Last week, my children and I went to church on Ash Wednesday and emerged with ashen crosses smudged on our foreheads. I couldn't see mine, of course, but I did see my children's. I promptly forgot about it, but an hour later, after a few moments of small talk, Daniel's tennis coach asked me, "Is today Ash Wednesday?" Then I remembered the dark smudge on my forehead. And I remembered, proudly, the extensive list of things I was giving up for Lent. The usual things I give up every year, plus a few more for good penitent measure.
On Friday morning, though, something changed. Something shifted inside me.
Something slipped and leaned a little to the left.
Then whatever it was fell and shattered.
Suddenly I wanted to eat and drink all the things that were on
My Very Important List Of The Many Frivolous Things That Had To Be Given Up For Lent.
I wanted to watch the television shows that I had forbidden myself to watch.
I wanted to do everything on That Long List Of Lenten "Thou Shalt Nots."
So, of course, I immediately began to question my dedication to the things of Faith.
I began to question my commitment to the God in whom I say I believe.
"How can you give in to temptation just two days into Lent?
What kind of Christian does that make you, big girl?
How can you even think about this? It's only Friday!
Just how weak and uncommitted are you, Gail?
How fallen and how sinful are you, really???"
Then I remembered: God didn't ask me to give up any of those things.
I had made that decision for myself.
I had made that horribly long and draconian list all by myself.
I remembered that, for me, creating that long list of things I couldn't do
for the 40 days of Lent this year was an indisputable sign of my spiritual depth,
my spiritual maturity, my strength, my love for all things Godly and true,
and my ability to maintain full and total control of my emotions and my body.
Heck, if Jesus could do it, so can I, right?
Questions bubbled to the surface of my soul.
Is that what Lent is about?
Is the length of my list a reflection of the depth of my love?
Is the severity of my sacrifice a reflection of my submission to God?
I began to think about Lent differently.
I began to think about a different way to do Lent.
After all, saying "no" to myself is too easy, I realized.
I punish myself all the time:
too much Law and Order? No tv for a week.
too much coffee? no sugar for 60 days.
too many Tostitos chips with lime? exercise for 30 days straight.
too many discontented thoughts? pray more, read more, journal more, submit more.
So I decided that this year, Lent will be a time of saying "YES."
YES to art, to color, to museum visits, to painting, and to sculpture in the rain.
YES to lunch dates, to dinner dates, to pizza, salad, pie, and ice cream.
YES to tea, coffee, and closing my eyes to enjoy every sip and every slurp.
YES to haircuts, piercings, long earrings, colorful scarves, and knee-high boots.
YES to simplicity, complexity, clarity, confusion, witty banter, and wisdom.
YES to Haiti, airplanes, holding hands, long hugs, and always wishing for more.
YES to books, music, movies, NPR, Jon Stewart, and late night laughter.
YES to reading blogs, printing them out, and gluing them into my messy journal.
YES to prayer, joy, forgiveness, mercy, singing badly, and silence too.
YES to tears, sorrows, loneliness, brokenheartedness, hard times, and farewells.
YES to aches, sadness, doubt, questions, darkness, and stormy nights.
YES to making mistakes, making corrections, and messing up again and again and again.
YES to letting go, laying the load down, saying "enough is enough," and being done, for real this time.
YES to giving, receiving, gratitude, enjoyment, and appreciation for the bounty in life.
YES to all that God allows to come my way during Lent and always.
YES to suffering, false accusations, torment, death, burial,
and, most of all, YES to resurrection and to new life.