We have begun Lent, the great time of opportunity to reassess our relationship with Jesus. This is a time of self-reflection, sacrifice, almsgiving, and prayer. So I throw a challenge to all of us, to focus our attention on God, get our house in order, and help others at the same time. What a great time to take an inventory of our spending habits.
Allow me to recount a story you may have heard, the story of the big rocks. A person has some big rocks, small pebbles, and a bucket of sand. The person places the big rocks into a large glass vase. Then the person empties the small pebbles into the vase. Those small pebbles find their way around the big rocks. Finally, the person pours the bucket of sand into the vase. The sand sifts its way around the big rocks and pebbles and find the open spaces. All three fill the vase.
What would have happened if the person filled the vase in reverse, pouring the sand in first, then the small pebbles, and finally the big rocks? The vase would have filled too quickly and very few of the big rocks would have fit because the empty spaces between the rocks would have remained empty.
Now imagine the rocks, pebbles, and sand are your money. The vase contains all the financial gifts you have been given by God. The big rocks are the most important things to accomplish with those financial gifts, i.e. providing a home, education, needs of others. When we keep the big rocks in mind first, then everything else fits in nicely. However, when we allow the distractions or small things to drive our spending, then we never get to the big rocks. Just like the sand, our money will slip right through our fingers and be lost.
So here’s the challenge: Let’s take the opportunity during Lent to review what we do with our money and possessions, those things we bought with our money. Let’s review the purpose of how we spend money and use possessions. In the end, they are God’s anyway. We are merely the caretakers.
Challenge # 1 – Keep track of your spending
This probably sounds easy. Some people do a good job of recording their spending. But I am not talking about just the big things. I am talking about each penny you spend during Lent: the cup of coffee and bagel in the morning, the snack out of the vending machine, the new app you just downloaded, the bag of peanuts at the convenience store while you are there getting gas, the latest song from iTunes or the movie from Amazon prime. It’s amazing how the little purchases add up.
Challenge # 2 – Take a look around your living space
Here’s an opportunity to get up off the couch: grab a pen and a notebook and walk around the house or apartment, room by room. Look at what is in each room. Take note of why it is there and what purpose it serves. If it doesn’t hit you quickly, then jot it down. Go through your entire living space. This also includes the garage or shed where there are always some good treasures. Then head back to the couch and read what you wrote down on the notebook. And remember to record the purpose of why you have the possession. If that possession no longer serves a purpose to you, pray about “paying forward”, AKA donating, that possession to someone why may need it.
Challenge # 3 – Have a family meeting
Get each family member involved in this Lenten challenge. Have each person do challenge #1 and #2 independently. Decide on a date that you will come back together as a family to discuss what you have written down. This date might be the half-way point of Lent. You may even schedule this for Laetare Sunday which is a day of rejoicing. As each person reads what they wrote down, let everyone ask questions about it. As a family, think about the purpose of why you spent the money or have the possession.
This is where Lent can help us focus our attention away from ourselves and to those who may need our help (money or possessions). Maybe we determine we don’t have a purpose for a particular item, and maybe someone else would have a purpose for it if we donated it. What’s the worst that can happen? We actually may clean up our living spaces and have a little less clutter around us. The item that we discovered has no purpose in our lives may teach us we don’t need as much as we think.
Let’s enjoy Lent and take the opportunity to declutter our spending habits and possessions, giving God a little more room in our lives. Happiness happens when we are grateful for what we have. It’s a choice no matter what we have or our circumstances. Let us choose the happiness we only find with God.