Lenten Joy

For Lent, I am giving up being frustrated with myself. We’re a couple of Sundays in, and I regret to inform you that I’m not yet walking around in a state of perpetual bliss.

My exterior behavior hasn’t changed much. I am still getting or not getting about the same amount done, still going to bed late sometimes, still missing the van, still haven’t written the great American novel. So what, then, is the point of this practice?

The more I do it, the more I think it helps me learn to “refuse to find my security and identity in anything but God,” as Jim Finley says. When I look at the source of my frustration, it’s usually not my actions but rather fear of what people will think about me.

On the one hand, it’s not an unreasonable fear. Most of us receive job evaluations that could have real effects on our lives, and our days are simply more enjoyable when people are kind to us. On the other hand, what exactly would happen if the nebulous “they” didn’t like me? To paraphrase Finley, when we think our lives are going down the drain, stop and ask which drain.

Not to mention that I’m making it all up—no one has ever approached me and said, I don’t like you because you don’t get enough done.

Basil Pennington, reflecting on the Rule of St. Benedict, says that the point of Lenten practice is to enter into the “fullness and joy of Easter” now, to look forward to Easter by being joyful. Richard Rohr in his daily meditations this week has included the prayer, “Astound me with your love.”

This wide open graciousness can feel risky. It’s much safer, at least to me, to stick within my narrow frustrations because there, I know who I am—I’m someone who’s going to mess up and disappoint myself. God may just have a better option than that.