During the season of Lent, I am going to be writing about the virtue of discipleship that is a confluence of ideas around contentment, peace, self-control and humility. I am aware that this is a broad list and yet these ideas seem to build on one another. Self-control and a sense of humility lead one towards contentment and peace.
In practical terms, our community will be experimenting with one of the greatest sources of discontent in our current age, the quest for stuff. We surround ourselves with things, sometimes purchased by impulse, sometimes for practical use, sometimes to make us feel a little bit better. We are surrounded by messages that tell us to be discontent with what we have and always seek a little more, the next thing, the better thing. And if we are like most Americans, we live in houses surrounded by thousands of things, most of which we do not need and many of which we will rarely if ever use. The growing exception to this rule is the folks who rent storage spaces so the things that they do not need are out of sight and out of mind.
In the 13th century, the German priest and theologian Meister Eckhart declared, “To be full of things is to be empty of God. To be empty of things is to be full of God.” This is going to be a basic theme during the season, that the more we focus on acquisition and measure ourselves by possessions, the further we are from God’s vision for us. Although proponents of the prosperity gospel will disagree, there is a long tradition within Christianity that believes that the things we own always seem to end up owning us.
Although some figures in Christian history have chosen voluntary poverty as a discipline (like Saint Francis of Assisi), my hope for this series is to help people loosen the grip that our possessions have over us. One tool that I have used in the past is the “Get Rid of It Challenge.” During the season of Lent, those who participate are challenged to remove one thing from their lives for each day in the 40-day season. While the stated goal is to be 40 things lighter, the true goal is to develop a discipline of removal, which can blossom into a discipline a sharing and an attitude of contentment.
Here is an outline of the challenge. Try it out for Lent or adopt it any season:
The Get Rid of it Challenge
Goal: Remove 40 things from your life during the season of Lent
Gift your thing to someone
Sell/Donate your thing
Last Resort – Responsibly throw it away or recycle it
What constitutes a thing:
For this challenge, a thing is any object that you think you own: the knickknack shoved to the back of the closet, the unused wedding gift on the basement shelf, the vinyl record you no longer listen to. As you develop this discipline, you may begin to think collectively about things (a record collection, the books on a shelf may become one thing.)
Rules and guidelines:
1. Only one object per day counts toward the goal. You may start sorting the papers on your desk and find forty scraps to throw away, but only one counts each day. The point is to develop a habit/discipline, not just clean house.
2. If someone gives you a nonperishable gift, you have to remove an extra thing for the day (apologies to everyone who has a birthday in Lent)
3. For every nonperishable item you purchase, you need to remove an extra thing for the day.