In years past, I’ve gone vegetarian for Lent. My daughter is one already, so it makes the whole food-prep-and-shopping thing a little easier. But it is more than a token gesture. While the spiritual practices of Lent are meant to promote mindfulness, I balk at the idea of self-deprivation for its own sake. For my money, that amounts to a sanctimonious gesture—something that Jesus frequently warned against in his instructions about how to pray. If I’m going to give up something, I’d like a side of practicality with my mindfulness, please. What can I give up that will have spiritual benefit, while also being good for the world?
I’m going a slightly different way this year. As you may know, my family recently moved from Kansas to Kentucky. Between the weeks of packing up the house; the week of purgatory during which our real estate dealings were delayed and we lived precisely nowhere; and the couple of weeks it has taken to get settled; let’s just say, my family has been eating out A LOT for the past month or so. Like, almost every day. That gets: a) expensive; and b) brutal on the diet. I haven’t stepped on the scale since mid-January. I don’t even want to know.
So in the interest of the wallet and the waistline, I’m giving up eating out for Lent. Admittedly, I am not vigilant. I’ll keep previously arranged lunch meetings. When traveling, I’ll do what works for the group and not be high maintenance. But for the most part, I’m going to stay away from restaurants and take-out places for the next six weeks. In addition to the health and financial benefits, this practice carries the spiritual benefit of any inconvenience: like the learning of patience; the recognition of other gifts; and the denial of our immediate appetites. Tis the season!
In that spirit, I’ve drawn up a list of things that we might want to think about giving up—whether for a season or for good. While I’ve long subscribed to the idea of “taking on vs. giving up,” I’ve recently come back around to seeing the importance of sacrifice. Our lives are full; we are saturated. From stuff to social media to our schedules, we get filled up and buried in, on all sides. Maybe we need different things at different stages of life. Maybe I’m in “giving up” mode because I just moved and—mercy, we will talk later about the reckoning of stuff and garbage and minutiae that comes with that. In any case: here are some actual, tangible things you could give up that might free up some personal space for you, while also benefiting the planet.
1. Meat. If other countries consumed as much meat as our collective American selves … everything would be extinct. Including us. There’s science to back me up. The environmental impact of giving it up, even for six weeks’ duration could be huge. You’re cutting the greenhouse gases involved in the industrial feeding of livestock, not to mention the emissions involved in getting your hamburger shipped across the country and your chicken that is—for whatever reason—imported from China. Your individual footprint might not seem that big, but if more of us did this, even short term, it would begin to impact the relentless demands of a carnivorous society, and maybe scale back the whole industry over time. And besides—just think how good that double cheeseburger will taste come Easter.
2. Take out. Ever notice how much garbage is left after that quick breakfast or lunch run through the drive-through? Or even the grocery store salad bar? Running out less makes you more mindful of what you eat, while also cutting back on waste.
3. Single-use plastic. It takes a little extra effort to remember to grab and fill a water bottle before you leave the house in the morning. But that awareness can also become a spiritual exercise. A moment to be grateful for the privilege of clean, running water; or a reflection on the spiritual properties of water and the body’s need for it. What other “single use” things can you cut out that might bring more presence to the moment while also producing less trash? I read this sobering article about the K-cup problem and how the inventor of the single-cup brew situation is said to “feel bad sometimes I ever did it.” And speaking of coffee, maybe we should all …
4. Give up coffee for Lent. Lol, I’m kidding. I’m not a total sadist. But in addition to giving up single-use pods, we might also consider give up coffee that is not fair trade. Like any other product you consume, it’s important to know the source of your coffee. In many cases, significant justice issues surround the production and sale of coffee. But it is getting much easier to find coffee from sustainable sources. Many of the big guys—even Starbucks—now have fair trade options. Many communities have coffee shops that ONLY buy directly from farmers. And you can always go online and order from Equal Exchange. Place a small order for your home or order in bulk for your church. In fact—if your church is not already using primarily EE products, talk to your hospitality folks about that, stat. (And when you order, you get to designate a “coffee project” to support; be sure and select DOC, as in Disciples of Christ; which means that part of the proceeds to go Week of Compassion! I may be biased … but there is no better use of your dollar to support sustainable growth around the globe.)
5. Stuff. Having just done a major purge for this big move, I can testify to the fact that most of us have way, way too much junk and clutter. Even after the purge, after the move, there are still boxes in my garage—as yet unpacked—that we could have lived without. I have mixed feelings about the whole “donate your unneeded things to charity,” because most of the stuff we donate is pretty much garbage that nobody else needs either. However, there is a discipline about reckoning with your stuff; recognizing how much we acquire that we don’t need; clearing space, symbolically and otherwise; and becoming more mindful about what we bring into the house, moving forward. For me, that means also giving up …
6. Paper. It defies belief how much paper was in my house. And is in my new house, already. Between church meetings, junk mail and having two kids in elementary school, I am practically drowning in paperwork. Not to mention—getting new bank accounts, a new mortgage, new insurance, new doctors … it all comes with miles and miles of paper. Forms, receipts, contracts … they’re everywhere. Some of it can’t be helped. But what I try to do is: 1) not pick up stuff I don’t need; 2) toss the junk mail into the recycle bin before it even comes into the house; and 3) refrain from printing, whenever possible.
7. Driving. The notion of a “walkable city” is a pipe dream, for most of us. Which means the idea of giving up driving entirely is not practical. However, most of us could drive less, if we really thought about it. We make extra trips to the grocery store when we could probably live with what we have. We fail to plan ahead to consolidate errands, so we make extra trips across town. We lack the foresight and intention to carpool when really, we could … Etc. Take this season to track your mileage and find where you could cut back on both emissions, and the hours of your life spent in the car.
There. Seven things. Maybe you want to pick one. Maybe you want to try a different one each week. Maybe you are in more of a “prayer and study” season of your life and the idea of giving up something does not seem useful. That’s fine. However you approach this season, whether you are letting go or taking on, I hope it brings you some breathing room, some sacred space, and some blessed emptiness that marks the beginning of something good.