The day before Lent started, I skimmed my Facebook news feed and saw a link that piqued my interest. Later, I Googled “40 Bags in 40 Days”, clicked on one result (which I confess I did not read all the way through), and then spontaneously made my own plan of action, which started a day “late.”
I’m not particularly good at planning ahead for holidays (see also: digging out my homemade Advent calendar a week late, then completely foregoing it a week later). But I appreciate the rhythms that certain spiritual seasons can bring, and I always spend some time reflecting throughout those days.
Last year, I meditated on my selfishness. That’s an ongoing process. In light of our upcoming move, it seemed fitting that this year’s focus would be on clearing out my house, not just my heart. I challenged myself to remove 40 bags worth of stuff from our 1400 square foot space during the 40 days of Lent.
I was excited to scour, room by room, space by space, hidden cupboards by forgotten drawers. I thought I’d finally feel motivated to tackle this -
the Room Which Shall Not Be Named. Or Room of Avoidance. Also used as Room to Hide Gifts for Kids. I looked forward, at the end of the 40 days, to a less cluttered, more appealing home.
I started in the kitchen, which is my go-to location for clearing and cleaning. I had organized a garage sale last spring and the kitchen was the first place I had emptied, but I decided, for this project, I would literally remove every item from every cupboard in order to keep only what was necessary. It took me 2 days and I filled 4 bags of stuff that made its way to the trash/recycling. Our counter space is severely limited, but reducing the clutter in our cabinets allowed me to hide items we don’t use on a daily basis and to find new homes for random objects we keep on-hand. Success! [almost immediately, though, I realized I had forgotten to take before and after pictures! where would my evidence be???]
I kept up a good pace for the first 20 days, as I identified specific areas of the house - not just a room, but a corner of a room! - to clean out. I rejoiced as the bags filled up. I even inspired my husband in his own project, as he suddenly went on an ebay selling spree and made us over $4,000 in these 40 days.
Well, the best laid plans...
I could tell you how many days passed at a time without my hands busy at the plow (of bag-filling). And despite entering the Room of Avoidance - and clearing out 2 bags of stuff - it remains essentially unchanged.
But something else happened to me while I emptied my hutch and organized my sock drawer. I examined this mass of items that had accumulated and quickly, almost without thinking, tossed most of them aside. Why had I kept so many unused, broken, dirty, unnecessary things? Had I just been lazy or was it simple carelessness? Isn’t it disgusting how easy it is to find 40 BAGS worth of possessions that I just didn’t need?
Of course I immediately began to picture the impoverished children of the world who don’t even receive one solid meal a day. I remembered the tiny house with no roof where a Costa Rican family hosted me for a week. But more than that, I saw the state of my heart in all the junk of my house. I recognized how quickly the cares of the world enter into my life and choke the word of truth. I admitted that I had grown lazy in tending the soil of my heart, which was meant to receive the Word, grow up into it, and bear fruit. I realized that those 40 bags represented an entire mess of distraction from the beauty of Jesus.
As C.S. Lewis said, I am a half-hearted creature, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered to me, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because she cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a vacation at the sea. I am far too easily pleased with STUFF and far too careless about cleaning it up in order to remain focused on CHRIST.
It’s been three years since I was first inspired to begin managing my home with a more godly mindset. Filling those bags this Lent - making my home a more welcoming and hospitable place - challenged me to wonder what needed to be changed so that my heart would also have more room for others. In the end, it wasn’t about the 40 bags at all, though I’m thankful for the (minor) headway I made in the house. Instead, the Holy Spirit showed me how much more work needs to be done in the really hidden places!
What about you? How did you spend your Lent? Maybe you can inspire me for next year!