“And the TRUTH! …shall set you free!” – Jim Carrey ‘Liar Liar’
So, every year about this time I find myself Googling “things to give up for Lent.” Most of the results are the same articles I’ve read year after year. Turns out, not a lot of people sit around dreaming up lists of things for the lazy or creatively lacking to either give up or do/eat/drink less of during Lent. For those of you unaware, Lent is essentially a pre-Easter tradition among Christians observed as forty days of “preparation.” We fast, we get ashes ground into our foreheads in indistinguishable blobs meant to represent crosses, our churches (especially Catholic ones in the city) host massive fish frys on Fridays with copious amount of fried fare from shrimp and fries to mac and cheese and of course – the obvious – fish (with endless pitchers of keg beer to supplement our hours spent waiting in line, of course), and for a good handful of people, we also carefully choose give something up. We go without. We simplify. For forty days leading up to Easter Sunday, we go on a journey of discipline and reflection through personal sacrifice. For some it’s going without soda or sweets or – for the extreme (myself included in the wiley days of my collegiate youth) – alcohol. For others it’s giving up time, taking on additional projects or tasks they wouldn’t otherwise. It’s kind of like a revamped, post-New Year’s resolution. We leave our old selves and vices at church on Ash Wednesday and begin our (hopefully) transformative journey to Easter Sunday.
As a fan of new beginnings and fresh starts, I’m very much a Lent advocate. Even if you don’t pursue it from a Christian standpoint, it’s still just as refreshing a practice. Who doesn’t love re-dos? A chance to erase our bad choices and habits and start over with a clean slate? It’s a very optimistic time of year for me, and as I’ve gotten older my Lenten sacrifices have gone from the simplistic “no alcohol” (no easy feat for a college sophomore) and “no swearing” (a failure each year it was attempted) and “no cheese” (maybe my most challenging to date…seriously…cheese is everywhere) to more difficult challenges (if you can get more challenging than no cheese), and this time I’ve decided that this year’s Lent will revolve around honesty. Forty days of telling the truth. And, I know what you’re thinking, “That sounds too easy.” I thought that at first too, but here’s the thing…
Think about how much we lie. Seriously. I’m not talking about some kind of grandiose, fabricated, strung out, elaborate lie that takes all of your time and energy to pull off. I’m talking about the simple ones we tell ourselves and our friends and family and coworkers daily. We honestly probably don’t even realize we’re doing it, that’s how subtle and commonplace they are. For example, your friend blows you off for the third lunch in a row. You text back, “no worries!” when actually you’re pissed off that you’ve rearranged your schedule three times now just for them only to have them bail at the last second. Or you’re passive aggressively unloading the dishwasher and slamming cabinet doors open and closed and your husband asks, “Need any help in there?” and you reply, “No, thanks. I got it!” Or your friends ask you to go out for drinks and you’re bra-less, nestled comfortably in the cushions of your couch in your sweats, five episodes of Grey’s Anatomy in and you ignore their text, replying in the morning “Oh, man. Passed out early. Sorry I didn’t respond!” Or someone asks your “honest opinion” and instead of giving it to them, you decide to placate with the response they’re fishing for rather than what you really want to say. No sense hurting feelings, right?
I am 100% of the mindset that one should not rock the proverbial boat. I take the back seat to louder, more opinionated voices and am very much a “go with the flow” advocate as opposed to the “blaze your own trail” trumpeters. However, Lent is not about carrying on as you usually do. It’s about finding your comfort zone and then making every effort to venture outside it. I was talking with my husband, mulling over Lent ideas and we stopped on the “telling the truth” suggestion and he said, “That would be a good one.” I mean, think about it. Think about a world where we were all totally honest about our feelings. Think about the doors of communication that would open. Instead of hitting send on the “no worries” text, what would happen if we sent back “You know what? This is the third time you’ve bailed. I’m kind of upset and bummed that we can’t find a time to hang out.” How would the conversation change? Imagine if you got one of those texts from a friend. What would you respond? It would be kind of a wake up call, huh?
Same goes in relationships. What if we were totally honest with our partners – dating or otherwise? What if we checked all the “I’m fine” and “It’s okay” at the door and actually responded with how being rejected and ignored and pushed aside and taken advantage of made us feel? I’ve more than once been caught up in the stereotypical trap of thinking I could act a certain way and my husband would be able to pick up on the fact that I was upset or unsatisfied. If I distanced myself enough or talked in a certain tone things would click and he would connect the dots and would apologize for whatever shortcoming flavor of the month he had committed and would profess his apology on bended knee. Delusional is such a harsh word, but what I just mentioned is exactly that. How many times have we listened to stories from friends about their litany of irritants and suggested if they just brought it up to their significant other their worries would be that much easily resolved? It’s a no brainer when observed, but when we are the culprits it is expertly camouflaged.
I come from a fairly non-expressive family. We’re expressive in the sense of vocal volume and diameter of hand gestures, but aside from that we don’t really talk about our feelings. We will talk to others about our feelings concerning the opinions we have about other family members, but we don’t go to said members themselves. Historically, we’ve never been good at one-on-ones. Better to keep the harsh criticism to ourselves and continue about our day than ruin someone else’s big idea, right? Someone else will tell them what we’re thinking or else they’ll eventually figure it out for themselves. That’s how I was raised. So, from my vantage point, this Lent poses a hefty challenge. It challenges me to confront my own feelings and expectations and call out those that aren’t living up to it. Will my new candid remarks come off as refreshing and earnest or left field and bitchy? I suppose we won’t find out ‘til Wednesday. However I can say that as a person who classifies herself as more of a doormat than the door (is that the right metaphor?), it should be – if nothing else – an interesting experiment as well as a personal challenge to take the focus off of pleasing and placating others and focus more on the standards and goals that I’ve set and how those I’ve surrounded myself with fit in. Regardless of the outcome, it should be both challenging and changing. Two things that I believe are at the heart of the Lenten season.
That said, I’ll end with some song lyrics that over the years I’ve more or less treated as my own Lenten Mantra: “Give our stumbling direction, give our vision wider view.” If you’re an observer I wish you well on your forty day journey, if you aren’t maybe consider an area of lacking in your life that you’d like to boost or an area in life where you overindulge and what to cut back. After all, a bit of change is good for those willing to commit.