even greater blight on her land. Holes were opening up in the most unexpected places in her walls and cupboards as the mice and rats increased in numbers. This could not go on much longer.
Petra finally looked herself in the mirror and was not happy with what she saw. Her life of waste and reveling had produced nothing worth having. Her friends only loved her as long as she provided for their pleasure, and they did not have to deal with the aftermath of her entertaining. They all got to go home to clean rooms, while Petra had all the work to do to pick up after them. She admitted that change was now necessary.
All she needed to do was call the regent of the city and petition to have her garbage hauled away, but she had become so focused on her worldly pleasures that she had never gotten around to it. Now the task was so enormous that the trash could only be cleaned up a little at a time. She paid for every bit of it, too, and the cleanup cost her dearly. Weeks and months went by, but little by little the trash in her life was removed by the regent.
As the garbage began to disappear, so too did the rats, mice, flies, and other side effects of having that much garbage in her life. Over time the ground began to heal as the cleansing rains washed away the muck and ooze from the trash she had heaped upon it. As the seasons passed, her once beautiful property, with care and diligence on Petra’s part, returned to its former glory.
What did not return was Petra’s negligence. Now the city’s regent was her best friend. She knew now what happens when the garbage in our lives is not removed and our lives kept clean. Petra now knew that her choice of company had not been wise, and she returned to those who had valued her for her own sake, and not for the entertainment she could provide. The air was sweet no matter which way the wind blew, and now when Petra laughed, it was with satisfaction from living a wholesome life.
What can we learn from Petra? She wasn’t committing any great sin, but she was certainly negligent in some of life’s weightier matters. She allowed nonessentials to clutter her life, which led to a slow dissolution or breakdown of what had been beautiful and orderly.
All it took to repent and change her life was to work with the regent of the city (read priesthood leader or friend) who could help her clean up her mess. It took time, and fortunately, nothing was beyond repair. She learned some good lessons about her priorities in life. She learned that who her friends were made a difference in her life. She learned that it sometimes takes a long time to clean up the messes we make. Working with our leaders can help us get our lives back in order, but once we have let ourselves go to such an extent as she had, the price of cleaning ourselves up can be dear. She also learned that once we let distractions into our lives, they invite additional distractions which make it more difficult to see clearly what we need to do.
I leave you with a quote from Sister Julie B. Beck’s October 2009 Conference talk:
“What are the nonessential things that clutter your days and steal your time? What are the habits you may have developed that do not serve a useful purpose? What are the unfinished or unstarted things that could add vigor, meaning, and joy to your life?”
We all produce clutter (garbage) in our lives. It is only when we do not get rid of it that it becomes a burden to us. If we are consistent in our efforts to keep our lives free of needless distractions, we will be able to enjoy, to a much greater extent, the simple pleasures of life that will contribute to our lasting happiness.