As I’ve probably shared here before, I live in a very small town that has a very big housing problem: second-home owners, seasonal rentals, and gentrification mean that it’s an increasingly expensive place to live. So over the past 10 years I’ve had to downsize my living arrangements more than once.
The first time, I’ll admit, was horrible. (I literally had a room full of books!) I was giving away things I believed had deep meaning to me, things I believed I would miss, things I believed I had to have in order to be me. I was asking difficult questions about what I needed—versus what I merely wanted. I’ve downsized twice since then, and the good news is it gets easier each time.
Maybe I’m finally getting to where I require less stuff in my life. Or perhaps it’s just I’m figuring out there are things that hold far more importance than “stuff.”
I think it’s so wonderfully appropriate that we have today’s gospel reading right at the beginning of Lent. Right here, right at the beginning, when we’re just out of Ash Wednesday, Jesus is clearly and unambiguously telling us the central events of his passion, death, and resurrection—the whole story, in just two verses. The road, he is saying, begins here. From now on, you’re going to have to make changes. Make sacrifices. Do things you don’t want to do. If you want to be part of Jesus’ project to save humanity, it’s going to include a lot of hard things, and it’s probably best to start down this road unencumbered.
If we want to follow Jesus, then there’s a price to be paid. He is willing to pay the price for us, even dying for us; but there’s a cost on our end, as well. We have crosses to take up and carry, pale imitations of his walk to Calvary carrying the instrument of his own torture and death.
The gospel is unequivocal: suffering and self-displacement are the hallmarks of a disciple. The road begins here, the road to being a follower of Jesus, the road to our own death and resurrection as well as his. And the first thing we have to do is give up all that stuff we thought we needed.
There’s a lot in life worth hoarding, but Jesus willingly turns his back on all of it. Why should we do any differently?
De-cluttering has become a fashionable activity, with suggestions arriving daily in our inboxes about how to do more with less. They tell us to use our motor vehicles less and our legs more; how empty surfaces are more appealing than piles of paper; that no one really needs all those pairs of shoes.
But not hoarding goes beyond the things we keep in our homes; it’s about the things we keep in our hearts. Jesus has chosen the way of the cross. He doesn’t hoard his life, even though at the end of the day our lives are all we have to keep or to give. And in this passage, he’s telling us exactly what it is we shouldn’t be hoarding: our selves. We are called not to hoard our lives, but to live generously.
To deny my own self, to reach a point where I am no longer the most important thing in the world, to be happy to listen instead of talking, to accept without resentment the challenges and troubles that come to me through time or circumstances—this is what it means to stop hoarding. That’s an especially troubling thought at the beginning of Lent, when giving up chocolate seems the most demanding thing in the world.
“What profit is there for one to gain the whole world, yet lose or forfeit himself?” What does it matter what I own, how much money I make, what kind of car I drive, indeed how many books I have in my library, if those things are what define me?
This Lent, Jesus is inviting us all to explore what our own individual crosses look like. How they can be the part of the way to redemption, the way to resurrection, the way to the Kingdom. To de-clutter our hearts and our souls and our minds so there’s more space for what he asks of us—sacrifice, generosity of spirit and action, hospitality, sharing, goodness of life, even suffering. This Lent, he’s looking tosee whether we’re willing to do it.
The road begins here.
Jeannette de Beauvoir is a writer and editor with the digital department of Pauline Books & Media, working on projects as disparate as newsletters, book clubs, ebooks, and retreats that support the apostolate of the Daughters of St. Paul at http://www.pauline.org.