Spiritual Decluttering as a Lenten Discipline

Rev. Bruce G. Epperly, PhD

During the Lenten season, the Rev. Bruce Epperly shares about pruning and letting go of those things that can weigh us down or encumber us, so we may discern the difference between the optional and essential in our spiritual journeys.

matue woman smiling

When we began to pack to move from our commodious home on Cape Cod to a townhouse in the Washington D.C. suburbs in the summer of 2021, we embarked on a process of spiritual and physical decluttering. Like many pastors, I had to downsize two domiciles: my home study and my study at church, whose built-in generously apportioned bookcases encouraged the purchase of a few hundred books during my eight-year tenure. While our townhouse in Potomac, Maryland, would more than meet our needs for living space for ourselves, guests, and regular times with our grandchildren, there was no room for the four thousand books I had acquired in the fifty years from college to seminary teaching and administration, university chaplaincy, and congregational ministry. I realized that I needed to reduce my book collection in half not only to save moving expenses but to adapt to my surroundings.

The process of reducing my book collection wasn’t easy. Books are the tools of our trade as pastors and teachers. We love to study and enjoy fiction as well as theological and biblical studies. As I began the process of reducing my book collection, I remembered the Quaker notion of “cumber,” that which weighs you down and encumbers you, preventing you from following your vocation for a particular season of life. As I prepared for a great book giveaway in our congregation’s neighborhood, I also recalled Jesus’ words to his followers:

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:1-5)

I needed to do some pruning of books, clothing, and furniture. For me, the challenge was books. For my wife, it was plants and pottery. Yet, we knew that we had to prune, we had to let go, to move forward to be abundant fruit in the years ahead.

Retirement is a time of pruning and letting go, spiritually, physically, and materially. Whether or not we move physically, we must move spiritually as our vocation, place in the community, daily schedule, title, relationships, and, perhaps, physical condition changes. Letting go involves grief over leaving the familiar, and we aren’t always sure what awaits us. Yet, as Jesus asserts, in letting go, we may open to new energy and possibility. We may bear new and different fruit. We may, as a result of jettisoning our cumber, become more agile spiritually, relationally, and physically.

There is a freedom in letting go of once prized possessions and identities, especially as we ponder the open future ahead of us. If we have sufficient financial resources through our pensions and part-time employment, if we choose it, we can turn our attention to roads not traveled as a result of our previous professional commitments. We may discover the “artist’s way,” discovering the inspiration of poetry, music, and writing, the joy of travel, volunteer possibilities, and new ways to live out our vocation, unencumbered by church boards and congregants’ expectations. We may discover the meaning of Sabbath for the first time in our lives as we sleep late on a Sunday morning or spend a summer afternoon, in the spirit of Mary Oliver, delighting in the intricacy of a grasshopper on the grass or clouds scudding by.

In Lent, we spiritually live out this process of letting go in order to embrace a closer relationship with God and God’s vision for our lives. We recognize our mortality and discern the difference between the optional and essential in our spiritual journeys. With less clutter in our lives and fewer expectations from others, we may, as William Blake asserts, cleanse the “doors of perception,” and see life for what it is – Infinite. We may in recognizing the Infinite in the midst of daily life, seize the moment, follow our dreams, and treasure and rejoice in each day. Traveling lighter, we may discover new spiritual, relational, and vocational energies, and find our vocation, however humble it may be, is to do something beautiful for God in whatever situation we find ourselves. With less cumber, we may live out Isaiah’s promise:

But those who wait on the LORD
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31)

Bruce Epperly is a "retired" UCC and Disciples of Christ pastor, seminary professor and administrator, and author of over seventy books in theology, spirituality, health and healing, scripture, and ministerial spirituality and wellbeing, including “The Jubilee Years: Embracing Clergy Retirement,” “101 Soul Seeds for Grandparents Working for a Better World,” and “101 Soul Seeds for a Joyful Retirement.” His latest books are “Jesus: Mystic, Healer, and Prophet”; “Taking a Walk with Whitehead: Meditations on Process Theology”; “The Elephant is Running: Process and Relational Theologies and Religious Pluralism.” In July 2021, he was Senior Pastor of South Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Centerville, MA and returned to the DC area where he lives in Potomac, MD, and spends his days writing, teaching, walking, and spending time with his middle school grandchildren. He may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..