I spent the day yesterday deep cleaning. There is something about the warmer weather and the birds chirping that makes you… or at least makes me… want to throw open the doors and windows and air things out. I can see why we call it Spring Cleaning… there is something in the Spring air that just makes you want to pick up the rugs, suds up the mop and get things fresh and clean.
I vacuumed and mopped, scrubbed and polished, the smell of clean filling the downstairs. I moved upstairs to my bedroom… a room that has been ignored for a while because guests, well, they usually don’t go into your bedroom when they drop in, so its easy to let that room slide from the cleaning line up. As I dusted my nightstand I was surprised at the build up of dust… like kind of embarrassed surprised.
I consider myself a pretty clean home maker. Then I realized, I don’t think I’ve cleaned this thing since having a baby. Sweet Joy baby turned 6 months old today. For 6 months I have ignored our bedroom because in the midst of the sleepless nights and the bleary eyed days and the struggles with breastfeeding, and then add the three other children with school projects and activities, well, a little dust on my night stand seemed small potatoes to everything else demanding my attention. All good reasons for letting things go, but still, yuck!
I wiped that nightstand clean as a thick layer of dust collected on my rag.
It is amazing how dusty things can get when left unattended.
As I cleaned, it suddenly occurred to me that tomorrow would begin the season of Lent. I don’t know why thoughts of the calendar, of today being Ash Wednesday, came to mind, but then it hit me, how fitting! How fitting that I felt this urge to clean, almost as if my soul knew I needed the physical reminder of this season that was upon us, the season of Lent, a season which at its core is a season of deep cleaning.
Lent is the traditional 40 day period in the Christian Year of prayer and fasting in order to grow closer to God and prepare our hearts for Easter. It is a season of examination and confession, a time to take an honest look at ourselves and the things that have built up in our lives. A time to become attentive to the things that have come between us and God.
Like the build up on the mirror I cleaned yesterday that was keeping me from seeing my reflection clearly, keeping me from seeing my true self, we also have things in our lives that build up and get in the way of our true lives centered in Christ alone.
During the season of Lent people often “give up” something, chocolate, soda, wine. But it is not for the simple goal of giving up. We give up into order to become aware of the things that get in the way of us depending on God. We become aware of the things with which we have filled our lives… mindless TV, alcohol, food, social media, too many activities… things that distract us and take us away from a life utterly dependent on God.
Lent, far from simply being a season of abstinence from things we enjoy, is a season of attending.
It is a season of attending to our souls and the things that weigh us down, the things that cloud our vision, the grime that builds up that we weren’t even aware of. It is a season to pay attention to the things that we try to use to fill the deeper longings in our soul that only God can fill. It is a season of penitence where we become more aware of the role of sin in our lives and even more deeply our need for a Good Friday. It is a season of giving things up so we can give to those in need, where we recognized we are called to a life beyond our inclination to be self-absorbed.
In Lent, we are invited to engage in practices of prayer, fasting, simplicity, self-examination, and giving. These practices are the practices of deep cleaning of the soul which clear the path, clean the space and set things in order… set things right in our life with God.
We do these practices not to show some strength of will or to earn favor with God, as if my not eating chocolate will make God more impressed with me. No, don’t confuse the reasons we engage in these practices. Lent is not a testing ground for the true grit of our willpower. We do these things in order to become the kind of people God wants us to be, people freed up to love God fully, people who recognize that our deepest need is not the affirmation that comes from social media but from God alone, people who realize we aren’t really satisfied by all the things we fill our bellies or our homes with, but we are only satisfied by God alone .
But we can’t discover these things about ourselves, we don’t realize the build up, the dust that collects in our souls that keeps us from reflecting the true self God created us to be, if we don’t attend to practices that help reveal these things to us.
My bedroom, with its cleaned, well-attended to dustless surface, it is a reminder to me now of the deeper clean God wants to do in my soul… what does God want to do in me through the invitation to a deep clean this Lent? What dust, what grime, what things in my life are keeping me from deeper, truer communion and dependence on God?
I’m not sure, but with dust rag in hand, I’m ready to find out…
Practices that Invite a Deep Clean of the Soul
Engage this Lent in a time of more intentional prayer. In prayer we open ourselves up to God’s presence. We attune ourselves to God and the work He is doing in our lives. Be creative in how you might engage in intentional prayer. This does not have to be sitting in a chair with your eyes closed! You can pray while you go on a walk, while you garden or use art as a form of prayer. Prayer can be any activity that invites you into deeper listen and communion with God.
Fasting reveals to us those things we rely too much on and reminds us of our dependence on God. In our society we are obsessed with consumption, with indulging in whatever gives us pleasure – food being one among many things we consume. Behind the practice of fasting is the question “What do I do to excess?” Therefore when we decide to fast, we are invited to choose a fast that is specific to us personally; that will allow for a fast from that which obstructs our relationship with God. When choosing to fast, keep in mind that anything in excess separates us from God. Examine your life to discover those things that you do in excess (social media, TV, shopping, sugar, etc.) and fast as a way to begin to break down those barriers in your relationship with God and live into a deeper dependency on God.
Some people, instead of giving something up, take something on for Christ. You can commit to service in your home through the season of Lent. How can you intentionally serve the people around you during Lent? Where can you do something nice for those in your home? Where is an opportunity to serve rather than to be served? Or you can engage in service in the community. Collect food for the needy. Volunteer at a local community service organization. You could engage in the discipline of service by beginning each day praying, “Lord Jesus, as it would please you, bring me someone today whom I can serve,” and simply be attentive to who God is directing you to serve in your day, whether a stranger, co-worker, friend, neighbor. Opportunities for service are all around.
How is God inviting you to attend to your soul this Lent through practices that offer a deep cleaning of your soul and open you up more fully to God?