Lent for Adults
March 7, 2011 § 15 Comments
It seems for me that every year I feel compelled to explain how I plan to acknowledge Lent. As a Catholic who has fallen out of the habit of attending Mass regularly, I hesitate to call myself non-practicing. I do practice. In other ways. In ways that don’t count for the Church. But I don’t care.
Last year I participated in Lent by fasting from my temper and impatience. Looking back now, I believe I accomplished my goal of permanently affecting a change. It was during that time that I really reevaluated the way I chose to conduct myself during arguments with Robert, and I believe I have become a better partner for it. (Only he can vouch for that.)
This year, I have decided to take this concept of “fasting” in grown-up terms to another level. I do not believe in giving up a food item or something frivolous with the intent to indulge in it or even just to reincorporate it in my life again. That’s fine for children who, as Robert points out, do not have a capacity to think in the abstract. Adults, I believe, should make lasting changes–changes that will carry on throughout their lives, changes that will help them or make up for a lack.
In light of these ideas, I have decided to attempt something I have always always struggled with. As many of you are aware of, in October I felt deeply wronged by a family member of mine. (I won’t go into great detail for this person’s sake.) Despite our best efforts (mine and Robert’s), the apologies we so deeply desired were never offered to us. Christmas came and went, and I was civil, friendly even. I have not seen this family member since that time. I will see this person next weekend, though, at a family gathering. And this is why I need to make a change.
When I think of this person and hear this person’s name, a deep rage bubbles from within me. I am quick to cut this person down and ignore any redeeming characteristics others point out to me. I absolutely will not hear them because this person so deeply broke my trust.
Harboring this rage and anger when I know a sincere, heartfelt apology will never come is extremely dangerous and unacceptable.
That’s why, for this Lent, I have decided to try something I have never been able to accomplish:
Forgiveness without an apology.
I have heard of people forgiving people who murdered loved ones without ever once receiving an apology from the murderer. I was not wronged in that way. Comparatively, the wrong I felt seems like the difference between running into a gnat with a windshield and purposefully running over, reversing, and running over again someone’s beloved pet cat. (I’m the gnat in this little scenario.) If someone has it in their heart to forgive and no longer harbor hatred and rage toward a murderer, then surely I can forgive this person and no longer harbor anger and hurt feelings toward my family member.
As with my attempt for patience last year, I will probably fail in my goal in many ways. But it is a change I am desperate (for my own sake) to accomplish and successfully incorporate within my character. Probably the greatest struggle I can foresee with this Lenten “sacrifice” is that I in no way want this person to believe that forgiveness came because I just eventually let the wrongdoing go or because I am letting this person off the hook.
But you know what, A.Hab.?
You can’t control what other people think or how they respond to your actions. If this person chooses to believe that you are ignoring the hurt and that they “got away with it,” then that’s this person’s deal. You will rest easy knowing that, hurt feelings or no, you are not expending any more emotional energy feeling angry and hurt by this person’s inconsideration.
Is anyone else participating in Lent in grown-up ways?
No, but I like your idea here. Best of luck on this change of mind. Sometimes looking at a seemingly insurmountable problem through a new lens can be a powerful and positive change agent in our lives. 🙂
Thanks, A.Mo. This one is going to be tricky because I truly do feel so much anger toward this person. I’m going to give it my best shot, though.
I have attempted to practice Lent last year. Your post has now motivated me to do so this year. I have another day to organize my thoughts for it. I will not be attempting to “give up” anything. I have had my fair share of anger and hurt and my Lent will not be about any of that. It will be more of an attempt to DO something steadFASTly. I have put off something too long, and if I can practice it continuously for 46 days starting March 9th, I would consider my life a great success, regardless of the outcome or results. You are my ignition, my kick starter. I hope I find enough fuel in my soul to run the motor of my attempt continuously for the duration of Lent.
What a compliment, Jaan! I’m so glad I can be your ignition! 🙂 Good luck with your endeavors, and I hope that you are able to find yourself steadFASTly pursuing your goal. Thanks for reading!
I’m glad you’re doing this because I really think it will make you (and Robert) happier 🙂 The initial damage is bad enough and you don’t deserve to have the negative aftermath hanging over your head forever. Good luck!
Thanks, sisturr. This sort of thing is always hard, isn’t it? As I told Robert last night, my relationship with this person is forever damaged and that can’t be repaired unless and until there’s a sincere apology and effort on this person’s end. For my sake (and you’re right–Robert’s as well), I’m going to release my anger and hurt so that I can focus on the myriad other things in my life that are so much more important. Thanks for your encouragement! 🙂
I generally don’t give up anything for Lent–likely because I was raised in a denomination that doesn’t celbrate Lent, per se.
This issue of forgiveness is tough and my understanding of Lent a bit lacking.
But I think the idea behind fasting around Lent is to give up something physical in the same way Jesus scrificed his body on the cross, so that we participate in that sacrifice in our own small way, sacramentally.
That being said, I like your way, perhaps even better. I agree that it asks for more–way more.
Good luck with this effort. This is difficult–really difficult!
Hugs from Haiti,
Hm, that’s interesting, Kathy. My understanding of Lent has been that we are acknowledging the 40 days and 40 nights Christ spent in the desert being tempted by Satan, so we give up things that tempt us in order to mirror Christ. But what I fear lacks in at least MY initial practice of fasting was an understanding of WHY we’re mirroring Christ. Are we doing it just so that we can say, “Yup. I was tempted by Reese’s Peanut Butter cups all throughout March, but I held off, and now I have an Easter basket full of them”? That seems so…shallow to me. If Christ is the model that we’re going by here (and, frankly, my understanding of Christ’s leadership and example is a little bit different from most fundamental Christians’), then I think we should give the guy a little more credit than just saying that he was tempted and didn’t give in. He was tempted by SIN specifically so that he could experience what all mortals experience; his stalwart rejection of sin in favor of something more holy is what we’re mimicking, not just the rejection itself. So…I choose to “fast” from something that is a negative trait in my personality or something negative that I am clinging on to because all that negativity is tempting me to be an unkind, not compassionate human being. (And I’m one of those people who actually feels good while I’m angry, so it’s extremely tempting to just be mad all the time. Unhealthy…but tempting.)
I’ll tell you, though, although I’m talking about an emotional and psychological forgiveness here…there’s absolutely some physical element to it. For instance, it often takes all the strength of will I have in my body not to charge this person and smack them across the face. Lol, so, I guess we could say that I’m physically sacrificing NOT slapping this person? 😉
Thanks for your well wishes! I’m going to need all the encouragement I can get, I tell you! 🙂
I do believe that forgiveness has nothing to do with the person being forgiven and everything to do with the forgiver. It’s a letting go of the attachment to the event that is necessary for us to be able to move forward. What may or may not be in the other person’s head has no part in our lives.
You are so right, Renee! You put it so beautifully, too. This is what I’m going to have to remind myself every day–it has nothing to do with the person who hurt me but everything to do with me. I at least owe it to myself to try, right? 🙂 Thanks for wise words!
Forgiveness unasked is a powerful thing, but it usually tends to be more powerful for you than for the person you’re forgiving. Anger toward someone else is like a festering rot inside of us, and while they blithely live as if nothing ever happened, that rot tears us apart inside. I learned that the hard way, myself. Someone I considered a friend hurt me very deeply when I was younger, and I spent close to a decade with my hurt and anger eating away at me. When I finally let go of it all and forgave this person, it was an incredible relief, but I’m STILL trying to repair the damage I did to myself with my anger.
I’ll tell you this, though: once you clear your slate with the person who has hurt you deepest, it gets much easier to do so with others. Best of luck in your “fast.”
Well, I have no connection with Lent (being at least culturally a Jew) but I like your idea. I have been trying for a long time to forgive and move on. Blaming, hating, and carrying anger does not affect the life of the person (people) that I am angry at, it just takes away a little of the joy I could have in my own life. Maybe we can help each other do this, for the good of ourselves and the people we love.
Love that you are creative enough to apply fasting beyond the I-won’t-eat-chocolate idea that most people adopt. Your post helped me realize that I do the same thing, waiting and stewing and fuming until I get that much deserved apology. In the end I am more miserable for it, and often times the person I am so hateful towards is oblivious to the hours I’ve put into thinking about it. Really thoughtful post, missy!
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