Giving Up

So, it’s that special day of the year set aside by the church for perfectionists to freak out about what else they ought to be doing, and start doing (or not doing) that thing like gangbusters for 40 days plus Sundays.  They say “sacrifice” and they say “pay attention to what matters” or “do more good,” but honestly I hear: “Perfectionists, get ready, get set, go.”

I spend the week before Mardi Gras running my brain around like I’m rehearsing it for a dog show.  Run, and leap, and prance.  Run, and leap, and prance.  (It’s just that boring, too.)  Is giving up booze for Lent still meaningful to me?  What is supposed to mean?  Or is it just a cultural thing to me now, like my Easter basket?  That isn’t spiritual, but it’s part of my holiday.

This year, still smarting from breaking up with my boyfriend, I feel antsy at the thought of giving up anything.  Haven’t I given up enough lately?  I’m not sure I can get past my resentment to a more generous place.

Nice thoughtful people flood me with ideas.  You can give money for Lent.  Or time.  You can pray.  Or meditate.  Or exercise.  Or read some spiritual stuff.  If the practice is such a great habit to have, I think, well, I ought to be doing it anyway, all year.  I do meditate most days, exercise a couple times a week.  I’m already a vegetarian, so I can’t give up meat.

I’ve thought about drawing every day– I already write every day– but that makes drawing seem like sort of a punishment, and what if I burn out my enthusiasm for it?

I like using a Lenten practice because it can mean taking a hard look at things, trying to be more honest and more tough.  My love of doing difficult things and trying to be tough is not always beneficial, though.  Sometimes it makes me take myself too seriously.  Or it can encourage me to avoid asking for help.  Lent isn’t supposed to feed your demons, that’s for sure.

First, you have to feel like you have plenty.  You can’t consider sacrifice or sharing until you are relaxed.  You have to have this “enough” feeling.  I can get that feeling at church, or meditating, or soaking in art I love, or sitting down after unloading all my weekly groceries.

I’d love to think I could get it sitting in the dirt picking at the boils the devil sent me while my friends tell me I’ve brought it all on myself, but luckily I haven’t been tested to such an extreme.

Once you know, really know, that you have what you need, you can think about what is extra.  What you can give, or give up, from your generosity.  Giving from resentment is risky.  For you, and for the people who receive the gift.

I’m not sure what is extra for me right now.  At least today, on Ash Wednesday, I feel like I need everything I have, and possibly a bunch of stuff I lack.  But maybe I’ll get there.

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