One of things I dislike most about housework is how constant it is. Laundry done? It won’t be as soon as you change out of the clothes you’re wearing. Dishes are the same; as soon as you eat something, there will be more dishes. Or you try eating without a plate. But then you’ll just have to wash the floor/wipe down table/vacuum the rug, depending on where you eat. And probably do more laundry. Taking out the trash is the same way. No matter how often you do it, it still has to be done again tomorrow, or maybe even later today. There’s no way to do it better, so that it won’t have to be done for a while. And as soon as the kitchen garbage can and the bathroom wastebaskets are emptied, someone dumps something else in them. Which, with kids, is honestly progress. It’s better than having them leave their food wrappers under the couch. Lent, though, is the same way. No matter how many years we’ve been through Lent, no matter how many times we’ve picked a favorite food to give up or promised to pray more and be more charitable, we always have to do it again. That doesn’t mean we did it wrong in the past — although if your Lenten penance comes with a weight loss goal, I’m sorry to tell you that’s a diet, not a fast. Fasting is about self-discipline, and yes, self-denial. It’s about not putting ourselves and our own pleasure first, and letting that bit of discomfort remind us of God and the penance we owe. Our sacrifice, small as it may be, can be a prayer for others. Of course doing so can encourage good habits, whether that’s choosing water over soda or keeping snarky remarks and gossip to ourselves. But when I do those things as part of a Lenten fast, they don’t seem to stick more than a few days past Easter, if they stick at all. By the time Lent rolls around the next year, I’m back to the beginning, wondering if I should just make it easy and give up chocolate for Lent. Then I can eat a chocolate bunny on Easter with no guilt, right? But that’s not the way Lent works. It’s an invitation each year to fasting, prayer and almsgiving, an opportunity for us to examine our lives before celebrating Jesus’ resurrection and the undeserved gift of salvation. Our lives — like our homes — tend to accumulate things we don’t need, self-centered attitudes and habits that can be destructive to us and to those around us. So this Lent, like every Lent, is a chance to take out the trash.