Just Getting Started


40BAGS14-4-700x700Today is Ash Wednesday, and I am once again pondering what to “give up.” Over the past decade, I’ve focused less on giving up and more on creating new habits that bring me closer to the kind of person I want to be. As a result, new habits have been born out of both the Lenten season and the Advent season at our house, things (like grace before meals) that have lasted a lot longer than 40-day intentions to give up chocolate and junk food.

Quite a few of my friends give up Facebook for Lent, and while I applaud both their resolve and their self-control, that doesn’t resonate for me. Cynics might snicker that my choice is rooted in my inability to keep such a resolution, and there would be a certain amount of truth to that. But, honestly, the decision has much more to do with what feels right than anything else. Like shopping for the perfect dress or the perfect sofa, I want something that inspires a “Yes! That’s just what I was looking for!” feeling in me.

Ironically, I found two of those things on Facebook.

The first, 40 Bags in 40 Days, is so perfect on so many levels. First off, it focuses on the idea of simplifying, which is a key Lenten concept. Lent is a season of fasting and abstinence, and while I must confess that I never fully understood why giving up potato chips for 40 days and meat on Fridays was supposed to bring me closer to God, I did get the general concept — that we are to rely more on God and less on earthly delights, as it were — and that Lent is a time of penance and prayer and giving of ourselves. We are to simplify and turn our focus away from earthly things.

Which is what makes 40 Bags in 40 Days so perfect. The idea is simple enough — to clear the clutter from our lives and divest ourselves of 40 bags of non-essential earthly goods over the course of Lent. This is, for many of us, not entirely unselfish. I would love to clear 40 bags of junk and/or extraneous items from my house. Some of it will be as simple as finally getting those clothes to consignment or those books to the library book sale. Some of it will require that I go through my things and separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak — a task I always mean to do, but never seem to get to.

The timing is perfect. My daughter tackled her closet the other day, gifting me with piles of clothing she no longer wants and that I need to find a home for. Packing up these things and taking them somewhere where they will be useful and appreciated not only downsizes our material goods, but benefits someone else as well (a corporal work of mercy in church parlance).

That will get me started, but it won’t net me 40 bags. To meet that goal, I will have to dig into my own things and eliminate the unnecessary either through donation or simple elimination. So this morning, I opened up a clean trash bag, set it in the kitchen as a visual reminder (and seeded it with my daughter’s cast-off flip flops) and marked a space on the calendar to keep track of my 40 bags. I mean well today, you see, but 40 days can be a long time, and it’s easy to lose sight of the goal that seemed so worthy and exciting today, so I suspect I will need a little nudge to keep me on track.

The second thing I found on Facebook is thanks to the charming Sarah Reinhard, whose devotion to her faith is contagious. Sarah has invited her friends on Facebook to join her in a special kind of prayer:

It’s a special novena I’m calling the “Oh SNAP” Novena…and here’s how it will go:

3 sets of Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, and St. Michael PrayerAnd a big BOOM on top at the end. Because we have both class AND attitude.

As a cradle Catholic who somehow missed out on the finer points of the faith (like novenas), I appreciate a light-hearted approach to something as important as prayer, and when I found Sarah’s “Oh SNAP” Novena on Facebook this morning (a day late), I immediately adopted it as a way to start not only my day, but also my Ash Wednesday and my Lenten season. In fact, I hope to make it a regular fixture in my day. (Having consulted my copy of Catholicism for Dummies (a previous Lenten purchase), I am now once again aware that novenas last for nine days, so I will need to make some adjustments. Suggestions welcome.)

If past history is any indication, I may not finalize my Lenten sacrifices and improvements for another couple of days, but I think that’s also a part of what Lent is supposed to be about. I don’t think God wants knee-jerk responses from us, and I don’t want the things I “give up” to be just another habit. And so, I suspect that with prayerful consideration, I’ll figure out the “just right” answer with plenty of time to spare.

Meanwhile, I’ll be separating the wheat from the chaff — online and off.

Copyright 2014 Lisa Hess


About Author

Lisa Lawmaster Hess has contributed articles to local, national and online publications, and is a blogger at The Porch Swing Chronicles, The Susquehanna Writers and Tech Talk here at Catholicmom.com. She is the author of two non-fiction books (Acting Assertively and Diverse Divorce) and one novel, Casting the First Stone. A retired elementary school counselor, Lisa is a lecturer in psychology at York College and enjoys singing with the contemporary choir at her church.


  1. I like the “separate the wheat from the chaff” metaphor there. That will help keep me going when I’m tempted to keep the thing I’ve kept for 10 years because I might need it someday.
    And there are 54-day novenas. First 27 in petition, next in thanksgiving. So why not one just through Lent? I’ll bet you’ll want to keep it up afterward.
    I am doing the same novena. I turn off the car radio on one of my multiple trips to school. Timing is just right.

  2. Nice post…but did I read that right that you’re getting rid of books? I have a hard time getting rid of books. Granted 99.9% of mine are Catholic and Orthodox…I’m hoping to foster a vocation or two in my house. :)

    • Yes, Stuart, we are. When we “get rid” of books, we simply send them to new homes :-) We donate to our favorite little branch of the library, which doesn’t seem to get the latest and greatest the way the main branch does, or we take them to a used bookstore where we use them toward the purchase of new books. Since the objective here is to get rid of them for real (not use them to acquire new ones), the library is doing very well this month. They keep whatever will enhance their collection, and sell the rest at a nominal price so that what we can no longer enjoy, someone else might. And we’re supporting the library. Like you, we rarely throw away a book.

  3. I like the idea of 40 bags in 40 days but can’t seem to commit for Lent. Partly it’s because of work but partly it’s because I can’t commit :) Hope it goes well for you!

    • I know what you mean, Deanna! One of the reasons for a public post is that it holds me accountable!!

      I’m also enlisting my family. My daughter has contributed four bags of books she has outgrown. The local library was thrilled to get copies of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series in excellent condition — and we were thrilled that someone else can enjoy what we no longer do.

      I figure that any decluttering I do is a bonus,even if I don’t make it to 40 bags. As of last week, I was “ahead” — now I have a bit of catching up to do…

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