Edit: Read about Week 1: Food here!
A couple of weeks ago I read this book: 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker. It was an awesome kick in the pants, a sort of Shane Claiborne for non-hippies (no disrespect Shane, I just don't like big, billowy earth-toned clothes). In it, the author embarks on a journey of cutting through excess in order to live a more kingdom-like life, one where she knows the needs of the poor (and the poor themselves) and becomes an active partner in meeting their needs. Pretty wonderful stuff. The book is written almost like a blog, and is very relatable while still being extremely challenging. As someone who experienced a similar "conversion" from safe (and doctrinally focused) Christianity to a life spent wrestling with issues and living on the fringe, I related to the moments of grief, righteous anger, selfishness, insanity, and humor that inject the stories of her months spent "doing without". Please, read this book. I have a copy, my mom has a copy, my best friend has a copy. Just ask!
So . . .
Lent is coming up. Before I even read 7 I went off Facebook, and halfway through reading the book I had already given away half of my clothes (and that of my small family) and made a commitment not to step inside a thrift store for the month of February (which is where we buy all of our clothes now, but it still seems like we are buying in order to do or be someone). But I have this nagging feeling like all of this tension in our hearts is coming right around the time we are supposed to set aside the things that distract us and anxiously await our redemption in Christ.
And thus: The Great Lent Experiment (aka our own "mutiny against excess") was born.
My friend Haley and I were talking and we thought it would be cool to approach Lent in a more holistic way--targeting different aspects of our lives that we would like to submit to Christ. We put together a skeleton of an outline which we hope to flesh out here in the next couple of weeks (for all the non-high-church spazzes like me, Lent starts next Wednesday, the 22nd). Using the elements found in 7 (the book), we are taking a long cold look at the following areas: food, possessions, media, spending, and stress (in the book Jen also targets clothing and waste, but we put clothing in with possessions and live in the Pacific NW where recycling is like breathing).
And we want you to join in. Take a deep breath, and be prepared to have our hearts change as we slowly make our lives look a little bit more like Christ.
In order to make it more do-able, we will target each area for a week. If you feel so inclined, feel free to abstain from certain elements (buying new clothes, eating out) for the entire 6 weeks of Lent. We chose 5 categories, but there are 6 weeks of Lent. Feel free to build in “cheat” days (for a birthday or some other reason), or use the last week to go back and refocus on an area that still needs to be worked on in your life.
There is no condemnation and judgment if you don’t want to participate (or if you break the “rules”). Rather, we are approaching this as an exciting time to break free from the tyranny of endless consumerism that is the hallmark of the modern American dream. We are excited for creating the space for God to move in our hearts by giving up of our time and resources. We are excited to model our lives to look the kingdom of Heaven, and to invite others to participate.
Confession: I have always been really "bad" at Lent. For the first time, I am super excited about all this. I think being in a community of people who are talking and praying and fasting together will really help. So, if you would like to be a part of this experiment in any way, please leave a comment letting me know. Also, if you have any ideas on prayer/practical fasts, please don't hesitate to add to the content.
So here is the basic outline:
Week one: Food
For this week, focus on how much you normally spend on eating: going out to restaurants, getting coffee, and even grocery shopping. Much of the world is living on $2 a day, but we spend much more than that on a single latte. Commit to limiting your food choices and your spending, and at the end of the week you should have cleared our some space in your pantry and freezer, and also be left with a nice sum of money (which we would then encourage you to donate to people in need).
No eating out/drinking coffee out
Eat from your pantry/freezer
Limit grocery shopping as much as possible. If this means several dinners of beans and rice, then so be it. Enjoy the feeling of solidarity with the majority world!
Pray for those with limited access to food and clean drinking water.
Week two: Possessions:
In this week we will focus on both clothing and possessions. Focusing on reducing our clothes allows us to free from the tyranny of fashion and trying to impress people. Focusing on reducing our possessions will allow us to de-clutter our lives and highlight what we truly need to live in the kingdom of God. Set aside extra time in this week to go through your house and be prepared to get rid of a lot! As we reduce our possessions we should also look to a future where re-using, recycling, and doing without becomes our new normal. Stuff will never make us happy.
Since this is not only about living a more simple life but also doing with less so that others can have more, we would like to do a community garage sale at the end of Lent with all the proceeds going directly to an organization that helps those in need (more to come on the organization at a later time). If garage sales aren’t your thing, feel free to donate to a women’s shelter or a local clothing closet or better yet--give it to people you know that are in need.
Sort through your clothes (and your families clothes) and reduce by ⅓-½. There is no need to hoard when so many people in America are struggling to clothe their families.
Make a commitment to not buy new clothes for the week (or, for the rest of Lent).
Note: If you do choose to purchase clothes between now and Lent, consider shopping at thrift stores.
Do not buy any new possessions this week.
Commit to weed through your possessions. Tackle different areas on different days. If at all possible, save items for a garage sale. Areas to target include:
Pray for the church to become less materialistic, and pray for Christ’s rule and reign in our hearts. Pray for our gospel to become bigger than success, and pray that we would get to know our less fortunate brothers and sisters.
Week three: Media:
We are a culture that loves to be entertained. How much more space for others (and God) can we create by shutting off all of our devices for a week? This will be a great chance to practice old-fashioned community and hospitality. Fill up the silence with good things: worship music, good books, coffee with friends, or just hanging out with your family.
Commit to a week without media: no facebook, twitter, pinterest, television (hulu) or movies.
Limit cell phone and e-mail usage
Prayer: Use this week to focus on communicating with God, allowing silence and a space for listening in your relationship. Use your downtime to get together with other Lenten observers and pray together in true community!
Week four: Spending
This week we will look at all our little justifications for spending money squarely in the eye. By curbing our own spending, we can better identify with our brothers and sisters throughout the world who have little or no money to spare. Limit all spending this week: food, drink, restaurants, entertainment, possessions: put a hold on all them.
Pick one grocery store (preferably local), one gas station, one all-purpose store (obviously if you have bills to pay, you should do that). Don’t spend money anywhere else.
Invite people over for coffee, and watch old movies that you already own. Be creative!
This week will be another chance to repent of the idols in our life and to refocus our priorities on the kingdom of God. The Bible is full of passages on social and economic justice that we can look to for encouragement and support as we learn to do without.
Week five: Stress
Use this week as a chance to get rid of stress, and to identify those areas of your life where you are holding on to anxiety. The most crucial element of this week is to find a time to spend in prayer for significant portions of the day. As we learn to relinquish control and let God be in charge, we will no longer let our lives be ruled by stress.
Commit to picking a space for every day where you commit to spend time in prayer.
Pick one day to be a Sabbath for you and your family and find your rest in Him. (Variations on the Sabbath abound--we would encourage a time for prayer and joy and rest and solitude, whatever that might look like for your family).
Use resources like the book of Common Prayer for ideas on when and what to pray.
So, starting next Wednesday I will look at each category weekly and probably write some of my thoughts down on the topic as well. I would encourage you to do the same, no matter what kind of fast you are being called to.