Tomorrow, Lent begins. For those of you not familiar with the season, Lent takes place for the 40 days before Easter. It is traditionally a time of fasting, prayer and almsgiving. If you had Catholic friends growing up, you may have overheard, or participated in earnest discussions about what to “give up” for Lent. Until I was 16, it always boiled down to candy. For a kid with a serious sweet tooth, and the dental work to prove it, giving up candy for 40 days was a real sacrifice. And it seemed that Heaven itself blessed my offering, for on Easter morning, all my hard work was rewarded by a basketful of sweet, candy goodness. I still get excited when I see row upon row of pastel-colored Peeps, sweet and sour jelly beans, and rich, gooey Cadbury Creme eggs in the aisles of my local Target.
But alas, we all must grow up and although I still love candy, I’ve definitely outgrown “giving it up” for Lent. There are many things, spiritual and otherwise, that I’ve grown out of, but I’ve tried to hold on to the season of Lent. As an adult, I’m always on the look out for new ways to commit to this season and what it’s supposed to bring about in me and my spiritual journey. This morning, I came across a great reflection, which you can check out here if you like. That Time of Year Again – Busted Halo.
Sr. Bernadette makes some very good, very funny points in her essay, and offers a series of questions to help you figure out what action, or “inaction” you might take this Lenten season to become more like Jesus, the man that Christians purport to follow with their lives. There was one question in particular that struck me at my very core.
“If I choose to fast from something in my life, what would make me feel its absence so keenly that without it I would need to cling to God?”
Wow! When you put it that way, I obviously can’t fill in that blank with candy. I may love my Sweet Tarts and Sugar Babies, but do I really need God to help me do without them? I don’t think so. I can just as easily pop in a piece of gum, or brush my teeth and temptation is avoided. There is no reliance on any Higher Power, except my own will power.
Her question made me ask this question of myself, “What compulsion, or habit of mine do I have so little control over that I would have to turn to God to actually be able to do without it?”
Without a conscious thought, I had my answer. It came unbidden, as impulses from the Holy Spirit often do, but I quickly buried it. (Which, by the way, is what we often do with those impulses.) It seemed too strange, and more significantly, too impossible. But after messing around with a list of the typical vices we try to get rid of, from caffeine and alcohol to technology, I gave up and went back to my first thought.
For Lent 2012, I have to give up worrying. I have developed a compulsive need to ‘fix’ things these days. I am not talking about appliances, and messy closets. I am talking about people and situations over which I have little control. But that lack of control doesn’t stop me from spending many of my waking hours and more than a few of my sleeping ones worrying about how things could be different. I go over in my head what I could have done, should have done, might have done and might still do to correct these “problems” as I see them. I long for things to be resolved, ultimately to my own satisfaction.
I realize that this habit of worry is neither productive, nor life-giving to myself or anyone I love. It is not contemplation, or even problem-solving. It will not produce better results, or fix anything at all. It merely prevents me from being in the Now and embracing the present moment. How can I enjoy a morning hug from my Molly, or a Starbucks run with my teens if I am mulling over all the ways they need to be ‘fixed?’ How can I sleep peacefully next to Tim at night if I am thinking of all the things that I’ve left undone?
How can there be any peace if it all depends on me?
And there is the crux of the matter.
There can’t be.
For me, worrying is the act of separating myself from God and His love. If I consider Sr. Bernadette’s question, worrying is the one thing that “would make me feel its absence so keenly that without it I would need to cling to God.” I have no other way to combat my worry besides seeking the presence of God. God is not worried about the same things I am. He simply says, “Hand it over. It will sort itself out, in its own way, in its own time. In the meanwhile, do your best. Use your mind, your heart and the gifts I’ve given you, but don’t forget to swim in the river of Love. When you worry, you’re standing on the shore.”
I’d love to know what you’re thinking of giving up. What would make you turn to God every time you were about to turn to “it”, whatever it is? I promise not to worry about you, but I will send good thoughts your way over the next 40 days and hopefully, we won’t pick up right where we left off today.