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Lent — Have You Given Up on Giving Up?


A year ago, I was facing Lent — again.  I was ready to repeat the routine of what I usually do for Lent:  no sweets or complaining, extra prayer, and the usual fasting and abstinence.  I realized, though, that I wasn't growing or being challenged.


I decided to find a practice that would remind me daily of this penitential season and join me to Jesus' sacrifice of his life for others.

What if I gave away one thing a day for the 40 days of Lent?  I wanted to live a simpler lifestyle both for spiritual reasons — "[Jesus] said to them, 'Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money — not even an extra tunic'" (Luke 9:3) — and also to declutter my life. 

I decided to take this on as a challenge and a sacrifice — hoping it would clean out not only my closets, but also my heart and soul.  This kind of sacrifice may not appeal to — or be appropriate for — everyone, but it may prompt you to consider what you can give up for Lent that will make more of a difference than losing a few pounds.

The plan

I started my Lenten giveaway with shoes.  I thought this would be easy since I'm not a big collector of shoes — or so I thought.  According to Soles4Souls, the average American owns 13 pairs of shoes.  I figured I was under that and could go lower.  Wrong.  When I added up all my shoes (including slippers and boots), it came to 30 pairs.  I was horrified! I pruned it down to 13, but I'm not happy about being average.

I moved on to clothes.  I had many clothes that I seldom wear now that I work at home.  I discovered that I had enough extras to give more than one thing away a day and could go by categories. 

I started with the letter S — shirts, skirts, suits, slacks, sweaters and scarves — and gathered up all the old-fashioned, in need of repair or makes-me-look-fat clothes.  I pulled out about seven extra items for each "S" and created breathing room in my closet.  I was feeling pretty good about this pruning but ran into a problem. 

What do I do with all this stuff?

At first I just collected my intended giveaways in a corner.  It didn't make sense to drive to St. Vincent de Paul every day.  But then my stuff started overflowing and getting in the way.

In addition to giving things to charities, neighbors and friends, I discovered Freecycle and Vietnam Veterans of America who pick up at your home.  My most satisfying experience, however, was trying to get rid of an adult potty seat, the one item not claimed in my "Free Yard Sale."  A woman going to visit an elderly neighbor saw the seat and said, "The lady I'm visiting could use that!"  She picked it up and went on her happy way.

The results

Hardest thing to give away:  Privacy and time.  We agreed to have a homeless family live with us while they were in crisis.  It was a leap of faith since we weren't sure if the weeks would merge into months.

Hardest thing to give away: Privacy and time.

Most unusual item:  Dead pet paraphernalia.  I cleared out all the cages and supplies from pets that had died years ago. 

Most awkward experience:  Birdie's supper.  On Holy Thursday, I delivered a meal to a frail member of our parish whom I barely knew.  It seemed fitting for this day, but I feared she might consider it condescending. 

Most humbling:  Going to Penance and giving away my sins.

What's this got to do with Lent and spirituality?

I harkened back to my early religious education, remembering that Sunday isn't an official day of Lent.  It's a day of rest and rejoicing, not penance.  I decided not to give away anything on Sundays, but rather to use the time to ponder how this experience was changing me:  Was I becoming less attached?  Was it a holy sacrifice or simply a way to clean my house?

Just as Jesus was stripped of his clothes before his crucifixion, I found myself stripping away excess clothes and household items to focus on what's most important in life:  being generous, not being full of myself, caring for those in need. 

Sometimes it was hard to give away an item because of sentimental attachment or the thought that one of our kids might want it someday.  One of my blog readers helped by suggesting I take a photo of trophies or memorabilia.  Another reader reminded me that, while I'm waiting for a grandchild to grow into a snowsuit, another child might be shivering right now.

How has it changed me?

As a result of giving stuff away for 40 days, I gained a new habit and attitude, and decided to extend this commitment for a full year.

Although I haven't reached a state of total detachment and humility, I did stretch myself to think daily about the abundance I already have rather than what I lack.  I'm more aware of how to share what I have with others — even if it pinches.  I remind myself that my importance or value isn't dependent on what I own.  I feel more solidarity with those who are economically poor. 

I now shop differently.  When tempted to buy something because it's such a bargain, I consider:  Do I really need this?  Is it something I will eventually give away?  Is there someone I can buy it for who needs it more than I do?

The future

As a result of giving stuff away for 40 days, I gained a new habit and attitude, and decided to extend this commitment for a full year.  Lent was a good way to jump-start the process.  All of this leads very naturally to the final time of letting go — the time of our deaths.  Just as Jesus sacrificed himself for us on the cross, so can I sacrifice some of my time, goods, money and way of doing things — for others.

Remember, eventually we'll all return to dust.  The stuff of our lives just collects dust and makes it harder to let go for that final journey.



Susan Vogt. "Lent — Have You Given Up on Giving Up?" Everyday Catholic (February 2011).

This article is used with permission of Franciscan Media.

The Author

Susan Vogt is a speaker and award winning author.  For many years, she was the editor of the Journal of the National Association of Catholic Family Life Ministers and content editor for the USCCB website on marriage.  Susan has worked in family ministry for the Catholic Church for over 30 years designing and leading marriage, parenting, and leadership programs.  She has written five books:  Money in the Kingdom of God, Parenting your Adult Children, Just Family Nights, Raising Kids Who Will Make a Difference, and Kids Creating Circles of Peace.  See her blog, "Letting Go of Stuff," at for a day-by-day account of her giveaways.

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