Today is the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday. The Lenten season has become a very serious part of my yearly faith journey, that engrained Catholic cycle: Christmas, Lent and the Off-Season. The Lenten season was once brutal: fasting, scourging, sacrifice, silence and penance. Now, we fry fish on Fridays. Shoot, I didn’t even make it to Mass today to get my schmear of ashes made from the burned palm fronds from last years palm frond, you know the blades woven and folded into crosses and Celtic braids during the too long Palm Sunday service? I know I sound flippant and irreverent but as it is in our times, religious observance is either of the extremist flavor or Jesus Lite.
So, Lent has become a very private time, save for my annual post about my Lenten sacrifice. We are supposed to “give up” something that separates us from God. Some people give up chocolate, coffee or Facebook. Honestly, me without chocolate or coffee separates me from God. It makes me quite demon-esque. Nothing about such a sacrifice serves the Lord. One year, I knew someone who gave up beer only to spend the Lenten season drinking Jim Beam or rum. How is that a sacrifice that serves God. That’s why I try to give up a trait or behavior that separates me from God. The first year I did this was maybe 10+ years ago and that year I gave up PESSIMISM. In other years I have sacrificed my doubt, fear, anger and sarcasm. This year I have made the decision to give up The Critic. The Critic is that inner voice that keeps a running tally and tirade about EVERYTHING. The Critic picks at EVERYTHING and even when things are good and happy, The Critic will find the most miniscule fissure to chisel, chipping away my fortitude and assurance. The speed at which The Critic can unravel me outpaces even Simon Cowel or Joan Rivers.
They say you are your own worst enemy. I have been. But not for this lenten season. While it is easy to say, “I love myself.” or “I have faith God loves me.” The Critic stands just off to your left elbow whispering doubts and snide remarks. Like, “Well, yeah, God loves you. He HAS to; he’s God. That doesn’t mean you’re anything special.” And that is a GOOD DAY.
This might be the hardest sacrifice I’ve ever made and if I am even partially successful, I will have changed my heart forever. Every day will be a narrow path to walk. I had my first test today and I initially failed, getting upset exponentially fast and jumping to conclusions, egged on by the inner chorus. But, I got back on track and dismissed the chorus. This is not an exercise of controlling the Critic or restraining it. I simply want to eliminate the podium from which The Critic speaks. If there is no forum, then there is no audience.
Now, I am not mental. Everyone has a Critic. It is the voice of a father or a mother or a soul crushing coach or an abusive teacher. Sometimes it is an amalgam of many people but eventually we assume the lead voice in this internal chastisement. This Lenten season, I hope to dismiss the Critic. This isn’t a silencing or a containment. That kind of containment field just become more toxic with time. No, this is a dilution effect. I want to go from Critic PPM(parts per million) to Critic PPT (parts per trillion). The Critic will likely always be present (like my sarcasm or doubts) but the influence and damage capabilities will be reduced.