Every year I decide to do something during Lent to spiritually improve. I always try to choose something that’s somewhat of a struggle (unlike my husband who decided to give up brussels sprouts one year, which wasn’t a stretch seeing as how we never eat brussels sprouts. To be fair, however, he has done some mighty good Lenten works, though. But those are for him to tell you about).
For me the biggest struggle in choosing a Lenten practice is to find something that’s not so hard that it leads to an EPIC Lenten fail. Because, let’s face it–I’m going to screw up. I’m human. I just don’t want to screw up ROYALLY.
My best choice of Lenten practice was my second year teaching, in grad school, when I decided to work on my vanity by giving up wearing make-up for forty days. Things I learned: My husband prefers me au natural. It didn’t kill me to walk around without that gunk on my face. I had less eye trouble with my contact lenses when I didn’t wear mascara. People didn’t seem to notice any change in me until I started putting make-up on again after Easter. And finally, people (other than my husband) think wearing make-up makes my eyes seem TRULY AWESOME. I never got more compliments on my appearance than I did that day after Easter when I came back in with make-up. So that was a total success–it’s a practice I stuck with, and I learned a lot. Can’t get better than that.
My second biggest success was the decision to listen to our local Christian radio station exclusively every day during Lent. Since that Lent, I don’t listen to any other station. Sure, I play my iPod or my CDs in the car, but I never tune in to another station. Listening to Christian music keeps my mind focussed on being a better person. The radio station DJs pray every day, on the hour, so I get my daily prayer in even if I don’t remember to do it myself. The music they play makes me think about what’s really important to me, and I never have to worry that something they play will be a bad influence on the kids. For those of you who might be interested, they broadcast on the web. They’re 90.5 Spirit FM in Tampa. So that one Lenten practice also did a whole lot to improve my life.
My third, fourth and fifth biggest successes were the three years that I was pregnant during Lent. Okay, one of them wasn’t so much “successful” because I also miscarried, but boy was I awesome at giving stuff up all three times. The first pregnancy was no caffeine, no alcohol (obviously), no chocolate. Boo’s gestation was no caffeine, no alcohol, no processed cold meats (listeria), no hair coloring, no fried foods, no loud or disturbing music (just Mozart), no strenuous exercise, and bed by 9 pm every night. While I love Boo very much, I think my lack of . . everything . . . turned her into a very boring baby. She was so laid back it was scary. But it was successful, as I had a child that slept five hours a night from the time she was born. Now Critter’s time in utero was no caffeine, no alcohol, no processed cold meats but also no water, or food, or moving, or breathing because I was so freaking sick. Christa was like this parasite, determined to suck the life out of me. So strong was her hold on life that I developed a heart murmur during my pregnancy with her, that led to what doctor’s called “air hunger”–or the inability to EVER catch my breath. And the nausea. Oh, Lord, the nausea. Interestingly, though, Lent that year fell into the three good months of my pregnancy–after the nausea ended and before Critter started to try to burrow her way out of my body in any way possible. Yet I still managed to hold on to most of my dietary restrictions. I did play her a lot of upbeat music though, because I couldn’t handle any more classical. And she truly does have amazing rhythm.
Other than those five, though–and really they’re only two, since the other three were just biological imperatives mostly beyond my control–my Lenten sacrifices have been largely huge flops. I either can’t stick with them, or I don’t really learn anything I didn’t already know. For instance:
1. Giving up caffeine outside of pregnancy: Lasted one day. I knew it was stupid when I started, and the one day caffeine free just reinforced that.
2. Giving up refined sugar: Lasted half of one day. I realized when I wanted to kill people pulling into the church parking lot on Ash Wednesday that it was a bad choice. I guess I did learn that cold turkey is not for me, but I didn’t think I was that freakin’ weak. I don’t think I ever recovered from that.
3. Giving up Farmville on Facebook: It was a great idea, but it didn’t teach me anything. I already knew that I had a problem when feeding my fake dog was more important to me than feeding my real cat. It just gave me the strength to do what I needed to do.
4. Then there was the year I tried to give up chocolate. That was the first year I was dating John, and when I made my resolution I had not realized that his mother’s, brother’s and grandmother’s birthdays all took place in March and April. I also did not know that every one of them would choose chocolate as their cake/frosting flavor of choice. From thatI learned John’s family gives you funny looks when you try to turn down birthday cake; that they do not take “no” for an answer when it comes to food; and that they really did consider me part of the family even that early on. It was very sweet. Both literally and figuratively.
5. This year. I am trying to give up Facebook entirely. It is not working. First it is not working because it’s not a sacrifice that came to me on its own. I was pressured into it by the kids. And they didn’t do it with subtlety. We were talking about what they were giving up for Lent, and then Critter says, “And you should give up Facebook so you can spend more time with us.” And Boo says, “Yeah, because you’re totally addicted.” Note to self: NEVER let the kids dictate my Lenten practice again. It’s not inspired, it’s not genuine, and it makes me all kinds of angry.
Second it is not working because it’s not like being off of Facebook is making my life any more manageable. I just find other crap to fill my time with. Crap that is far less interactive and far less interesting-like Candy Crush. That game is frighteningly addictive. And it makes me want to eat licorice and chocolate. And their red hots look like hot dogs. And I spend hours wondering what the little purple candies taste like. And I don’t WANT to clear any more of the jelly! Because the game. never. ends. And on top of that, I thought being off Facebook would give me more time with the kids. What it has given me is more time watching the kids screw around with their Kindles. And then I’m all–well if you’re just gonna sit there and play with your things, why can’t I talk to my friends?
And that brings me to the third fail: I miss my friends. I miss laughing at little things people post up. My cousin-in-law posted up this HILARIOUS video with a dog who likes to roll around on pickles, and sniff shoes, and got stuck in a slinky. I saw it today when I was trying to check in with my fitness group, and I clicked on it. I laughed harder than I have in weeks. And I realized THAT’s BECAUSE I HAVE NOT BEEN ON FACEBOOK.
To be fair, I do go to bed earlier than I used to because I’m not allowed to chat with my friends online. I don’t get caught up in any kind of controversies. I don’t have to read tons of political garbage I could care less about. And I don’t have to wade through some folks’ cryptic messages where they insinuate someone has in some way offended them and pretty much set off that friends’-list chain reaction of “Is it me?” For the record, friends, I do not have that reaction. If it’s me, tell me it’s me. Otherwise I just assume it’s someone else. Kind of like when I’m driving, and someone honks the horn. John always looks around like, “Why are they honking at you?” and my response is, “They’re not honking at me. I haven’t done anything wrong.” Same with Facebook stuff. I will NEVER assume it’s me. So you’ll just have to tell me. Preferably in a private message.
But to get to the point, this is a Lenten fail because the suffering I’m going through does not feel like it’s bringing me closer to God or to a deeper understanding of my faith. It just makes me feel cut off, and one of the things I’ve learned recently is that the concept of a triune God–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–that we Catholics profess is important because it means that God is always in relationship. That’s how he can BE Love. If God has always been three, He has always been in Relationship. Which is how he can be such a loving God. The key then, for me, to becoming closer to God is to be in loving relationships. And while it’s true that I am in an incredibly loving and fulfilling relationship with my husband, and a profoundly intense loving relationship with Boo and Critter, another major area of relationship for me that is suffering with this sacrifice is the relationship with my friends. I miss looking at photos of my friends and their families. I miss knowing what’s going on in everyone’s lives. I am missing my connection with the world outside my own little microcosm of home.
So, I guess I am learning something–I am not meant to live in isolation. No monastic life for me! I thrive when I am actively engaging with others. Nevertheless, a commitment is a promise, no matter how difficult. So, I’m now going to walk away from my computer. I’ll finish the laundry. Maybe read a book. And count down these next two weeks until I can be part of the world again.