Wednesday, February 18, 2015

40 Bags in 40 Days: This Mama's Lenten Experience

Today marks the first day of Lent. For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, Lent is the 40 (or so) days prior to Easter. Catholics count Sundays in the 40 days while Protestants do not, so the dates differ a little. This is a period of time marked by sacrifice or fasting where Christians can grow in their dependence and reliance on God. Catholics fast from meat on Fridays, while many others also "give something up." Lent is a pretty big deal in the Catholic community, though there are plenty of Protestant churches that see this time as fairly significant as well.

I grew up in the Catholic culture, but never really "got" Lent. I always gave something up (lying, gossiping, chocolate, soda, etc.), but it was mostly because it's what I was supposed to do. When I would inevitably fail, I'd feel crazy bad and hope my dozen Hail Mary's would cover my sin. We didn't even abstain from meat on Fridays and eat the approved  fish meal because of my mom's fish allergy. (I was a pretty crappy Catholic. Questioning the Pope's spiritual authority in my life was also particularly frowned upon, but I digress)

Even in my non-spiritual stage ranging from my teens to early-twenties I continued to give something up for Lent because it was a ritual ingrained in my brain, but it wasn't until our Methodist preacher really broke it down for me. He said that giving something up - or NOT giving something up- does not change our status with God. He loves us regardless. If we have accepted Jesus as the atonement for sin, then how we celebrate Lent doesn't affect that. However, if we decide to abstain from something during these 40 days, make sure it's something that will draw you closer to the Lord. For example: if TV infringes on prayer time or has become an unhealthy habit, then giving it up and replacing it with prayer and meditation is appropriate. Giving up soda just to give up soda isn't.

In  Lents past, I've given up social media (it is a huge distraction for me), I've given up certain foods which cause temptation, while pregnant with my fourth child I gave up precious, precious sleep and woke at 5:30 every morning to spend time with God in the Bible and in prayer.

We are getting rid of 40 bags of stuff
during the 40 days of Lent
This year, I've been in prayer in the weeks leading up to this point asking God what He sees as a distraction in my life.

We live in a society dominated by consumerism. More stuff equals more happiness. My life and my house has revealed the truth of which I think a lot of Americans are experiencing but are afraid to admit.

Less is actually more.

My twins are in the choir at school and they came home singing "Tis the Gift to be Simple," a wonderful Shaker hymn. And the words have been running through my head, "Tis the gift to be simple, tis the gift to be free." It hit me like a bolt of lightning. Simplicity is a gift from God.

My house, my life, is not simple. It is cluttered and distracting. It is filled with stuff that causes fights and falls as people trip over left out knick knacks. We don't need half of what we have and greediness and gluttony has crept into our hearts like a cancer. God's Spirit spoke to my heart and impressed upon it what I'm giving up for Lent. What my whole family is giving up...

In one word. Stuff.

Forty bags in 40 days to be exact. Every day we will fill bags with stuff we no longer need, or want, or that can be thrown away. Everyday will be a step toward simplicity. Sunday's will be a day of rest. The whole family is in on this. And while there is a degree of sacrifice here, it is nothing to the freedom that will be attained when we're not tied down by junk.

We'll be cleaning out junk drawers and closets, purging toys and clothes, throwing out makeup and markers without caps. We'll be going through cabinets and bookshelves, bathrooms and jewelry boxes. No nook or cranny will be safe.

Check back periodically to see how we're doing and I'm curious...are you giving up anything for Lent? I'd love to hear from you.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Is it Ever Too Late?

I'm going to tell on myself here: I'm pretty crappy in a whole lot of areas. For example, I still have my mom's Christmas AND birthday presents sitting unwrapped in my bedroom...I didn't even send her a card. My kids have a pen pal in San Francisco and they wrote to her at the beginning of December...I still haven't sent their letters. At church we have a "Secret Pal" program where folks are paired with widowed individuals or those home bound or in the nursing home. The whole point is to let your Secret Pal know someone is thinking of them throughout the year. Last year, I managed one month. One. Month. It's pathetic! I was given another pal this year (they admitted they just really needed the help.) And here it is January 31, and I JUST got my pal's card in the mail. I try to post here weekly and it's been, well, four months. And, by the way, my Christmas tree is still up. Oh goodness I'm embarrassed admitting all of this. Everything just sort of piles up and I think, "It's just too late!" 

But is it? Is it too late? Is my idea of perfection hindering any sort of progress? The crazy thing is that I know I'm not perfect; I admit I'm far, far from perfect. Nevertheless I harbor perfectionism. The idea that if something is not done "right" or in the "right time," it's not worth doing. My plan was to take the tree down shortly after the New Year. My plan fell through so the tree is still up.

I guess the good news is that admitting you have a problem is the first step toward recovery. But I have to TAKE the step. Staying in one place equals defeat. My goal needs not to be perfection but progress. As I crawl, stumble, stagger toward the goal, I have to keep in mind that I'm moving forward. Any inch gained is an inch closer to the person I want to be.

Are you like me? Do you harbor inner perfectionism? Maybe you need the house cleaned a certain way and if it's not done that exact way it's not clean (even if it really is clean by most standards.) I have a friend who would completely re-write her notes from class if she thought a word or two was "messy." Perfect isn't reality. Reality is messy, and thankfully God doesn't call us to perfection. He calls us to completion.

James 1:4 (NIV) says, "Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." Notice it say nothing about perfection finishing its work, but perseverance. To persevere is just to muddle through; gaining ground toward the finish line. Merriam-Webster defines it as, "to continue doing something...even though it's difficult." There are seasons when it seems that everything is difficult. (Obviously taking down the tree has proven difficult or I would have done it a month ago.) But God is calling me to persevere because it's not too late.

It's not too late to...
  • Mend the relationship
  • Make the phone call
  • Say "I'm sorry"
  • Pray more
  • Get healthier
  • Yell less
  • Smile more
  • Try new things
  • Go different places
  • Admit you were wrong
Friends, stay your course, whatever it is. The road is going to get rough at times and if you're banking on perfection then expect to be broke. One foot in front of the other.

Perfection is a myth, progress is the goal, perseverance is the key.