I’m going to come right out and say it: I’m going to talk about God and Christianity from time to time here. It’s a huge part of my life, and by that I mean in part that I live my life according to the church calendar, fasting and feasting in due season. So a lot of my experiences and thoughts are directly shaped by these seasons and will likely come out in what I write.
It’s Lent right now in the church year—the great fast that precedes the great feast. In some traditions people give up meat (and dairy and oil and sweets and alcohol and sex), but joining in that practice presupposes a dietary and cooking flexibility that I am not able to accommodate. So Lent in my house for the last few years has meant a sacrifice of time and effort to a worthy cause: cleaning time. For the 40 days of Lent, I concertedly spend extra time cleaning my house as a spiritual discipline. That’s not to say that I don’t clean my house in other seasons—I just do it more attentively in Lent.
Why? I don’t know. Because disciplines are good, and they help form good habits, maybe. I have never in my life been a clean and organized person, so there’s always something that needs more attention. I live in the perpetual hope that one day I might become a clean and organized person. I recognize that order is objectively better than chaos, and especially now that I’m a mom, I don’t want my son to grow up in a house full of chaos. But I think there’s something about cleaning house that’s metaphorically resonant with the practice of the Lenten fast.
Sure, you miss out on the food connection if you’re cleaning house instead of not eating meat—one key reason the church fasts from certain foods in Lent is to emphasize that Christ is our True food and True drink:
But Lent is also at its roots a way of disciplining our wills, of forming a more virtuous character by negating our inclinations toward pleasure and seeking to be obedient to a rule outside of ourselves. If giving up meat (or dairy or sweets or etc.) ceases to be difficult, the Lenten faster is encouraged to give up something else. That’s why a lot of evangelicals today try screen fasts or social media fasts in the season leading up to Easter. Well, I have no idea if they’ve tried the traditional fasts first, but the idea is the same—they’re seeking to do something hard in the hope of breaking bad habits and becoming better users of their time, attention, and energy.
And that’s why I clean my house. I know it’s a better use of my time than a lot of the other ways I’m tempted to spend my few free hours each day, and also because I live in perpetual hope of being raised up one day in the image of Him whose steps we Lenten fasters are following in. I clean my house because I’m messy on my insides, too, and creating order and beauty and discipline in the world around me helps create it inside me. If one day I find I’ve become a clean and organized person, I’ll find a new Lenten discipline, but for now, I’m still in the desert, being tempted toward laziness, disorder, and a lack of love and hospitality. I don’t want to be the person I am, and I don’t enjoy airing my dirty laundry (nevermind the literal mountain of laundry in my bedroom that needs attending to!). That’s why I need Lent. Lent is the taut line we walk between the reminder of our deaths on Ash Wednesday (“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”) and the hope of the resurrection, the lily-bloom of Easter. Lent is the reminder that I only have one life, and if I want to fix the broken things inside myself, I need to do it now, with God’s help. Jesus emerged from the desert victorious and glorified, and by his mercy, we can too.
So here’s to doing hard things, especially when they’re really hard. And here’s to hope!
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Also: if you’re interested in learning more about the church year and thinking of ways to practice and celebrate as a family, I highly recommend this book (Affiliate links included below. You can read my full disclosure policy here.):
Let Us Keep the Feast: Living the Church Year at Home (The Complete Year), by Jessica Snell (Ed.). Full disclosure, Jessica is family, but that doesn’t bias me at all about this book. It’s a really great resource!