Every year at Lent I pray about what I need to do, not do, give up or take on. Of course a person can do a bit of soul-searching any time of year, but given Lent’s significance in Church history, there is something special about participating with other Christians around the world, past and present, who also set aside the Lenten season for a private time of reflection.
For me Lent is a time to root out the clutter in my life…the stuff – be it material or spiritual – that is in the way of God’s desire to be known and my ability to grasp that He is always with me. My heart and mind packed to the gills, there is no space for the presence of the Most High to reverberate within. So Lent is my time to “declutter,” or pay special attention to inner junk and find ways to eliminate it so that I can hear God more fully. I think this is in part the lesson Jesus hoped to impart each time He said:
“Take heed what you hear,” and “To him who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
In other words, Listen up!
My ability to hear is very definitely tied to my desire and willingness to listen, to make room in my inner life for growth, and that’s where my yearly Lenten “declutter” comes into play. Here’s an example:
One year I felt the need to give up my (then) once-weekly Starbucks “grandé decaf mocha, no whip.” I wasn’t really sure why and I felt it would be easy enough to do, but even seemingly innocuous habits can be hard to break. Within days I began feeling withdrawal pangs and a strong sense of deprivation! As silly as it sounds, the anxiety over my missed weekly mocha didn’t fully disappear until Lent was almost over. But by then I had learned something about attachments, and had begun paying attention to what was at the root of that soothing cup of chocolaty Joe. It was great freedom for me to permanently say “no” to that weekly habit, which left a bit more inner space to say “yes” to God’s still small voice and the accompanying love that filled the need I didn’t realize I had.
This year, for the first time, I felt God asking me to pay attention not to some material thing or activity, but to my critical spirit. I know this will surprise some of you who think I am perpetually as sweet as pumpkin pie, but I have a judgmental streak that is ugly to say the least. When I realized this was my Lenten focus, I really, really struggled to begin. Not because I didn’t think it was necessary; I knew it was (read my blog post: http://www.denisemariesiino.com/2014/12/lovin-into-the-kingdom/). But I also knew it was going to be no small or easy task. Not only was God asking me to keep my lips zipped…He was also asking me to immediately release every critical or judgmental thought the moment it struck my mind. Wow.
Suddenly but not surprisingly, many, MANY opportunities cropped up to criticize others. Then as an extra boost, I needed, for work, to spend a full day with someone who thought it was her job to tell everyone what they were doing wrong, to their face and behind their back, and as God would have it, I knew what I was seeing was a reflection of myself. Point made.
I know this will be a lifelong lesson, but I’m already experiencing the benefits of giving up this weight of judgmentalism that is not mine to bear. With each lumbering step in a more gracious direction, my heart is lighter as I hear God whisper softly to me (with my decluttered spiritual ears!): Give generously, gently and gratefully to others, and in like manner it will be given to you—in good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over.