First off, if you're in a Christian denomination that doesn't practice Lent or if you are not a person who has any Christian spiritual practice - it's ok. This particular spiritual practice is extremely relatable even if it's new to you.

Cartoon from "Normal Chaos"

Cartoon from "Normal Chaos"

Maybe somebody in your life has talked about giving something up for Lent. I grew up hearing about it in church. My parents didn't talk to me about what they were doing for Lent. I remember asking my parents about it and they explained to me (each in their own way) that it was a private thing that you weren't meant to parade in front of other folks. Aside from that, I don't recall much education about how a person should choose what to "give up."

At some point one of my mentors talked about "taking on" something for Lent instead of "giving up" something.

"Add a spiritual practice that you believe will teach you - or accomplish a goal that you think will help you grow closer to God."

The kid in the cartoon is taking advantage of the situation, right? 

He's heard about giving stuff up and he's giving up something he didn't want anyway. It's an overblown example, but it's really close to human nature. Why not? Give something up that you didn't really desire anyhow. When I was in college I gave up dessert one year. I really love dessert. But I wanted to lose 5 pounds. So I gave up dessert "for lent" and I lost 7 or 8 pounds . . . I don't think I grew any closer to God, though. Because what I did had nothing to do with God or my spirit. I wanted to lose weight. So I lost weight right before Easter. I don't think that was quite right . . . you know, in terms of spiritual practices.

A lot of people feel that Lent should be a time of intentional suffering. I'm not so sure about that, myself, but I've certainly seen it demonstrated. 

Wikipedia says this about Lent:

The United Methodist Church says this about Lent: 

Other people say all kinds of other things about Lent.


At some point I started to look forward to Lent. Maybe because during my early twenties I realized that life was moving faster and that it was getting cluttered. 

I'm not a rich person. I never have been. I probably won't ever be (school teachers aren't exactly rolling in $$). But I've been comfortable. Comfortable enough to acquire too many things. And I've always been involved in giving and receiving education - especially education related to performing arts. It's a great field. I love it! But it's full of "standards" and comparison. There are competitions and judges. There are always people who look better, sound better, and just ARE better. That's a given. And somewhere along the way some of these details embedded themselves in my heart and became part of the clutter. 

For the past 5 or 6 years Lent has become a time of spiritual decluttering for me.

The first of these productive Lenten years I didn't even "give up" anything *gasp*. I just took time to study. And after I felt like I'd gotten a better understanding I started to try small life changes.

One year I actually took up the saying of a Sanskrit mantra *double gasp* No, it was not blasphemous. I took 40 days to speak "Hamsa" 109 times at a sitting once every day- you can find lots of translations for that. Essentially it boils down to "I am that" or "I am" or "I exist" - if you follow it into the Hebrew tradition you can find its link to "I Am that I Am." And when I would speak the mantra, I would occasionally add something to it in my mind along with the natural breathing in and out . . . something like, "I am that which does not panic" or "I am only myself." That might sound silly. But it was a big change in my life - it was the first step I took toward facing my struggle with panic and some of my stress related physical problems. Migraines, heart palpitations, and hyperventilation get in the way of living life "to the full." I felt like I worshiped my safety by living in so much fear. I wanted to find a way to breathe and trust again. 

Another year I stopped gossiping. That was hard. I'll be honest with you - I'm not perfect. That was rough because I discovered on day 2 that lots of my friendships were based on an ability to gossip. That'll clean house real fast!

This year is complicated. I am learning to love this kind of complication.

Have you ever noticed that new leaves, branches, shoots, and blossoms on plants are often red on the newest ends? Red wherever the growth is taking place? Raw.

I need to accomplish a few things in order to turn around this time.

First - during the first few months after my son's birth I struggled with my recovery. And I sat around the house a lot just holding a baby . . . and a smartphone. And I shopped. On the internet. It became a pastime. Then it started to resemble an addiction. I had to give that up. And I had to make a commitment to replace it with something healthier so that it wouldn't sneak back in. So? I am no longer allowing myself to shop on that phone. I can read on it - and the only book I have downloaded is the Bible . . . because . . . . *triple gasp* I have never read the whole Bible - and I am curious! I think I've been in church long enough to have heard the whole thing and I've probably read over half. But I've never just . . .read it. So now I am. To be fair, I had to start this whole shindig a little early - like 2 months ago. We're only 3 days into Lent right now. But this sort of life change is the kind of change I'll try to teach my son about when he's older and asks me how to handle the Lenten season. And something miraculous has already happened here - I am enjoying my reading . . . and I haven't bought anything frivolous for myself in a couple of months . . . and I haven't needed anything . . . because I am recognizing that I have what I need. Hello, newfound contentment (yeah, sometimes I still fight the urge to go to Target, though).

Second - I have a heavy weight of bitterness dragging me down. "The struggle is real" - as they say. I've spent the last several months frustrated about something and my frustration has begun to transform me - it's part of the clutter. And I need to clean house. So whenever I think about the folks involved in my frustration, I pray for them. This has been hard. Because I have felt hurt and it's hard to pray for people when you feel like they have tried to hurt you. But something miraculous has happened already - I have begun to recognize our shared humanity again. Now . . . that doesn't mean I'm all better . . . but it's a very good start.

Third - Remember my sanskrit mantra? I'm doing that again because I need it. I need a little help remembering that God is huge and I'm tiny. It's a wonderfully comforting thought. Ecclesiastes is helping me with this.

Friends, Jesus came to live among us and still does. He came down into the valley and helped us name ourselves back out of the darkness we were living in. Everywhere He shines a light we'll be able to clean up (with His help).

Lent is not a season for waving a magic wand.

There's an Episcopal priest up the road I've come to really admire. She once told me that the labyrinth behind her church wasn't "magic," but that it was "a tool to help you focus on God." Good teachers always try to find tools for their students to use along the way.

I love this season of difficult spiritual work because my life is continually collecting clutter . . . and I need the help of Jesus to empty it back out again.

That's my prayer for you - that you would clean house and find treasure underneath.