I decided to give up my purse for Lent, and with that to give up buying anything for myself unless it was an item of necessity. It was a thought I came up with at five in the morning which may explain why it seemed like a good idea at the time.
The first few days of Lent, I was on vacation with my loving husband, so not dragging a purse was no great impediment. He became the purchaser of goods and services (and yes, I did refrain from buying that exquisite tweed cape in Dublin). For once, I got to put something in his backpack instead of taking something from him for my purse (the illustrious veil, which I had carried all the way to Ireland just for this purpose). It was nice to be completely reliant on someone else for all my needs; I was fasting from my wants. And I think that’s the ultimate point of this whole exercise, learning to be reliant, not on my beloved groom, but one Someone Else. Learning to dinstinguish between needs and wants.
But there are other lessons along the way. The first day back at work saw me juggling to carry a driver’s license, a credit card (in case I needed gas), my iPhone, the veil (mass before work) and the key to my car. You will note that absent from that list is the key to my office, where I had to summon security to let me in.
The next day, I stowed my cards in my badge carrier, juggled the remaining items (this time to include bobby pins for the recalcitrant lace) and left the badge carrier on my counter at home. Net result: parking half a world away because I had no access to the parking garage, and hoping that I neither ran out of gas or got stopped by the cops on the way home.
By day three, I had the cards in a rhythm but had gotten so used to carrying nothing that I forgot my work briefcase and laptop at home. By this point, an office pool had developed to place bets on what I would forget next, and I think my antics have created a couple of instant millionaires. I’ve mislaid my keys, my phone, and my identification badge on a regular basis. I’ve gotten a lot of extra exercise hiking in from that far lot, and taking the stairs back to my office to retrieve something forgotten.
And I notice, I really notice, what I am not doing. I hadn’t realized how much of life in modern American revolves around spending money until I decided not to. Ordinarily, I take a walk down to a little floral shop to buy flowers for my desk on Monday morning. Now the vases sit empty. Often, I stop at the store to pick up something easy for dinner. Now, we’re eating down the freezer, and I emptied out the pantry for the local food drive. I note with some shame when I am in a store how often I have a reflexive desire to purchase something I do not need because I “could” use it or it’s “cute,” and when I notice, I give thanks for my Lenten discipline and offer a prayer.
I realize how much useless “stuff” gets hauled around with me every day. Now, taking something with requires me to weigh—consciously—whether I can manage it in my own two hands, keep up with it, want to risk losing it, and in the end, whether it does me any real good. For the record—the default answer these days is NO—with the exception of my sunglasses, which now reside permanently in the neck of whatever black sweater I happen to be wearing.
It’s been a surprising way to shed something of the world, and much more powerful than I thought it would be. I am still surrounded by far too much luxury, but I am beginning to see it differently. I’m beginning to understand that what happens to the things around me is of only transient importance, if any at all. I’m beginning to realize that, if only I recognize it, I walk every day with Someone who really does take care of all my needs, and that my needs are very different from the reflexive wants and desires that I operate under on a daily basis.
This weekend, I travelled to Florida for a continuing education meeting, adding a whole new dimension to my purse-free existence. For starters, although I had a credit card, I walked out of the house, stepped on a plane and got into a rental car at my destination without so much as a brass farthing in my possession. I pulled out of the Tampa airport in a frog-strangling downpour, with no rain coat (forgotten) with just enough time to drive across town and attend noon mass.
Ordinarily, I would have stopped along the way and purchased an umbrella, but not that day; my mental calculations returned the answer that an umbrella was not a necessity, just a convenience. I scurried on to downtown Tampa, found the church and realized with a start, I had no change for a parking meter. As the minutes ticked by, I became increasingly anxious looking for a parking space, afraid that I’d miss the start of mass. I kept winding through the streets in search of somewhere to land.
And then, a remarkable thought/prayer entered my head, thanks, no doubt to a new mental trail the last few weeks have been clearing. Dear God, nothing will happen to me today that was not foreseen by You and directed to my greater good from all eternity. You know I want to go to mass. I think You want me to be there. You know what I need. Just let me relax until You find it for me. Relax I did, turned the corner and ran smack dab into a parking garage that took credit cards and was only three blocks from the church. Did I mention that it had stopped raining?
I’m not sure the scientist in me is ready to believe that God, who has much more to worry about in the universe than my parking place, took time out of His busy day to direct me to that garage. After all, parking garages are not exactly a rarity in a metropolitan center. On the other hand, I’m not sure He didn’t either. What I am sure of is that I lost the fear and anxiety that was all too ready to spring up in my heart when my own attempts at self-sufficiency failed, as they always and ultimately will. What I am sure of is that I turned straight to God in an ordinary circumstance when, four weeks ago, I doubt I would have thought to do so. And I am certain that I would have been happy however it happened to turn out because I turned away from myself for just an instant.
That fear and anxiety over such little things and that thoughtless indifference to God, like that big, black purse that sits empty on my shelf at home, are things I’m glad to have given up for Lent.