Jesus' life was that of a poor carpenter. All His life, until the time when He died on the cross, He lived without the frills and decorations we tend to fill our homes with. During Lent, we are called to imitate the life of He Who had no place to lay His Head. If you step into a Church, or monastery, you will notice the bareness... the flowers are few, decorations and greenery are gone, even the colors reflect the scarcity of Lent.
About this time each year I take down the decorations on the little alter in my room. Instead of the bright colored cloths and candles and flourishing bouquets, I use a purple table cloth and a more careful choice of candles. This year, in place of flowers and raw wool decorations, I made a shrines of stones I found in a stream a short distance from our house. I do this, not only to signify "doing without" for Lent... but also to remind myself that this time signifies forty days in a desert. There aren't many flowers or colors or frills in the desert!
It would surely astound us if we really knew how much we are distracted by the things around us. Lent is a time to focus and pray, just like Jesus must have when He was alone in the desert. I am always surprised at this time of year by how MANY things I have stacked on my little alter. I doubt we would be less surprised by looking around the rooms in our houses and seeing how much stuff is just laying around. Lent is a good time to clean and organize our things... leaving out only those simple necessities. If the carpets are clean and the surfaces are bare, we are much less distracted from more important focuses, such as reading or prayer.
Other things that should be organized in preparation for Lent are our "to do's." We can hardly realize how greatly that list of "to do's" weighs on our minds! Because Lent is a time of abandonment in Christ, it should never be cluttered with material worries. First we should go through the things we plan to do and pick out those things that are not necessary, then we should make a more realistic plan for accomplishing our necessary tasks and follow it. In this way we can at least partially ensure a productive Lent, both materially and spiritually, and a refreshing Easter.
Another thing we need to do in preparation of Lent, for both penitential and focusing purposes, is to organize our schedules. Often times during the year we find ourselves running around without a moment to spare. We can't seem to accomplish anything during these times, and are especially lacking in extra prayer and reading times. Lent provides an opportunity of reforming this aspect of our lives as well. Take an honest look at your day... if you slept eight hours a night, there are a full 16 hours that you are awake. How well are those hours organized? Try to identify what you could do to improve your days and insert time for meditation, prayers, and reading. I'd be willing to bet that 50% of Americans could benefit from going to sleep and waking at earlier hours. Maybe some ideas for Lenten penances could be: get up earlier, no naps, pray at least 30min per day, eat meals on time, and no "lounging" at certain times of the day. By restricting our schedules in such a way we cut down both on worry and unnecessary freedoms, leaving ourselves and our hearts open to God's grace in our lives.
In the world today there are so many things to distract us from interior reflection. We begin to neglect ourselves first, and then we neglect others. We get tired, and lazy, and so full of worries and distractions that we find ourselves in desperate need of something that will help us focus and be refreshed. Holy men in the past, Jesus Christ especially, have taken forty days in a desert to empty and prepare themselves for their work. We too should use this season to cut down on our distractions and worries and focus on what is truly important.