Today is Ash Wednesday, and I am once again pondering what to "give up." Over the past decade, I've focused less on giving up and more on creating new habits that bring me closer to the kind of person I want to be. As a result, new habits have been born out of both the Lenten season and the Advent season at our house, things (like grace before meals) that have lasted a lot longer than 40-day intentions to give up chocolate and junk food.
Quite a few of my friends give up Facebook for Lent, and while I applaud both their resolve and their self-control, that doesn't resonate for me. Cynics might snicker that my choice is rooted in my inability to keep such a resolution, and there would be a certain amount of truth to that. But, honestly, the decision has much more to do with what feels right than anything else. Like shopping for the perfect dress or the perfect sofa, I want something that inspires a "Yes! That's just what I was looking for!" feeling in me.
Ironically, I found two of those things on Facebook.
The first, 40 Bags in 40 Days, is so perfect on so many levels. First off, it focuses on the idea of simplifying, which is a key Lenten concept. Lent is a season of fasting and abstinence, and while I must confess that I never fully understood why giving up potato chips for 40 days and meat on Fridays was supposed to bring me closer to God, I did get the general concept -- that we are to rely more on God and less on earthly delights, as it were -- and that Lent is a time of penance and prayer and giving of ourselves. We are to simplify and turn our focus away from earthly things.
Which is what makes 40 Bags in 40 Days so perfect. The idea is simple enough -- to clear the clutter from our lives and divest ourselves of 40 bags of non-essential earthly goods over the course of Lent. This is, for many of us, not entirely unselfish. I would love to clear 40 bags of junk and/or extraneous items from my house. Some of it will be as simple as finally getting those clothes to consignment or those books to the library book sale. Some of it will require that I go through my things and separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak -- a task I always mean to do, but never seem to get to.
The timing is perfect. My daughter tackled her closet the other day, gifting me with piles of clothing she no longer wants and that I need to find a home for. Packing up these things and taking them somewhere where they will be useful and appreciated not only downsizes our material goods, but benefits someone else as well (a corporal work of mercy in church parlance).
That will get me started, but it won't net me 40 bags. To meet that goal, I will have to dig into my own things and eliminate the unnecessary either through donation or simple elimination. So this morning, I opened up a clean trash bag, set it in the kitchen as a visual reminder (and seeded it with my daughter's cast-off flip flops) and marked a space on the calendar to keep track of my 40 bags. I mean well today, you see, but 40 days can be a long time, and it's easy to lose sight of the goal that seemed so worthy and exciting today, so I suspect I will need a little nudge to keep me on track.
The second thing I found on Facebook is thanks to the charming Sarah Reinhard, whose devotion to her faith is contagious. Sarah has invited her friends on Facebook to join her in a special kind of prayer:
It's a special novena I'm calling the "Oh SNAP" Novena...and here's how it will go:
3 sets of Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, and St. Michael PrayerAnd a big BOOM on top at the end. Because we have both class AND attitude.
As a cradle Catholic who somehow missed out on the finer points of the faith (like novenas), I appreciate a light-hearted approach to something as important as prayer, and when I found Sarah's "Oh SNAP" Novena on Facebook this morning (a day late), I immediately adopted it as a way to start not only my day, but also my Ash Wednesday and my Lenten season. In fact, I hope to make it a regular fixture in my day. (Having consulted my copy of Catholicism for Dummies (a previous Lenten purchase), I am now once again aware that novenas last for nine days, so I will need to make some adjustments. Suggestions welcome.)
If past history is any indication, I may not finalize my Lenten sacrifices and improvements for another couple of days, but I think that's also a part of what Lent is supposed to be about. I don't think God wants knee-jerk responses from us, and I don't want the things I "give up" to be just another habit. And so, I suspect that with prayerful consideration, I'll figure out the "just right" answer with plenty of time to spare.
Meanwhile, I'll be separating the wheat from the chaff -- online and off.