Today is Ash Wednesday, marking the first day of Lent — forty days of grieving our sins and performing penance to show devotion to God. It’s a little dark to be sure, and difficult to explain to our kids without sounding scary, but the season is preparation for Easter, a celebration of our absolution through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Even if this isn’t your thing, you’re not a Christian, or not the type of Christian that puts emphasis on this particular day (lots of churches do it, but Catholics are most known for the smudged foreheads), you are most likely familiar with Lent. People in your office or your kids’ school get crabby for a month and a half because they haven’t had their daily chocolate indulgence or glass of wine. We give up something that will make the season unpleasant or challenging for ourselves to remind us of Jesus’ suffering and to draw us closer to God, from whom we have strayed. Yes, I know, skipping a bite of chocolate and being nailed to a cross are not in any way equivalent, but that’s what Lent is for a lot of people. Also, we don’t eat meat on Ash Wednesday or any Friday during Lent.
I’ve done some version of Lenten sacrifice all my adult life. Sometimes I fail, but I find it’s mostly because I just forget I’m not supposed to eat meat, and I usually make it up another day. One year I gave up being judgmental after a hearing a homily about giving people the benefit of the doubt (as in: don’t flip off the person who just cut you off, maybe they are having an emergency and really needed to be first — you don’t know why people act the way they do, so you shouldn’t pass judgment on anyone), and I still work on that now, years later. This year, I’m trying something different. I thought about giving up yelling, but I was afraid all that pent up rage would give me an aneurysm. I thought about why I yell, when I’m most likely to lose it, and what really sets me off. Sure, my kids do crazy shit that ignites a rage like the fire of a thousand suns, but I’m certainly more prone to rage if I’ve recently been berating myself.
Any time I’ve been near a scale, tried on some older clothes, taken in the sight of a dozen untouched chores, underseasoned/overseasoned/burned dinner, or taken a look at a my tired, aging face too closely in the mirror, I am very likely to snap at someone else. I’m a failure yet again. I don’t contribute anything but cellulite to this family. And then a kid asks me for a snack forty-seven times while I’m busy trying not to wreck another dinner and suddenly I’m shrieking at a tiny confused face (or in my middle child’s case, a scowling and defiant face).
I can’t stop the kid from being a kid who just wants a freaking snack, but I can work on how I react. Lent is meant to be about depriving yourself, being uncomfortable, and grieving your sins. My sin in this case is mistreating the tiny humans I prayed so hard for, when they are just kids and can’t be expected to do everything my way all the time. It’s also sinful the way I pollute my mind with negativity when God made me the way I am for a reason. Instead of wallowing in my worthlessness, I’m going to try and put aside the mean things I say about myself. Lately I’ve been emotional and frustrated with my body, feeling as though it’s a broken down wreck that has done nothing but fail year after year. I’m going to work on remembering that God gave me this body, and this body gave me children, and eleven years (so far) of Crohn’s Disease without needing major surgery, and that is a huge gift I often overlook.
It might seem like mental self-care is a cop-out for a Lenten sacrifice, and thinking positively about yourself isn’t a challenge. Let me tell you, it is extremely challenging, and I’ve already failed several times on my first day. Changing the way I think all day, every day, is going to be really hard, but feeling shitty about myself feels sinful because my weak ankles, autoimmune-plagued guts, and skin prone to sun-damage are all part of the gifts I was given, and it’s time to get over them and move on.
Whatever you give up for Lent, I wish you strength and healing. Even non-Christians can take some time to grow closer to their own beliefs (the fasting and penance during Lent are taken from Jewish traditions, in fact), no matter what they are. Take some time to reflect, and think about how you can do better at whatever it is you do in life. Its uncomfortable, but there is some meme-worthy quote about there being no growth in your comfort zone, and if you can get life advice from a meme, what kind of society are we living in, anyway?