After snow and stormy weather for months, spring arrives with a feeling of renewal and refreshment. Windows are opened, dust is swept outside and the sun quenches new life for more hours in the day. Along with the change in weather, comes the cherished tradition of spring cleaning.
The desire for freshness, cleanliness, rejuvenation, and change leads many people to tackle previously unattended aspects of their life: the papers spilling out of their desk, the piles of unorganized pictures lying around the house, or the tower of boxes gathering dust in their garage. Spring cleaning removes the clutter in our lives to give us a chance to bloom more fully during a season that literally stimulates growth and new life. For Christians around the world, the season appropriately coincides with Easter, a celebration of the resurrection of Christ and the new life his sacrifice brings for all of us.
In preparation for Easter, many Christians practice Lent. This tradition marks the period of 40 days prior to Easter Sunday as a time for fasting, reflection and prayer. The significance of the 40 days is to remember the 40 years the Israelites spent traveling in the Sinai desert, and the 40 days and 40 nights in the desert Jesus spent in prayer and fasting preparing for his ministry (Matthew 4:1-2). The specific date changes each year, but in 2017, Lent begins on Wednesday, March 1st and ends on Thursday, April 13th.
Lent and spring cleaning are similar in that they both are necessary hardships that result in rejuvenation, renewal and a more promising future. Satisfying (or daunting) as it is, spring cleaning can be much more of an emotional task than a physical one. Assessing your life can be a spiritual and cathartic activity. When we look around with fresh eyes and the light hits the dark corners of our lives, neglected areas or lost priorities are often revealed. Relationship cobwebs, spiritual clutter, and the dust from past addictions all come to light.
Spring cleaning through the view of a faith-based practice such as Lent adds new meaning to what may be seen merely as work. Lent is a great opportunity to take a deeper look within ourselves to find the cobwebs or clutter that we’ve personally been carrying around for the last year or more.
WHAT IS LENT?
The first time I remember encountering the tradition of Lent was in college, specifically at the dining hall table. Food items were a popular thing to give up for Lent. Foods my friends once enjoyed were suddenly passed up. As a young student with little knowledge of Christian traditions, I thought Lent must be a religious practice where you tortured yourself with self-discipline and denial because it was required by a harsh God. Later on as I gained somewhat of a better understanding, I began to draw parallels between Christ’s torture and death on the cross and giving up mundane things like chocolate, soda, television, or other things that pale in comparison to what Jesus endured. It was to honor his sacrifice that my friends gave up their vices. But back then, fasting from food items or other pleasures was unfortunately all I knew of Lent and consequently, I didn’t see the point.
What I hadn’t understood was that the physical commitment of fasting wasn’t the entirety of Lent. There is a very emotional and spiritual component of reflection and prayer and a more intensified focus on the presence of Christ in one’s life. Lent is a season of fasting, self-denial, and, yes, discipline. But it is also a movement toward simplicity, conversion, and Christian growth. It is a chance for reflection and transformation, an opportunity to reflect on how we can become more like Christ.
For example, suppose you give up soda and realize how difficult it is. But you may also come to see how much more energy you have by substituting it with water, that maybe you’ve lost a little bit of weight, or even how much you don’t really need it in your life as much as you thought. The material results can be awesome. But each time you choose not to take a gulp of soda, you are also reminded of why you’re choosing not to. You are remembering Christ, experiencing a minuscule portion of his ultimate sacrifice in something small, simple, and everyday.
Spring cleaning can be much more of an emotional task than a physical one.
Others may give up something like television. People discover more time to do other things in their lives that maybe they thought they would never have the time to do. But in addition to this, every time they choose not to turn the television on, they are given an opportunity to remember Christ and to converse with God. Others use Lent to focus on praying. They go through the struggle of giving up things that have really hurt them in their development as a person and in their relationship with God. Vices like smoking or over-consumption of foods, or sins like gossiping and anger are given up in prayer to God, in hopes of overcoming it permanently. Lent becomes a spiritual training ground for us. This movement towards simplicity gives us a chance to see what’s really within us, and to take control of our lives in small or big ways. It is a chance to make way for real transformation even after Lent is over.
Lent is not a biblical commandment, but rather a great opportunity to assess your life and find renewal in God. Many find that while fasting, they focus more on God or learn to listen for him more intently. Emotionally, one might uncover pent-up anger or unresolved personal issues that might lead to prayer. Some might even realize that they have in some way neglected friends or family. During prayer someone might feel the love or contentment or peace they had missed in their busyness and discover more meaning for their lives.
LENT AS SPRING CLEANING
The word Lent comes from the Teutonic (Germanic) word for springtime. It is our time to do a spiritual and emotional spring cleaning, taking spiritual inventory and clearing out the things that keep us from deepening our relationship with God. There are many ways that people practice Lent, just as there are many ways people practice spring cleaning.
Every time I go on vacation, whether it is for a week or a weekend, I get a view of my life from a distance. This is my own personal version of Lent. When I remove myself from the busyness of work, home and my various commitments, I have the freedom to see my life from a new perspective and can see the positive potential for changing, rearranging, and growing in certain areas. After a weekend away, I might have an epiphany about how to organize my kitchen. After a week I may be inspired to incorporate a more healthful diet, or see opportunities to correspond more with friends or create times for prayer. Maybe it’s the mountain air or peace of mind that encourages my mind to wander and get creative, but I feel God encourages this break and this type of meditation so that we can experience the refreshment and rejuvenation that comes from a closeness with him. In some ways, during these times away, I am also practicing the emotional and spiritual components of Lent.
Spring cleaning is traditionally a time to thoroughly go through one’s home, look through all the little nooks, and to clean and remove the clutter from one’s living environment. The physical work that comes with spring cleaning gives us an opportunity to assess our lives and find renewal in God. There is easily a sense of accomplishment when you’ve completed a to-do list, cleaned out the fridge or had a yard sale with stuff you had forgotten you had. There is also a sense of emotional well-being that comes from cleanliness. Seeing less clutter or creating a tidy environment in your living space really does emotionally impact you. The duration of your physical task can be a great opportunity for prayer and reflection, bringing you closer to bettering your environment and emotional health, and bringing you closer to God.
How can you spend time meditating on God as you spring clean? The basic components of Lent give you a great foundation to make your spring cleaning more meaningful and spiritual.
BASIC COMPONENTS OF LENT
FASTING: CLEANLINESS IS NEXT TO GODLINESS?
Like physical cleaning, fasting is meant to cleanse. But that cleanliness is supposed to aid in your reflection of your lifestyle and in your relationship with God and with others. While clearing out your space, pray about what would be beneficial to keep in your life and what you can do without. Are you ever going to read those books that have been collecting dust at the corner of your office? Will you ever wear those red cowboy boots that you bought on a whim but have barely looked at since? Should you keep those Cuban cigars for guests even if you’re trying to give up smoking? There are definitely things we need, things that we save for important occasions, and items with sentimental value that are worth keeping. And then there is everything else that’s just…extra.
REFLECTION: SEEING OUR LIVES FROM A FRESH PERSPECTIVE
Reflection is something that you can really do anywhere and anytime. For me it just seems to happen more naturally when I’m physically located in a place different than my normal abode. While you spring clean, not only might you reflect on God’s purposes or priorities for your life, but also your relationships with friends and family. Spending time reflecting on your life gives you the chance to process your experiences, allowing you the clarity to appreciate what you have—from your quiet moments with God to the slice of pizza sitting before you.
PRAYER: A LOVELY LANGUAGE
Coinciding with reflection is prayer. You can talk to God at anytime during your cleaning process, and stop to read some scripture during your break. Take inventory of your items, your habits, your goals, and your relationships. Make time with God an important aspect of your spring cleaning. Even though we should all be in prayer regularly, few of us have truly mastered our schedules, so use this time to pray. Reflect in prayer on your gratefulness for God, what He has done for you and others, where you’ve been or how far you’ve come. What might have started as an unpleasant cleaning task can become much more enjoyable as you converse with God.
There is a sense of emotional well-being that comes from cleanliness.
GIVING: SHOWING CHARITY TO OTHERS
Lent is not just about getting rid of things in our life, but putting positive things in their place—replacing vice with virtue. We’ve talked about spending more time with God and reflecting on our lives. But once we’ve done this, another portion of Lent is almsgiving or charity. This can mean visiting a hospice or volunteering for a project. Even in the midst of your spring cleaning, you can make your clutter mean something. Try organizing the things you’ve removed from your home and give it to a charitable organization. In the spiritual and emotional sense, we can also be more attuned to the emotional and spiritual needs of others. Take the time to be there for the people you care about or even strangers, and share the refreshing presence of your newfound clarity. Or better yet, help others find clarity with Christ by spending time to help them spring clean. Remember, joy is experienced more fully when shared.
As you take the opportunity to personally reflect and renew your surroundings, you may find joy to be a likely side effect. And the commitment you put in will not only nourish your soul, but also nourish your health and environment. Any task, big or small, will not be in vain, because you will be spending time with God and may even see personal growth in the process. Being in a relationship with God and being renewed by him, is if nothing more, time well spent; Isaiah 55:10-13 (NIV),
“As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.
Instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree,
and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the LORD’s renown,
for an everlasting sign,
which will not be destroyed.”
FOR PRAYER & REFLECTION
What are some things that clutter your mind and heart and stop you from growing—spiritually and emotionally?
In what areas have you stopped listening to God?