21st-century Lent: This year’s sacrifices include Walmart, Facebook, clutter
by Brett Buckner
Feb 25, 2012 | 3612 views |  0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jim Ellis Fisher sorts through the clutter of her garage to see what could be donated as part of her Lent commitment this year. Photo: Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star
Jim Ellis Fisher sorts through the clutter of her garage to see what could be donated as part of her Lent commitment this year. Photo: Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star
The idea had been percolating in her mind for more than a year. For the past three years, Jim Ellis Fisher has gone on mission trips to Dominican Republic.

“I noticed that I had more stuff packed in my suitcase for a week than some of the people working in these villages had in their entire home,” she said.

Fisher’s decision was cemented when she recently attended a lecture series at her church, Grace Episcopal in Anniston. The series focused on simpler living and compassionate living.

“One of the things that really hit me between the eyes was the idea that everything I have is taking away from someone else,” she said. “My life is filled with things that other people could use.”

With the season of Lent having begun this week on Ash Wednesday, Christians around the world are trying to decide what to give up for the 40 days leading up to Easter.

There are the clichéd sacrifices such as chocolate, sugar, coffee, wine. But there are those trying to do something more meaningful.

Rather than giving something up, some people are taking things on.

People like Jim Ellis Fisher, who wants to rid her life of clutter by giving it away to people who could really use it. Most of her accumulated clutter rests, unused, in a 1,500-square-foot garage in Anniston. The plan is to spend the early part of Lent getting her stuff organized, then host a free garage sale.

“It’s still a sacrifice because I’ll be getting rid of things that I’m attached to,” she said. “When I first started observing Lent, it was all about giving up things, which is a personal decision. But with this, I’m really putting it out there so that everybody knows.”

A brief history of Lent

The origins of Lent date back to the earliest days of the Christian church, when potential converts first underwent a fast of 40 hours before their baptisms at Easter. This was soon extended to a period of prayer, fasting and contemplation that lasted 40 days. Biblical models for this practice include Noah’s time on the Ark, Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness and Israel’s 40 years spent wandering in the desert.

But the approach toward Lent has quietly changed over the past 15 or so years, said Grace Episcopal Church pastor Lee Shafer. “Whether it’s giving up or taking on, it’s important that it have meaning and impact on your spiritual life,” she said. “Giving up chocolate? Come on. Does that really impact you spiritually?

“The real intent is what you practice during Lent will become a part of your life afterwards. The intent is that it not just be something you stop doing for 40 days, but that it become part of a life change.”

Giving up Facebook

Jacob Tearney of Oxford is giving up Facebook for Lent.

It’s not the first time.

“I tried it last year and failed,” he said. “I think I made it about a week. It was kind of embarrassing.”

Rather than simply trying to avoid the temptation, Tearney has suspended his Facebook page all together.

“It’s a little bit like cheating,” he said, laughing. “But I knew it was the only way I’d make it through. Facebook’s addictive, and has become such a part of our lives that we use it without thinking. It’s the main way we communicate.”

Instead, Tearney plans to spend that extra time writing letters to his friends and loved ones, something that takes time, effort and concentration.

“I want to say something meaningful, something they’ll remember and will remind me of why I love them,” he said. “I hope to learn a little something about myself, too.”

Taking on kindness

Judith Keat of Oxford flirted with the idea of giving up Facebook after hearing that some of her daughter’s friends were planning on doing the same.

“And I really wanted to,” Keat said, “but it was just too hard.”

Instead, Keat has opted to use Lent as a way of spreading joy through small acts of kindness. In addition to exercising daily, Keat intends to compliment a loved one and a stranger every day.

“I’ve tried it before – just smiling at strangers – and I’ve noticed how people react,” she said. “It’s amazing … really brightens their day, and mine, too.”

Earlier this week, Keat was being checked out by a terribly rude cashier, but rather than being offended or influenced by the stranger’s negativity, Keat complimented the woman’s fingernails.

“And her whole attitude changed,” Keat said. “It was that easy and, small as it was, I felt like I’d made a difference in that woman’s day.”

Giving up Walmart

Elizabeth and Alan Renfroe are giving up Walmart. Their goal is to keep their money in the Jacksonville community where they live.

Elizabeth Renfroe has already been tempted. Battling the flu earlier in the week, she woke up in need of NyQuil.

“My first impulse was to run to the Walmart, where I could also pick up this and this and this,” she said. “But I had to stop and make a conscious decision to wait until 8 o’clock when Food Outlet opened so I could get some medicine.”

She admits that giving up Walmart won’t be easy.

“We’ll have to be very conscious about every decision we make by planning ahead,” she said. “Ultimately, I think it’ll be better for our family because we always left Walmart angry and frustrated and with a bunch of stuff we didn’t need.”

This is but another step in a Lent-based process that the Renfroes began years ago. They have already stopped eating out anywhere but at locally owned restaurants.

“Years ago, my husband and I decided the things we’d give up – when we were successful for those 40 days – we’d continue after Lent,” Renfroe said, adding French fries to that list. “Lent has taken on a deeper meaning than just the 40 days.”

Growing up, Renfroe didn’t practice Lent, and didn’t appreciate the practice of sacrificing certain comforts as part of her faith. But since she’s been married, it’s something she has grown to value deeply.

“It’s a small sacrifice, considering what Jesus did for us by dying on the cross,” she said. “It’s a way of making us stop and consider just how important faith is in our daily lives.”

Contact Brett Buckner at brettbuckner@ymail.com.
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