Lent: A 40-Day Invitation to Community… and to Getting Rid of Crap

It’s Lent Eve, folks. The day before Lent!

Which means today’s the last day of Mardi Gras.

Not that you’ll notice any difference around my house tomorrow since I’ll still have kids running around shucking their clothes willy nilly and throwing beads and stuff at each other.

But, you know, for some of you, it’s the last day of Mardi Gras.

Otherwise known as Fat Tuesday.

Of course, I don’t really feel like that’s fair to Tuesday, do you? I mean, I’m pretty sure Fat Tuesday is well aware of the extra pounds she’s gained over the years that accumulated quietly, stealthily, and let’s just give her a break for those, OK? Let’s acknowledge that she’s been up nights and up days, and up nights and days, and tending to littles, and standing at the pot of off-brand mac and cheese on the stove to swallow a few bites whole because God knows Tuesday hasn’t had the opportunity to make, much less sit down and eat, a real, well-balanced meal for years. And, sure, Fat Tuesday sees the Pinterest accounts for all the other Tuesdays and knows they’re getting their kids to eat heaps of broccoli and piles kale and wheat germ gratin with mashed cauliflower but she’s doing the best she can, I tell you. Let’s drop the Fat from her title already, and just call her One of the Tuesdays. Or, if we must label her according to size, let’s call her by the same title that one nice nurse used for me when I was pregnant with twins and little stretched and a tiny bit weepy; Fluffy. She’s not fat; she’s just… fluffy. She can be Fluffy Tuesday. Or, even better, Fantastic Tuesday. Or Fabulous Tuesday. OK?

OK. Glad we settled that.

No matter what you call today, though, it’s Lent Eve. The day before Lent.

Now, many of you don’t care about Lent, and that’s OK. Sometimes, I don’t care, either, because KIDS, and who has 5 extra minutes to contemplate what to give up? I’ve already given up All the Sleep, man; I’ve done my part.

Sometimes, I do care, though. A lot. And I deconstructed Lent once here:

According to Google, which we all know is the very best place to get religious information, “Lent is a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter. It is a time of self-examination and reflection.”

Lent starts today and continues for the 40 days (not including Sundays) until Easter. In practice here in the States, it’s the time when each participant fasts from something specific to himself or herself. Facebook, traveling by car, mojitos, nachos bell grande – the more creative you are about what you give up, the more Lent points you’re awarded. Minus the part about Lent points, which aren’t a real thing but which would totally make it WAY MORE RAD.

The truth is, Jesusy people in America freestyle when it comes to Lent. We like to participate for loads of reasons. Sometimes to feel closer to God, sometimes as a spiritual discipline, sometimes to draw attention to a cause, and sometimes because our best friends in the whole entire world, Caffeine and Chocolate, come to us in our dreams dressed in red riding hood cloaks with cloven hooves and horns on their heads and tell us with maniacal grins that they own our souls, and we wake up screaming and sweating and longing for big cups o’ Joe and entire bags of Hershey’s nuggets. Lent – it’s a high church synonym for Caffeine and Chocolate Rehab.

At its center, though, Lent, like other cultural and religious observances, pulls us into community with each other and ties us with thick cords to our historical roots. It makes us stop for a season to reconsider who we are at our core. It forces us away from the insignificant things that entangle us and turns our eyes to examine what’s relevant, what drives us.

At its best, Lent isn’t about deprivation. At its best, Lent allows us to work in concert with Love to refill our souls.

This year, I care about Lent. And I’m not here to convince you to participate in Lent, but I am here, always, to invite you into a place where Love can refill your soul. My soul. All of our souls together. Which is the point, after all, of community.

And this year, I’ve been thinking about the insignificant things that entangle me. The things that are pulling me beneath the water. The things that are depriving me of oxygen. What I’ve discovered is this: the things that are drowning me right now are the things.

ALL of the STUFF. 

And managing the stuff.

It’s killing me dead.

The sheer volume of clothes and paper and toys and shoes that go through this house is stunning, ladies and gentlemen. And I will feel infinitely more focused, more prepared to look for Love, more prepared to shuck death and Come Back to Life, if I can stop stuffing all the STUFF back into the stuffed places over and over and over again.

But I am TIRED. And handling All the Stuff feels overwhelming. And I’ve met me, so I know I can’t do Everything, all at once. Or even Everything, eventually.

Which is why I’m going to do little purging projects for Lent and to let that be enough.

Little projects almost every day from March 5 – April 17. 

Little 15 Minute Projects. One per day on the days I can manage it. And that is all. Because anything else feels soul-sucking instead of Life Giving, and I’m not interested in piling more on me or you or anyone these days. 

I’m inviting you to participate in my Little 15 Minute Projects because, quite honestly, it’ll be way more fun with you along for the ride.

photo (85)

Here’s how it will work:

  1. Every day from March 5 – April 17, on the days I can manage it, I’ll post a 15 Minute Project. It might be cleaning out a bathroom drawer or a kid’s backpack or underneath a desk or behind a bedroom door. 
  2. I’ll post pictures. Real, terrifying pictures of the Before, and hopefully better pictures of the After, but, no matter what, TRUE pictures. 
  3. You’re invited to participate with the same 15 Minute Project as me or one of your own and to write comments so we can encourage each other along the way!
  4. You’re invited to send pictures of your Befores and Afters to fivekidsisalotofkids@gmail.com. I’ll pick one to feature each day; if you’re a writer or have an online presence, please also include a link to your website when you send your picture.
  5. You’re invited NOT to participate, too. This is a no pressure commitment, folks. So not really a commitment at all. Join when you can. Opt out when you can’t. Everyone’s welcome for whatever parts you like.

That’s it. Little projects, but little projects together.

And here’s a teaser for tomorrow’s project which I’m calling the Underneath the Desk project. Because this is what my desk looks like on top:

photo 3 (52)

Which is WAY cleaner than usual.

Aaaand, this is what it looks like underneath:

photo 2 (75)

Yeah.

Alrighty, friends! Anyone up for joining me? Anyone at all? Because I do not want to clean alone. :/

P.S. If you’re looking for more ways to keep Lent, I recommend checking out Nadia Bolz Weber’s List of 40 Ideas; small things you can do every day for 40 days. Nadia is the “founding Pastor at House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado, an urban liturgical community with a progressive yet deeply rooted theological imagination.” Also, she’s rad.

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ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
39 comments
  1. Thank you! You inspired me to (start) to de-clutter my kitchen which had accumulated too many piles of paper!! My 20 year old was home on Sunday and commented that it looked like his apartment(!), so I knew something had to give. Thanks for the extra motivation – I got up from the computer, put the radio on (loud) to a pop station, and danced around the kitchen while I recycled and found homes for a lot of paper (mostly recycled). It didn’t get done, but what’s left looks like something I can easily take care of tonight or tomorrow. And I had fun doing it (dancing makes everything better).

    1. Good job, Allysson!

  2. […] you can see how our 40 Days of Lent: 15 Minute Projects is an extra challenge for me. Because I tend to clean my house All or Nothing style, and, lately, […]

  3. […] decided to play along with Beth Woolsey’s 40 Days of Lent: 15 Minute Projects. My intention is to do at least five of these 15-minute purges throughout Lent, in the hopes that […]

  4. YES! I can do this. I can. I will. 15 minutes per day I can do (I think … I hope).

  5. I’m with you. I take on the desk challenge however if I only get 15 min a day it might take me a week. My pictures will make you cringe.

  6. Yes, yes, yes! I was just talking with my daughter about Lent this morning and we were talking about our feelings about it: I’m with you, that the things I am struggling the most with right now are THINGS. Stuff. Junk. Clutter. But I like your gentle, no-pressure attitude toward doing something about it, most days, that is. Your realness is, indeed, refreshing, because I (for one) am also in-over-my-head today and every day, and this is just what I needed. I’m in, also.

  7. I am so in. And my pictures are going to make you feel good about your crap.

  8. […] Today is the first day of Lent, and so I cleaned out under my desk as part of our brand new 40 Days of Lent: 15 Minute Projects plan. […]

  9. I normally don’t participate in Lent but your post really spoke to me, about being buried in Stuff and how to find the time to get out from underneath the Stuff! I love the idea of 15 minute projects- looking forward to seeing your before and afters!

  10. I’m definitely in. I’m also going to attempt to give up yelling for Lent…it’s mostly at my children when I’m stressed, but it ALWAYS makes me sad after…so we’ll see if I can do it!

  11. This is a wonderful idea . Hoping it will help to springboard me out of the funk I am in at the moment.

  12. This is great. I feel like it is not overwhelming. I have never officially observed Lent but I think it is a good idea 😉 thank YOU for being rad.

  13. now this…this I can do.
    For the first time in my entire life, I think I’ll do Lent. I need some nearness to Love right now ’cause I’m not feeling it on my own.

    1. Sending love your way, Whitney. xo

  14. I love this! I am giving up NOT doing something for lent – as an ordained woman I should be good at doing morning and evening prayer, but with two kids and a job (not to mention a house and husband) I just… don’t. So I am aiming for at least morning or evening prayer, if not both, every day for lent. Hopefully this is something I can maintain afterwards!

  15. I’m in. We’ve done the desk recently, but enough little junk has started collecting that it will probably take me 15 minutes to clean that. I’ll check back in soon.

  16. I don’t have a before picture, but tired of all the kid clutter hanging on the stair banister, I built all 7 of us lockers to contain our stuff. It made the dining room a little tight but it functions and looks so much better. And today, I ruined my children’s lives by making them check all 1100 DVD cases to make sure they contained the discs they were supposed to and no others. Then I further tortured them by making them alphabetically shelved. Both of these things made me a little lighter. Tomorrow I might tackle my desk if phone calls allow me some time!

  17. I absolutely love this idea. Lately I’ve been feeling weighed down by “the stuff” too. I like the idea of manageable 15 minute projects. Even I can do that!

  18. I’m in! It is too late for a “before” picture because we just gutted our office/pantry/recycling depot and bought a set of used kitchen cupboards from the Habitat Restore to reincarnate into a kinder gentler office area. So ALL the junk from the old office is in piles in the guest room and I’m trying to sort and get rid of a little every day. The rest of the house feels overwhelming but I will appreciate the community and encouragement to keep at it till the job’s done.

  19. I’m such a nerd that your link back to Nadia made me so excited (she is rad).

    I’m definitely going to try with the 15 min projects. Excited to get started (as I write this sitting down being lazy).

  20. All the sleep. Yup, got that one covered in spades.
    Also, my desk is the worst place in my house. I’m scared to take a picture… ‘cuz actually the top is worse than under! But the under has spread to in front of my dresser so I guess that’s not any better.

  21. This is awesome 🙂 I’ll join you. 15 minute projects is about all I can manage. I am also overwhelmed by the stuff in my house. There is too much stuff!!

  22. When someone (foolishly) asks me what I’m giving up for Lent, I usually say “giving up things for Lent” I believe firmly in fasting (and not just food) but I hate doing it “just because”. At first my analytical mind is going “how is a 15 minute a day project giving up something for Lent? Isn’t that adding something?” But after thinking about this I really like this! We are giving up the things we cling to that clutter our lives. They are often small things, but they fluster and confuse us, and steal our peace! We are also giving up 15 minutes of ourselves to do this, to lose the weight of the junk we are holding on to. So I think I have a different answer if anyone asks me what I am doing for Lent this year. This is way more meaningful to me than giving up chocolate. I’ll start with you tomorrow, except for me the underside of my desk is pristine, it’s the top i have been avoiding for the past 2 months. It will probably take me a few days to get through it too, so I’ll section it off into doable bits. Thanks for sharing your WONDERFUL idea!

  23. I’m observing Lent this year. But not with cleaning, though I think it’s a great idea. I’m observing Lent with water.

    I’m tired of water, and I live in a very dry climate, and I drink only barely enough to stay just above the dehydration line all the time. It’s bad for my family, because every few weeks I crash and the kids free range for a day while I try not to move and drink as much water as possible. Rinse and repeat.

    So I’m taking on water this year. A gallon a day, for 40 days. And I will use all of that blasted water as a reminder to pray, and as a reminder that God is not punitive. He wants good things for us. Doing something hard isn’t punishment – it’s a chance to draw near.

    Anyway, I’m so glad you’re celebrating Lent this way. Thanks for sharing your intentions!

  24. I think this is a great way to observe lent — getting rid of all the disorder that weighs us down. I am going to try and follow along, and if I manage it five times throughout lent, I’ll consider it all good 😉 BTW, the top of our home desk, looks like the underneath of yours!

  25. It’s Pancake Day (here in the UK at least)! Happy Pancake Day!

    1. Pancake Day?? How is it that I never knew about this? Marking my calendar for Pancake Day 2015. That is AWESOME.

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