Yesterday marked the 4th Wednesday before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. The contemporary Lenten Season is a time of introspection but the real purpose is a penitential rite. I may never be described as profoundly religious and I have had a year sabbatical from the ordinary rites and observations of a “good Catholic”. It’s not that I don’t pray nor that I have stopped my conversation with the Lord. Far from it. In fact, I place my relationship with God first and before the ACTS of practicing my faith. It is far too easy to routinely and automatically perform the prerequisite behaviors of Catholicism yet have an empty heart. It gives the illusion of faithfulness; it allows the practitioner to get their card punched….but if their heart isn’t in it….it’s hypocrisy. My heart just isn’t in the group participation of Mass but my heart (and soul) is very attune to this dialogue I am having with my Creator. I had to admit a few days ago that I’m actually…..mad. Mad at God. It hasn’t made me turn away. But I want an answer to a few questions. I want to know when…when…..when will it get better, stop hurting, feel better. I want an idea, an inkling of when….when is the next exit? The next rest stop? The next bus? The next chance? When? When damn it? How much longer? If you’d just tell me how much I have to go…how long I have to hold it together….I can pace myself.
But isn’t that the irony? Isn’t that the crux of faith? Patience. I have to learn to hold on until…..I don’t have to hold on any longer.
I am not a good waiter, especially if it is passive waiting. I occupy myself with other things while I wait. I read a book in waiting rooms. My Blackberry fills all manner of “down time”. I even bought a book recently that ascribes to a motto, “Begin with Yes!”. But…I hear the echo of….stop DOING so much. Your DOING belies your lack of faith, your lack of trust.
And it is true. I don’t trust. Not even God. I just think He probably has bigger stuff to deal with….and if I sit around waiting for Him….either I won’t get done what needs to get done…or He’ll think I should be more independent. I mean, God doesn’t pay the light bill or put milk in the fridge. I feel that if I set every single minute decision at the feet of the Lord he has to get as annoyed with me as I get with my kids, “Come On! Grow Up! You need to make these decisions on your own! I can’t do this stuff for you forever.” Part of being an adult, is being responsible and self-reliant, right? Yet, I circle back to this same place.
Every Lenten season I try to give up something in my personality that I think is “bad”. A trait that makes me hard to like. A behavior that causes me strife. A belief that makes me unhappy or contributes to my unhappiness. I have given up anxiety, self criticism, doubt, and the first year, I gave up pessimism. That was a VERY difficult sacrifice. Pessimism is the source of my humor and sarcasm. It was (and is) a great shield against so much. Ultimately, it is what protected me from what I have decided to sacrifice this year.
I expect too much. From myself. From others. I expect return for my efforts. I expect outcomes proportional to my effort or length of service. I liked being a student, because I got grades…and I usually got good grades. I wish I could still get grades. I simply and categorically set myself up for disappointment merely by expecting something. If this life is a gift….if every day, every breath, every sunrise, every nanosecond is a GIFT…then expecting the gift diminishes it. In fact, it stops being a GIFT. It becomes an entitlement. And I believe that an expected gift is never, ever worth giving.
And so, maybe my disappointment and frustration and anger will resolve…even evaporate….if I just stop expecting anything. If I stop expecting a kindness from others; stop expecting the easy break; stop expecting things to go exactly as I plan(or partially as I plan); stop expecting to be appreciated, stop expecting my gold star. If I ain’t expecting anything, then I will be surprised, right? Let’s hope it is a good surprise.