Lenten Reflection: Spiritual Decluttering

Epperly Lent pic

 Rev. Bruce G. Epperly, PhD

Lent is a time of letting go, similar to retirement. We look at our lives, consider our relationship with God and our neighbor, and prune away everything that prevents God’s energy of love from flowing into our lives and to the world around us.

Although it is a cold winter morning here in the Washington DC suburbs, I woke up thinking about Cape Cod poet Mary Oliver’s poem, “The Summer Day.” Oliver concludes her poem with the provocative question, “What is it that you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Oliver’s question becomes more piercing when we begin to look at our lives in terms of years rather than decades and recognize the preciousness of each day.

When I “retired” in 2021, and my wife Kate and I decided to sell our home on Cape Cod and return to the Washington DC area to be close to our grandchildren and their parents, we did a great deal of decluttering—both material and spiritual.

Since I believe there is no clear boundary between body, mind, spirit, and relationships, it was truly a process of spiritual decluttering and simplification and dispensing with everything (well, not quite) that would be cumbersome moving forward to our new home, a Potomac, Maryland townhouse, sufficient for our needs, but smaller in square footage and with a patio instead of a large plot. But, still we let go of much that had shaped our lives, and we experienced both grief and relief.

Traditional Hinduism speaks of four stages of life: childhood and youth; adulthood with its clear parental and professional responsibilities; retirement and withdrawal from “worldly” commitments, making room for spiritual responsibilities to the younger generations; and finally, a time of “renunciation” to focus on the Ultimate and our spiritual connections now and beyond death. In the rhythm of life, the first two stages are about amassing, gaining, creatively possessing; the final two stages are about giving away and sharing, focusing on the spiritual gifts we can contribute to future generations.

Although we have a much smaller home and fewer possessions, I still wonder if we have too much. At times, my study seems cluttered with books. Of course, it is more than physical possessions. I have discovered that I need to declutter my time as well, to live more simply and spaciously, and live intentionally focusing on openness to God and care for the world I wanted to bathe my mind, spirit, and relationships, recognizing that these are my callings at this stage of my life. In letting go of certain things, I also made time for greater concerns about social and environmental issues, appropriate to my other commitments.

If you have been retired for many years or just starting as I am (not quite two years), I am sure that you are doing your own process of spiritual decluttering, of separating the important and necessary (whether physical, financial, relational, or spiritual) from the unimportant and optional. Letting go is a challenge, and it is a spiritual process that can deepen our relationship with God and others.

In my own process of spiritual decluttering, I prayerfully reflected on the following questions:

  • For what am I most thankful in terms of the past and as I move toward a new future?
  • What is my vocation or calling at this time in my life? (This is the guiding principle for the decluttering process of retirement.)
  • What do I require to live abundantly in the process of fulfilling my vocation? (Abundance is a spiritual state of having enough to achieve one’s vocational vision.)
  • What do I need to continue nurturing my closest relationships?
  • What do my closest companions (partner, spouse) tell me about their vocation, and how does it interact with mine?
  • What do I need to subtract, and what do I need to add, to embrace my vocation at this time of life?
  • What helps me to have freedom in relationship to my possessions and live more simply and ecologically?

In the spirit of John 15:1-7, spiritual decluttering is all about pruning away the dead branches of your life so that the light and energy of God can inspire and energize you so that you may live abundantly and serve faithfully in the years to come. Blessings on the journey.

Bruce Epperly is a "retired" UCC and Disciples of Christ pastor, seminary professor and administrator, and author of over sixty 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 most recent books are The Elephant is Running: Process and Relational Theologies and Religious Pluralism and Restless Spirit: The Holy Spirit from a Process Perspective. Retired in 2021 as Senior Pastor of South Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Centerville, MA on Cape Cod, Bruce and his wife Kate now live in Potomac, MD, where he spends his days writing, teaching, walking, and taking care of his elementary school grandchildren. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..