Lent was never mentioned in the Baptist Sunday school I attended as a child, so when I came to the Episcopal Church as an adult, I had to learn about Lent.
I grew up in a town with a large Roman Catholic population, and I had this idea that Lent was about giving something up. It seemed like chocolate was a popular choice for my Catholic friends.
You can give up whatever you think is appropriate in Lent. It is a season of prayer and fasting. I’ve heard it said that it doesn’t count if it’s too easy. For example, if I said I was giving up pickles, that would not count. I hate pickles. So not much self-denial there, is there?
You need to give up something you’ll miss.
Chocolate, cigarettes, video games, Facebook – the possibilities for self-denial are endless. If you’re going on a weight loss diet for six weeks and calling it your Lenten fast, some would say that’s not exactly the spirit of Lent, but I would not judge. Discipline is discipline.
The other part of Lent is self-examination.
How hard is it to look at yourself honestly? How hard is it to see yourself clearly, without doing a bash job on yourself, or repeating all the lies you were told about yourself, or denying your gifts and strong points? Or thinking you are such a good person that nothing about you needs any work?
Answer: Hard. Really, really hard.
In my youth, I was one of those, “I’m a good person. It’s everyone else who’s screwed up,” types.
This is a terrible way to go through life.
I look back at that young woman now and think, oh, the force was weak with that one. My life was based on being a goody-two shoes victim. I had been wronged, therefore I could do no wrong.
I had to learn that I wasn’t as bad as I had been told, nor as great as I liked to fantasize, that I was not the only person who’d had some hard knocks, and that everything wasn’t all about me.
What a relief.
I will not tell you how many years and sorrows it took me to arrive at the knowledge distilled in that one paragraph. You might get discouraged.
Suffice it to say I did not achieve enlightenment in the six weeks of the first Lent I observed in the Episcopal Church.
To be honest, I found 12-step programs much more efficient than the church in introducing me to myself. They say, “Here are the tools.” It’s up to you to do the work, and they’ll support you all the way, but the only heavens and hells involved are the ones you make of your own life.
But I digress, as usual.
So, here we are in the season of Lent. When it comes to self-examination at my age I look at myself and say this is probably as good as it gets. It’s not that I think I’m done and don’t need improvement, I always need to keep walking that way, but I’m old and I’m tired, and I’m not shooting for perfection here.
I try to behave, I do. Kindness is my rule, and it’s a good rule, because by nature I am easily annoyed and can go from zero to unhinged in under a second. Because of that reactivity, I try to maintain a calm demeanor, even when I or anyone else would be saying, “Are you bleeping kidding me?” I try to keep that sort of language where it belongs, in the home.
It never hurts to check in with yourself and some trusted friends or guides and see how you’re doing. One of the attractions of church for me is having people around me who can help me keep on track. I love solitude, but I need reference points and perspectives that I don’t have here on Planet Mary.
A dear friend has announced that she is giving up malice for Lent. Malice, resentment, and grudges. That sounded great to me, and an example of true self-denial. What is more enjoyable than going over the sins others have committed against us, and feeling that self-righteous affirmation of our own innocence and goodness? Giving that up – man, that takes some grit.
Lent is the season when last summer’s stores have run low. Keep your eye on Easter. Life shall rise again. It always does. Bulbs are already blooming.
A blessed Spring to everyone. Except my friends in Australia, where it’s Autumn.
Congratulations to Clare, Xavier, and Cora on the arrival of Rowan Samuel Blakemore Mayes. It’s a big name, but I think he can handle it.