It’s a little over a week since Ash Wednesday. How’s your Lent going so far?
Every year I look forward to this season as a time for stepping back and re-evaluating who and what I am in the big picture of God’s creation. Sometimes I undertake big changes at this time: three years ago I decided to give up meat for Lent, and it was such a life-changing experience that I haven’t gone back.
Other years it’s smaller stuff: one year I gave up wearing perfume, another, burning incense, and yet another time I wore the same pair of earrings throughout Lent. These, I know, sound like frivolous actions, but in the greater pantheon of things, they’re not. Each was something that brought me into a more disciplined and simple mindset; each small sacrifice made me focus less on the loveliness that flavors each day and more on what really is essential.
This year I came onto my Lenten practice a bit late; I just wasn’t feelin’ it for the first few days. On the first Sunday of Lent, however, I was shopping in one of those large discount stores for dog food and a few other household items, when I became distracted by other bargains in the store. “Oooh, I have to have that; OMG, we really need this. Wow, look at the price; can’t pass that up!” Pretty soon my carriage was filled not only with what I needed, but with a bunch of other stuff that was just too good to pass by.
Then something that I heard that morning in the temptation story of Jesus in the desert stopped me in my tracks. What was I doing? Why was I buying all these other things that were not necessarily bad, but which I clearly did not need? (After all, temptation wouldn’t be temptation, would it, if there wasn’t some element of good contained within?)
And then I came upon this year’s practice: buy only what I need. This is not a new idea. Catholic stewardship addresses the hierarchy of needs in a very solid and straightforward way. It’s just that putting it into practice here in the US of A when there’s just so much stuff to buy—well, it’s hard.
But that’s what I’m practicing this Lent: buy nothing I don’t need. Even a few days into this mindset, it’s already a challenge. There have been at least five occasions so far where a food item seemed irresistable, a book looked really interesting (but would only raise the to-read pile a little higher), a skirt was such a deal and would go with everything I already owned.
This practice isn’t going to make me rich, for sure. But what I hope it does, by observing a spirituality of necessity this Lent, is to better focus on the one true thing that matters: a right relationship with God and with the people around me.
There is a lot of inspiration for simple living in the book, Mystics: 10 Who Show Us the Way of God, by Murray Bodo. Here are models for living a life motivated by prayer and contemplation, and centered in the love of God.
What challenges are you facing with your Lenten practice—even if it’s simply not having one?