Lent is a time of reflection and sorting, which when one thinks of it, sounds a lot like that other famous spring activity… Spring Cleaning. The early church noticed this as this bit from the Sayings of Desert Wisdom demonstrates:
“The devil is like a hostile neighbor and you are like a house. The enemy continually throws all the dirt he can find into your house. It is your business to throw out whatever he throws in. If you neglect to do this, your house will be so full of mud that you will not be able to get inside. From the moment he begins to throw it in, put it out again, bit by bit: and so with Christ’s help your house will remain clean.”
Certainly there are some rare people who glory in the work of house cleaning, who delight in the ministry of vacuum, broom, and dust cloth. For the rest of us however, a clean house is a constant labor of “if I don’t do this I soon will be unable to walk on my floor.” This is exactly the motivation of which the Desert Fathers and Mothers spoke.
Once our houses, our lives, our schedules are filled with too much; especially too much bitter history, recrimination, and despair at bad behavior, there’s no room for us to live or for anyone else to come near to our heart. We become so full of… stuff that there is no room for us to be ourselves or to offer hospitality to others. This is a problem not unique to people of faith we do however, have some unique tools to deal with it.
One of the tools is the season of Lent itself. This is a church culturally supported time once a year for us to reflect on what our lives contain and our life’s direction. It is a set time on the calendar for reflection and consideration, activities which are broadly discouraged by advertisers and the culture in general.
Another tool is the simple recognition that we are not the only ones involved in this clean up operation. When I have to be the one to do everything (or, more accurately, when I tell myself that I’m the only one) the burden is immediately magnified. It is suddenly entirely my responsibility which means that any failure to have a spotless home, a perfect life, is All My Fault. The truth however, is that we are not on our own to solve everything. There are people who can help with our spiritual work, keeping us accountable and on task. Sometimes these friends can even help us see ‘the back of our head’ and the places we need growth. They can even point out new to us ways of cleaning, praying, and living.
And of course, there is our Ultimate Friend, Jesus. He’s in here too supporting us at work and reminding us to rest, challenging us to grow and helping us to stop pushing and let the work go on without our micromanagement. This is why in the saying it is with God’s help that we are able to clean the house, throw out the crap, and become more deeply the people we were made to be.
The goal of cleaning is a clean house, the goal of the spiritual life is to have a way of living that helps us to stretch to our limits and have space for others to enter into us. Jesus helps with both and Lent is a time to make use of his expertise in cleansing, pruning, and making room.