Lent really snuck up on me this year, what about you? Feels like 2017 is flying by and Ash Wednesday crept up on us very quickly.
This is the time of year when we focus on our prayer life, offer alms and practice self-denial in order to become closer to Christ through the 40 days of Lent. Often one of those forms of self-denial is giving something up, like candy, chocolate, or a favorite TV program. These practices are a great way to concentrate Jesus’ passion and death and prepare for Easter.
Instead of reverting to your usual Lent thing to give up, I suggest you and your family take a look at your material possessions and give up some of the stuff you cling to even if it is crowding your closets, cabinets, drawers, garages and basements.
For some reason, we equate our material possessions (our stuff) with our very sense of self. Our things tie us to past memories. The china soup tureen is a reminder of grandma’s Christmas and Easter feasts where the whole family gathered to celebrate. That memory makes us hesitant to get rid of the soup tureen even if we haven’t used it in years, we never intend to use it, and it is irritating us each time we think about the space it is taking up in our cabinet.
Our material possessions also tie us to future dreams. The clothes that we don’t wear because they no longer fit bring us the hope of losing that excess twenty pounds someday. We ignore the fact that it’s been years since those twenty pounds piled on and the hope of actually losing the weight is slim (pun intended!) to none.
Our thought process is “Who knows when I might need this or that, and if I throw it away now I won’t have it when I need it.”
The “LetGo” commercials are a great take off on how much we cling to our stuff, even when we know it is no longer useful, we no longer need it, or it’s getting in the way of something better.
One of the commercials shows a woman in a swamp, fighting with an alligator over a sleeping bag, while her husband and child watch from shore. Another commercial shows a man clinging to a cliff by the fingertips of one hand while the other hand stubbornly grips a bowling ball. Then there’s the lady who is doing a tandem parachute jump but the instructor can’t pull the cord because she is firmly anchored to a sewing machine she hasn’t used in years, and the sewing machine is obstructing the parachute.
The way these people are clinging to their stuff is totally amusing, as they are risking life and limb to hold on to something that really isn’t very important. But the commercials also ring true, because we can identify with these people. How many of us hold on to stuff we may someday need? We no longer love it, use it or enjoy it and we know the stuff is in the way, but we can’t let go. How many of us let our stuff get in the way of more important things?
This trend to hold on to things is evident in the self-storage industry in the US. Of the 58,000 storage facilities worldwide in 2009, 46,000 were located in the United States. One in ten U.S. households now rent a self-storage unit. According to Wiki, the growing demand for self-storage in the US is created by people moving, by various lifestyle changes such as marriage, divorce, retirement, or a death in the family. I would also add that the demand for storage space is also fueled by our love of stuff.
Psychologists say we project our sense of self onto everything we own. Yet everything we own can often get in the way of something better.
Every material possession we own in some way owns us. Even if it’s only tucked away in a closet it’s THERE. Every time we open the closet that stuff is looming in our line of sight. Think about what sparks joy in your life. Is it the stuff or is it the more important things – faith, family, friends?
St Augustine said, “Find out how much God has given you and from it take what you need; the remainder is needed by others.” Do you already have everything you really need? How much do you have that is needed by others?
Sometimes we act as if the material world and all of our stuff provides us with some kind of security, but more often than not, letting go can provide so much more like happiness, joy and peace. Yet we steadfastly cling to the things of this world.
In 1 John 2: 15-18, we read: “Do not love the world or the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, sensual lust, enticement for the eyes, and a pretentious life, is not from the Father but is from the world. Yet the world and its enticement are passing away. But whoever does the will of God remains forever.”
For Lent this year, try giving away one thing each day that will benefit someone else. Set aside a special place in the house with a box labeled “Give it Up.” Each day one person in the family contributes a usable item they are giving up. Rotate the daily contributor through the family starting with dad and mom, then the oldest to youngest child.
Each day, make a ritual of the contribution by gathering as a family when the designated person puts their contribution into the box. Hold a family prayer service by having the contributor say a prayer for the person who will receive the item.
At the end of Lent, you will have 40 perfectly usable items to contribute to the less fortunate. (Sundays are included in the 40 days of Lent!) When Lent ends on Holy Thursday, take the items to a local agency that helps those less fortunate, such as Catholic Charities; St. Vincent de Paul; or the outreach coordinator in your local parish.
Having a very tactile way to teach your children about giving up something that makes another life better will make a huge difference in your Lent this year.