As you may know, Lent is right around the corner. From my childhood in Catholic School I was trained to “give something up for Lent”. But what? What should I give up now that would truly benefit me in my relationship to God and to other people? There are many things I could do to improve my health, my prayer life, and my mind. I could read more, exercise more, and spend more time in prayerful meditation but this year I KNOW I need to find something to GIVE UP. I found this parable by Fr Anthony de Mello that should help:
An American, on his last day of a trip to India, was idly shopping in the Bombay marketplace. As he strolled from stall to stall he noticed a beggar sitting on the ground with a few dust covered trinkets spread out on a blanket before him. Curious, the American walked over to get a closer look. He was quickly drawn to several dust covered, almond sized items that glimmered in the sun. The beggar motioned for him to pick them up and take a closer look. When he did his heart stopped. These were not worthless trinkets - they were diamonds!“Don’t look to eager,” the tourist cautioned himself, but the shrewd beggar noticed his customer’s heightened tension instantly. So when the tourist feigned disinterest and casually offered $10 the beggar shook his head. He really wanted those diamonds but he did not want to pay too much so he finally said “Well, I’m not that sure I want them, but I’ll give you $25 - that’s my final price.” The beggar shook his head again and said “that’s way too low”. The tourist finally asked how much he would take. The beggar said, “I can see that you admire these stones very much. Please take them.” The tourist was stunned. “I can’t just take them from you”, he protested. The beggar insisted and the tourist finally relented, stuffing the diamonds in his coat pocket.Hurriedly, he made a bee-line for his hotel. Suddenly, he was very aware of all of the pick-pockets who were staring at him from behind every corner. When he got to the hotel he was going to put the items in the safe but he knew he couldn’t trust the clerk. Finally in his room, the tourist double bolted the door. He looked frantically around the room for a place to hide his precious stones. The American finally decided to just keep them on his person - that would be the safest. As he laid on his bed he thought of all the things he could purchase when he sold these big rocks. His heart was pumping with anticipation but he was filled with fear because he was sure someone would break into his room and steal his stones.After spending a sleepless night, he finally arose early in the morning to get ready for his trip back to America. He carefully packed all of his things and, after checking out of his hotel, went back to the market. He wandered, dazed and desperate, until he found what he was looking for. The beggar was sitting cross-legged on the ground in the same place he had been the day before.“Hello, my friend!”, smiled the beggar.The American anxiously dug into his pocket and took out the stones, handing them back to the humble Indian.“But, my friend, you were so happy with these stones yesterday”, said the beggar evenly.“Yes, yes, I was. But I have learned something. I have learned that the stones, as you call them, are not so important. I thought they would make me happy but instead they made me miserable. Now I realize that what would really make me happy is to have the power that YOU have within you - the power to give them up so effortlessly.”
The point is simple: you cannot add things to your life to make yourself happy. As I have added things to my own life they surely have NOT made me happier. Usually, it turns out a little like the tourist in the parable. Now that I have this new thing where will I keep it? How will I maintain it? How can I keep it safe and secure? Should I buy the extended warranty? Should I tell anyone I have it? - and on an on.
It seems that if I want to be truly happy I need to SUBTRACT things from my life. Simplifying, rather that complicating, is the key! And so that will be my Lenten journey this year - elimination, closet cleaning, tossing things out, donations to the St Vincent Store etc., etc.
What about you? Where do you see the need to downsize and simplify your life? Are there things that cause you stress, worry, too much space, etc.? Lent begins March 5th this year. Use it to exercise the virtue mentioned in the parable by having the power to give "valuable" things away effortlessly.