What does a minimalist liberal devout Catholic who can’t eat anything anyway give up for Lent?
That actually sounds like the start of a bad joke, now that I think about it, and yet, that’s my life. Eh, it could be worse.
The answer: Social media sites (Instagram and Twitter; I have to be on Facebook for my job, but I only look at the newspaper’s page, not my personal account. And I am keeping Snapchat because it’s Abby’s primary communication method) and a game (Hay Day. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I’ve been playing that since Johanna was in second grade; my farm looks amazing). I spend a lot of time online after work just messing around. It’s a habit that I’ve been looking to break. I’ve given up a lot of sites, but I can’t seem to shake them all. The threat of eternal damnation is just the thing I need to make it stick.
I’ve also given up the non-dairy, no sugar “ice cream bar” that I’ve become attached to because … I don’t need one every night, that’s a lot of packaging waste, and that’s the only thing I could think of that would be truly a bummer. I look forward to that bar!
Anyway, Lent officially started March 6 with Ash Wednesday, and so far I’ve finished two books. I guess you could say my social media fast is working.
I am on Austin Kleon’s newsletter list, and I enjoy the posts he puts up. He’s a thoughtful, creative type that I’d like to have coffee with. All of that is just to say that I found his “You’ve got to be kind” post (HERE) on March 9 a breath of fresh air.
I am a judgmental type. This helps me in numerous ways: I am able to sense and defuse situations before they become awkward or heated, I can read people easily when we’re face to face, and I can make quick decisions that I’m able to stick to.
But I can also be unkind. Instead of giving people the benefit of the doubt, I shove them in a box, label them (usually “idiot”) and move on. I mean, sometimes they deserve it. (Thinking of you, driver who pulls out in front of me and goes 10 miles under the speed limit. There’s no one behind me, why not just let me pass? IDIOT.) But mostly, they do not.
Without going into too much detail, my mother shared with me last year an experience that made her see people differently: Sure, they just pulled out in front of her and are going under the speed limit, but maybe they’ve had a stressful day. They just cut in line at the grocery store, but maybe it’s because they’re preoccupied thinking of something that’s life and death. She resolved to be more patient — a kindness.
We don’t know the burdens other people are carrying. And while we are the stars of our own lives, we are merely extras in everyone else’s. This is something I have been trying to remember and act on. I have limited success on a daily basis, usually because I make a judgement against someone and then remember I’ve resolved not to. (Also, why are all my judgments negatives? I suck, you guys.)
Anyway, I copied two quotes from Kleon’s article above into my journal that I’d like to share because … well, they got me thinking that maybe I’m looking at Lent all wrong:
“Kindness” covers all of my political beliefs. No need to spell them out. I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this, and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.
— Roger Ebert
There are two ways to think about kindness. You can think about it as a fixed trait: either you have it or you don’t. Or you could think of kindness as a muscle. In some people, that muscle is naturally stronger than in others, but it can grow stronger in everyone with exercise.
— Emily Esfahani Smith
What’s more beneficial in the long run: Opting to be kind or opting to give up a fake ice cream bar? (This is also mentioned in Kleon’s post — he’s linked a video by a Jesuit who talks about being kind for Lent. I don’t want you to be under the pretense that I’ve come up with an original thought here. No, I’m reporting on what I’ve learned!)
I’m too … Catholic … and it’s too ingrained in me that you give something up that’s concrete. (We’re also asked to be charitable and pray. It’s not just about abstaining from what we’re attached to.) But I really, really love the idea of working on my kindness muscle this Lenten season.
I just have to remember BEFORE I am unkind. Wow, that’s hard.
P.S. Our priest mentioned in a sermon that we could also give up someone who we’re too attached to, and I looked at Eric and was like, well, looks like you’ve got to go. He’s still here, so … I guess that one’s not on.