Simplifying in Lent

One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me…Truly, I say to you, there is no man who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the Kingdom of God, who will not receive manifold more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life. (Luke 18: 22-23, 29-30)

I am a public librarian. Every day I see the most popular books coming and going through our doors to a public hungry for something, but for what? People come to the library for many reasons, but I find that, most often, people are drawn to the library by a hunger for the truth, of which most are only vaguely aware. People are seeking this truth in their secular, everyday lives – for example, how to be healthier, wealthier, less-stressed, or a better parent. Thus far for 2019, the trend of “less-is-more” reigns prominent. Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and The Joy of Less by Francine Jay (self-professed “Miss Minimalist”) are just examples of an undying popular trend over the last several years.

It’s no secret that we live within an over-worked, stressed-out, sleep-deprived, over-burdened culture. We have too much to do, too many distractions, and too much stuff, much of which is just plain junk, and many of our distractions are plain time-wasters, many items on our “to-do” lists not that important.

Lent is around the corner. The simple question of “what will I give up for Lent” is important in the broad notion of ‘fasting’, but can seem tired. Perhaps it’s time we take a page from these popular titles and embrace the “less-is-more” attitude. This trend represents a truth that lies within all of us: all this stuff, all the distractions, and all of these “priorities” don’t satisfy; in fact, the less we have, the more room there is for true joy in life, the more room we have for the one true God.

For some, an actual physical purge of a closet or a room may be a good place to start in preparation for Lent or as an actual project to undertake during this liturgical season. I was recently blessed with two major life decisions: a move overseas, and a new path from the secular world into discerning missionary life. A change of lifestyle was required to put it simply. It meant detachment, even from that stuff that “brought me joy” or were actual “goods” in my life, such as relationships with family and friends. I am back now from that discernment path, settling into “normal” life. Some days I am reminded of the things I gave away—an old pair of winter boots that would come in handy on a snowy Canadian morning, or a household item that would have assisted me with some task—but by detaching myself from these things, even the good intangibles, room was made in my heart for the grace of God. My home is much less cluttered, and, more importantly, so is my heart. Consequently, there is so much more capacity for joy than ever before.

The choice lies before me now to maintain the minimalist “lifestyle”, not because Francine Jay or Marie Kondo have promised me happiness in doing so, but because of a deeper metaphysical and spiritual principle at play here upon which their books only touch. To make more room for God requires a lifestyle change, sometimes small and other times radical, so that we have less junk cluttering up our hearts. Even the good things that we may consider necessary may become obstacles to that ‘one thing necessary’, the one thing we truly long for and will fulfill all of our true needs, our relationship with the Risen Christ.

Over the next few days before Lent, and the forty following, I encourage you to embrace the “less-is-more” principle and to consider some of the things getting in the way of your spiritual health and growth this season. Perhaps you’re in need of an emotional purge—letting go of a past grievance, resentment or some lack of forgiveness, or detaching yourself from a spirit of anger, impatience or self-will within some relationship or project—to prepare your heart to receive the victorious Christ Crucified on Easter morning. Maybe you need to re-evaluate your routine to better reflect a truly Christian life which prioritizes a few minutes of personal prayer each day, increasing our attendance at Mass and the sacraments, especially Confession, and by incorporating acts of mercy into your day.

We are all broken so we always have something on which we can work, but the good news is that ours is a God who is always ready to help us as we take these small–or big–steps towards growing in holiness this Lenten season.