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)
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.
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!