Wednesday, February 22, 2012


I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish. (Philippians 3.8)

Defining Essentials

Today is Ash Wednesday, and with it comes many questions we must ponder if we’re to make a good start on our Lenten journey. Questions like, “Whom and what do I love?” “Which, if any, of those loves strengthen my love for God and others; which, if any, do not?” “What do I love immodestly and what do I love inadequately?” “What do I truly need and what do I merely want?” “What can’t I live with and what can’t I live without?” The variations are endless. Yet they all boil down to the same dilemma: defining essentials. And the reason why we begin Lent’s expedition by taking stock is pretty simple. It’s a long and demanding trip from Ash Wednesday’s altar to Easter’s empty tomb. Getting from here to there will go much better for us if we can let go what we don’t need.

The wilderness metaphor associated with Lent has stuck all these centuries because it works. Yet for those of us who aren’t back-to-nature aficionados, an example from my own life may help. Several times a year my work requires me to spend weeklong stretches away from home. When I first began taking these trips, I packed everything I thought I might need: outfits for every conceivable occasion, all sorts of sundries, a stack of books and magazines, music and videos—a ridiculous assortment of goods I hoped would replicate the comforts of home. But here’s the thing: I wasn’t at home. I was at work. And when I’m working out-of-town, that’s pretty much all I do. I don’t take time to change clothes. I don’t read at leisure. I live on basics because luxuries of home get in the way of the work. They distract. They encumber. They serve no purpose.

So Much Better with So Much Less

Although I realized this quickly, over-packing was imbedded in my just-in-case nature. What if clients invited me to dinner and I didn’t have proper clothes? What if a chunk of free time opened up and I could spend it with a good book? What if I caught cold or got a toothache? Anything was possible and I crammed my cases full of options and remedies just in case. It took years to figure out I simply didn’t need this stuff. No one cared what I wore. Any extra sundries could be had at the hotel shop. I returned from my trips with most of what I packed untouched. Instead of helping, it just slowed me down and added to the fatigue of getting the real work done. Not until I tired of dragging pointless junk around did I accept that I could manage so much better with so much less.

And so the kinds of questions I alluded to above come to assist us with what I call “de-luxing”—letting go burdensome luxuries, comforts, and contingencies that slow us down. What’s essential to our journey? Once we define that, that’s all we need. Paul, the consummate traveler, got so good at de-luxing he was able to write, “I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish.” (Philippians 3.8) Over time, he learned how to empty himself out completely—and thus to open himself totally to his journey’s ups and downs, the rewards and rigors of knowing Christ. I’m not there yet. I doubt few of us are. But if we make a practice of de-luxing we’ll get there.

Traveling with too much leaves us too burdened to experience the fresh discoveries that await us in Lent's wilderness.

Podcast link:

Postscript: 40 Questions

In contemplating how to approach Lent’s journey at Straight-Friendly, I'm led to encourage more than usual interaction. Each day’s post will revolve around a question that I hope we'll find a moment to contemplate and comment on. None of us travels this road alone. In fact, the beauty of the wilderness is that we find our own way in the company of other pilgrims. While we are in conversation with God, we also converse with one another, encouraging and enlightening each other along the way. Being in community as we travel will bring us to the cross united in strength and purpose.

Let’s begin our journey with this question: when you consider the concept of de-luxing, what comes to mind? What should you leave at the desert’s edge? What should you not forget to bring with you?

I’ve put my answer in the comments. I look forward to finding yours there, too!


Tim said...

For me, I’m oddly aware of how useless my sense of irony becomes during this season. It invariably puts me “on top” and invites feelings of smugness that weigh me down. So, among other things, I’m de-luxing myself of irony. It serves its purpose in other settings, just not here. In order to make the most of my journey, I must see and accept things as they are, without irony, to know them wholly—if possibly, innocently—untainted by my own perceptions and opinions.

In light of that, I guess I shouldn’t forget to pack my sense of wonder and willingness to confess what I don’t understand or can’t fully appreciate. I realize this may sound abstract and lofty. But it’s not. Basically, my de-luxing comes down to looking with new eyes and listening with new ears.

(Your turn.)

pam lee-miller said...

I love your answer--and plan to journey through the season with you. Since I've left the church, pulled my papers from the ordination process---well I've missed the connection to people of the Spirit.

I agree with you, I too have carried too much most of the time on my adventure in life----thinking I might need something---especially on hiking trips and talk about the weight..oh my. I've come to believe the Mystery meets us, carries us, brings us to who and what we need--sometimes we get it...get the Mystery, sense the burning bush----other times, well we miss it because of our stuff.

I don't need alot any more piled up books, no more three ipods in case one dies on the hike,

What I take with me...well an openness for adventure, a craving for connection with the MYstery and an enfolding of the Spirit.

May all our journey from the Ashes be a whole new adventure in faith, where hope floats up to us and takes to the wonder of Easter Resurrections.

I'm glad I took the time to come back to your blog this morning...the name of your blog scared me....I was scared it would be too conservative for me.....ah....water for a thirsty soul.thanks for the drink

Tim said...

I've come to believe the Mystery meets us, carries us, brings us to who and what we need

Pam, you've just described how this little community here came to be and has been sustained. Welcome!

I so love your insight when you say we miss getting the Mystery "because of our stuff"! It's so true. We burden ourselves with all of this tending to non-essentials, which we're convinced are must-haves, that we glide right by the must-sees and must-hears and must-senses.

"The burning bush"--ah, yes. While I wouldn't call Moses and me the best of buds, that moment when he forgets worrying about his flocks and stands barefoot and lets the Mystery happen before his eyes... That's heroic on an epic scale that, for me, dwarfs all the other exploits put together. The hesitation that plagues him later is nowhere in sight, and I pray this Lent finds all of us hesitation-free, staring the Mystery in its face, and feeling the heat of its brilliant blaze!

What a blessing to awaken to your thoughts this morning. They brighten my heart and feed my soul!

Peace and joy--and light traveling,

PS: I owe God a big "thank you" for you taking time to come back to S-F, and getting past your initial hesitation about the blog's name!