For those in the Christian faith, today is Ash Wednesday–the beginning of Lent. Lent is the season of preparation for the miracle of Easter. A time when many Christians feel compelled to “sacrifice” something of value in their lives in order to more closely identify with the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross for our sins. Most years, I don’t really stop to consider the season of Lent. I did not grow up in a church that made a regular practice of observing this tradition, so it never really made a huge impact on my early life. But some years I have found it very cathartic to give up things that I have become way too attached to…something that might be taking my focus away from my relationship with Christ, as well as my relationship with my family. Little habits or pleasures that somehow seem to take precedence over relationship. For me, Lent is a practice in the art of letting go of the trivial and focusing on more important and/or eternal things.
This morning, as I was taking my son to school, the DJs on the radio were discussing Lent and what they were going to “sacrifice.” The female DJ made an interesting comment. She said that her husband had told her that she needed to give up self-condemnation. An interesting concept when you stop to consider that Lent is the act of “sacrificing” or letting go of things we enjoy, and most of us would consider the habit of self-condemnation or self-judgment to be something we do not enjoy and would gladly release, if we only knew how.
But as I considered this, I realized that all too often self-judgment is a blanket we surround ourselves with, to protect us from the possibility of being poorly judged by others. It is a form of preemptive attack. It is far easier to handle our own condemnation of self than it is to handle even the possibility of judgment from others. So we often spend an inordinate amount of time finding fault in ourselves before others can find it for us…often where there is no fault to be found. This habit becomes self-fulfilling prophecy. The more things you find wrong, the more you drain the joy from your heart, the more miserable you become, the more you find fault in yourself, etc. It becomes more and more difficult for others to enjoy your company, which makes you more judgmental, which makes it even more difficult for others to enjoy your company…
So, maybe, Lent is a good time to try something new. Maybe it’s time to clothe ourselves in joy instead of condemnation…beauty instead of judgment…love instead of despair. Even for those who do not practice Lent…whether you don’t believe in the Christian ways, or else you just don’t take the time to focus on “religious” tradition…this season might be a good time to practice the art of letting go. Letting go of your fears, your inadequacies, your all-consuming focus on the negatives in your life. Or, looking at it another way, maybe it’s time to practice embracing…embracing a more positive view of self.
The one lesson I strive to remember since my walk through cancer is this–life is precious, life is short, life should be savored. It is VERY difficult once you are in the habit of condemning every little thing about yourself, to get into the habit of NOT condemning yourself. But this condemnation drains your life of the joys that are surrounding you. There truly isn’t enough time in life to worry with such things. None of us will ever be perfect on this earth, and while it is a good desire to strive TOWARD perfection, it truly is time for ALL of us to let go of the condemnation of self. Maybe in doing so, we will learn the true meaning of “Love your neighbor as yourself” (James 2:8 TNIV); and more importantly, truly learn how to live it out each and every day. This year, during this season of Lent, join me in practicing the art of letting go…and learn to embrace the beauty within!