Lent and I have a complicated relationship.
And it’s partially my fault. I too often dove in headfirst into a shallow pond by overpromising my sacrifices, and that made me angry. Angry at myself, with a deep mistrust and huge ambivalence of God and organized religion.
I used to be kind of a fundie, and hung around other Catholic homeschoolers who were so humble that they were more Catholic than the Pope…and they knew it, too. They knew exactly what Catholicism was, which was an overbrewed blended tea of conservative politics and religious beliefs. And if you stepped outside that bound, you weren’t Catholic enough. If you failed, it was implicit that you sinned before a judgmental God (who, oddly enough, everyone said was loving because of that.)
Somehow my dad was exempt from that. He hated church, but would instill in us an ungodly fear of sin. Particularly the sin of disobeying him.
As such, I grew up almost OCD when it came to faith. Did I cross myself enough times? Did I forget to kneel before the altar before going into my pew? Am I being rude for falling asleep while praying the Rosary in bed, and was it disrespectful to Mary that sometimes the rosary fell out of my hand and under my pillow while I slept? (It was almost like my grown up lovey when I went to bed once again afraid and angry at Dad, and I’d fall asleep before I finished the first decade.)
Here’s another example. If a can bounced out of the recycling bin, it was a sin unless I put it back in the bin, because if I didn’t put all the recycling in there, then by extension, I’d be disobeying Dad, and then I’d have to go to confession. It wasn’t about being a good member of the house. It was about fear of God and Dad.
When I was younger, all my Lenten sacrifices involved food. One year I gave up potato chips, and by Easter, it was too salty for me. I rarely have them anymore. Another year I gave up having dessert at lunch.
Then when I hit my high school years, Lent became more about self-punishment. I was depressed, and Lent gave me an excuse to take it out on myself. I could never stand to read the hagiographies of self-harming saints, but I was also secretly fascinated by it. My parish had a giant decorative crown of thorns lying on rocks near the ambo, and every Sunday I’d want to run forward and jam it hard onto my head so I can bleed and suffer pain to make God pleased. I imagined my parents running after me and then committing me to a mental hospital. Being committed sounded peaceful.
I needed peace. And rest. My sacrifices also often involved a lack of sleep. Not on purpose. What happened was that I’d promise to pray for half an hour, or read a book for an hour before bed, I wouldn’t be able to start until late into the night because of homework, and then having to read the prayers or the book by nightlight during the night. I’d also punish myself by forcing myself to kneel instead of sit down, in order to avoid falling asleep. And if I failed because I needed sleep, I hated myself. I was akin to the apostles who fell asleep while Jesus prayed in the garden.
Lenten seasons of self-loathing continued into my early 20s, even when I tried hard to make it more about spiritual growth instead of punishment. I kept hating myself and feeling at odds with God.
And now, at 26, I am seriously thinking about doing nothing for Lent.
Wait, not “thinking about”. I AM doing nothing for Lent. And I think that will be the best Lenten sacrifice I can do.
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