PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot the Rapids — A Lenten Discipline

Seven years ago I gave up plastic bags for Lent.

Every year it seemed that when I did my Lenten Disciplines, they were self-serving. Changing a dietary pattern, improving my prayer life or decluttering. Things that would make MY life better. So in 2012, I decided to do something that would make the planet better. I gave up using plastic bags.

It was a struggle at first. I would get to the counter at Target and realize that I had, once again, left my reusable bags in the car. So I would put my cart aside, zip up my coat and trudge back to the parking lot to retrieve the bags in my car. I lived in North Dakota and 2012 was a fairly brutal winter, so it took only a few times of doing this before I got in the habit of grabbing my bags before I exited that car.

After 40 days of taking my reusable bags in with me when I went to the store, or refusing a bag when I only had a couple of items that I could put in my purse instead of using a bag, I developed a habit, one that I still have to this day.

Although I don’t eschew plastic bags completely like I did during Lent 2012, more often than not I grab my reusable bags or refuse a bag and put things in my purse. (Of course, that led to the time I forgot I put a half-gallon of milk in my purse, but that is another story …) It really was a life changing Lenten Discipline that benefited more than me.

This year, I am taking on a similar challenge as one of my Lenten Disciplines. Having read and seen so much about the destruction plastic straws are causing our planet, I am giving up plastic straws this Lent. My Amazon order of reusable straws arrived Monday and they are already in my purse. They may also come in handy if I leave any more milk in there.

I like the idea of incorporating a discipline that will help me think about more than just myself and my needs — to move me to a more global way of thinking. Too often, we can become self-centered in our disciplines. Not that it is wrong to take on a discipline that will improve our lives. Far from it. That can be life-changing as well, but I like a broader, more holistic approach.

When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, he said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all of our heart and all of our soul and all of our mind.” And the a second is like it: “You shall love our neighbors as yourself.” (Matthew 2: 37-38.)

Our Lenten discipline can pattern what Jesus lifted up as most important — doing something that shows our love for God, something that shows our love for our neighbor and something that shows our love for ourselves. For example, doing something that encourages spiritual growth, something that impacts the world, and something that makes you healthier or improves your life.

This Lent rather than simply “giving something up,” perhaps view it is a chance to reflect seriously on what you want to do to set this season apart as you seek to be a better disciple.

By showing your faithfulness through love of neighbor, God and yourself, Lent can be about more than what you give up. It is a chance to take something up to make a change for the better in your own life and in the world.

One thought on “PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot the Rapids — A Lenten Discipline”

  • Kay Opgrande March 5, 2019 at 5:20 pm

    Many Non profit organization gift shops are not using paper or plastic bags. The reusable bags printed with their logo are available for purchase to carry out your souvenirs.
    Some customers are unhappy others were already carrying a large enough purse.
    Grocery stores introduced us to the reusable and it works. I’ve tucked a plastic bag in my purse for use in unexpected situations.


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