Compartmentalization: Good or Bad?

Compartmentalization is a good thing.  Oftentimes, it is what gets me through the day.  I am able to experience a difficulty and put it in a box for another time.  Or, if I am enjoying a day off, I can place all my ministry responsibilities in the mental drawer listed as “church” and close it for the day.  In fact, I have a drawer for just about everything.  From my understanding, this is not unusual for most men.  In fact, there is a running joke that men also have an empty box.  We open this box when we don’t want to think about anything.  This is box most associated with watching sports or fishing.  The mind goes blank.

Compartmentalization is a bad thing.  It is harder to make broad connections to divergent issues since everything is in a separate box.  Sometimes, it is hard to empathize with someone as I think “Just close the box for the day.”  Or, and most tragic, I bottle up issues that should be processed.  I close the drawer for another day without realizing that the emotions are still in my heart.  The issues bubble and percolate up during parts of the day.  I find myself irritable or frustrated, only to realize that the closed box is rattling in my soul.

In thinking about the human tendency to compartmentalize life I realize that it is quite humanistic.  It is a means by which I can control the disturbances in life, e.g. stress, problems, or frustrations.  I file it nice and neatly.  I close the door.  I lock it away.  I control it.  Yet, life is not so clean.  Stress manifests itself.  Frustrations spill over to family.  Life goes sideways.  I can try all I want to control life but at the end of the day I really can’t.

A better option is to allow the Holy Spirit to work in the boxes.  I should allow all areas of my life to be influenced by the calming, convicting work of the Spirit.  I shouldn’t control them but allow God to control them.  I shouldn’t close them up for the day only to open them when I want to.  I should keep them open so that the Spirit can work in me.

Yet, is it not sufficient simply to allow God to work in each box.  I need to be open to Him connecting the boxes.  Life is integrated.  Work influences family, family influences church, church influences friends.  Therefore, if we have stress at work it will impact the other areas of life.  Rather than seal them off, we should allow God to work across the boxes for our good.  We should be open to someone encouraging me at church so that it can then spill over to work.  Be honest with your spouse about frustrations in life so that he or she can be an agent of God in those situations.  Don’t simply vent about them; invite the connections so that God’s transcendent spirit can work through all of life.

Life is holistic, not segregated.  No wonder we are stressed out in life.  We are attempting to spin as many plates as possible without them touching let alone breaking.  We should hand them over to God.  Some of them might break, most will not.  Yet, the process of surrender will allow us to see God’s movements through all of life.  The end result is freedom as we hand control over to someone who has the authority and power to most adequately deal with them.  And in return, we experience the joy of a life connected to the Spirit that desires to transform and weave His purposes throughout.


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