From the time I was a kid, I gave up chocolate candy for Lent.
Encouraged by the church to do something penitent for the weeks leading up to Easter, I figured since I loved chocolate so much, that would be a suitable sacrifice.
I remember how absolutely delicious were the chocolate bunny ears I looked forward to on Easter Day. When you're deprived of anything, it's especially good to have it again.
Last year at the start of Lent, our pastor asked how many were planning to "give something up" for Lent. Almost every hand went up, including mine.
Our unorthodox pastor surprised us with his next word: "Don't," as in, don't think of Lent as penitential. Instead, he told us for the 40 days of Lent we should relish every gift of life, including food.
"Go home," he said, "and enjoy a glass of wine while you think about the goodness of God."
We could hardly wait to see what he told us to do for this Lent. Again, he surprised us.
"Clear out your life by paring the nonessentials from it," he said. "Stop saying 'yes' to people when you really want to say 'no.' Rid your home and closets of excess clutter. Stop running around doing what you don't want to do and make room in your life for something more meaningful."
As if all that weren't a big enough task, he had one more Lenten suggestion: "For the 40 days of Lent, do not charge anything on a credit card except what is absolutely needed. Learn to tell the difference between need and want."
Some of us joked that we would rather last year's Lenten guidelines. It's easier to appreciate life than it is to clear away people, places and things.
If I work on clearing the clutter from my home and from my calendar, I would be at it until next Lent.
This week, after ten straight days of being on the go day and night, I find myself longing for some quiet time.
I tell myself it's because I try to be all things to all people. I don't want to let my husband down and I don't want to neglect my friends.
I try to nourish my spiritual health as well as my physical health and to be there for those who need me. I'm also addicted to an active lifestyle and want time to dance, bike and kayak. Throw in the time I spend interviewing and writing and it's a jammed calendar.
My husband points out that every single activity I have is one I chose for myself. He's right in that.
When it comes to people and to activities, I'm like the starving person standing before a banquet of food: I want everything.
When I did a story this week on pickleball, a sport similar to tennis that is sweeping the nation, my husband and I wanted to do it, too.
So it was one more thing we added to the calendar.
As a kid, did you ever play the card game where you kept building houses from cards, stacking one card on top of the other until the house caved in?
Well, my house is caving in. I've added at least one activity too many.
Yesterday, I did a newspaper interview in the next town then took a recently widowed friend to lunch. While I was in that town, I stopped to see another friend I've been neglecting. Then I did my grocery shopping along with some errands. I left home early in the morning and didn't get home until it was dark.
"All I want to do," I told my husband, "is to sit still for a half-hour."
He reminded me, once again, that I'm the one who fills a schedule to the brim until it overflows.
I took a serious look at my calendar and scratched off some non-essential activities, even though I want to do them. I eliminated shell crafter classes, writer's workshops and almost all meetings.
Two friends of mine don't have my manic schedules but they do spend time doing things they don't want to do.
"I can't say no," said one friend, "even when I'm silently screaming inside that I don't want to do it."
Another friend claims she hangs out with someone who is absolutely toxic to her peace of mind. "She makes me feel bad about myself and about life in general," said my friend.
All three of us, following the pastor's Lenten challenge, are trying to give up bad habits. My friends are trying to learn to say "no" to others while I'm trying to say "no" to myself.
My friends are also trying to pare nonessentials from their closets and their homes. They have taken stacks of clothes and unneeded items to Goodwill and claim they feel better living in less clutter.
Every time I pass my closet I hear it groaning. But I only made a half-hearted attempt to empty it. It's on my Someday list.
When I lived in Pennsylvania, I made great use of every snow day by doing things on my Someday list.
Can I help it if it never snows in Florida?
How good are you at paring nonessentials from your life?
What could you clear away to give yourself time and space for something more meaningful?
They are beneficial questions to ponder at any time of year.