I've avoided Lenten disciplines for the last couple of years. I gave a little lip service to them, but I didn't really practice. When you already feel like you're in the desert, it's hard to voluntarily go deeper into a barren wasteland. This year, I wanted to rethink Lent. It's traditionally a time of fasting and penance, but this year I've made a Lenten commitment to vigorously and consciously battle negative thinking and my almost constant stream of self criticism and to seek joy in all things. That sounds quite the opposite of penitential, but it is a way of getting rid of quite a bit of the garbage I've put between me and God.
The upswing of this is that my internal battle has kicked itself into a higher gear. I'll be going along with some daily activity and a painful memory will assault from the blue. Now this happens regularly, but it's happening with much greater frequency -- several times a day. I found a stash of nuts and bolts that my husband had left in his T-shirt drawer, and one of our nastier arguments about his compulsive hoarding dropped me to my knees with tears. I pretty consistently tear myself up over my mistakes, but now, the criticism is kicking in over things I've completed successfully with reminders of how I should have done better, trying to turn a success into yet another failure. I literally have to physically stop what I'm doing and tell my inner critic to just shut the !@#$ up. It is a battle.
The same friend who warned me about the Devil upping the ante once told me to pray that God will always see me through the wounds of Christ. Now she's Catholic, and her choice of language doesn't really gel with either my fundamentalist upbringing or my own eclectic way of Christian thinking, but I get her point. She wants God to always see us as forgiven, pure, lovely and transformed by Christ's sacrifice. I think God already sees us that way, and I want to see myself the way that God sees me. In the words of another, more earthy friend, God doesn't make junk, and that includes me.
Joy is a bit harder to describe than the battle against negativity. While often used as a synonym for happiness, it's really something significantly different. I've found it to be quiet, deeper than happiness, and while sometimes just not as fun as happiness, more restorative. As a former preacher of mine once said, happiness depends on happenstance, joy depends on God. Just reading through some Christian definitions of joy, I found that joy is the perception of grace in one's life, that joy is the presence of pleasure and delight, that joy is the celebration of God, that joy lasts even through hard times -- that it abides, that joy is a consequence of faith, that it comes from forgiveness, obedience, fellowship, and service.
So to seek joy in all things, what can I really do? Practice appreciation. Mary is onto something with her Grace in Small Things. You might see some of those here.
Though I have felt the distance between God and myself to such a degree that it has felt that God has been in absent in my life, I can remind myself through both memory and reading of Divine love, greatness and glory.
Faith is a bit harder. I'm back to the state of Natalie Wood's character in Miracle on 34th Street as she's trying to convince herself of the reality of Santa Claus. I believe, I believe, I do believe.
I can work even harder on forgiveness and letting go of the past. The latter is one of the hardest things of all for me. It often feels like memory is all I have, but I'm refusing to believe that's the truth. This may involve even more physically stopping myself when old hurts and the nastiest things of all, grudges, start eating away at me.
I have the feeling that obedience is going to be tougher than I think. I know what I should do, but making myself do it often brings out the rebel that people don't realize is a big part of me.
Ah, fellowship. I don't know why this is so hard for me, but it is. My solitary life over the last year or so has made me even more awkward around people. I truly understand "silence like a cancer grows" from The Sound of Silence now. I'm going to have to really fight my fear of being judged all the time and trust that I do have a place among people where I am both welcomed and have something to contribute. I've signed up to begin some volunteer work starting Tuesday. I don't bring much to a party now, but I can still do honest and valuable work. That might help with service as well. I'd like to get involved in church again, but working Sundays and almost every Wednesday makes that hard. Somehow I'll find a way.
So, this is my plan for Lent and beyond. I want to find God again, and I want to find a better life for myself. Something tells me the two are inseparable.