Some years, Lent sneaks up on me more sneakily than others. This was one of those years, which is particularly silly since I teach a catechism class for little monster third-graders and was very well aware of the approach of Ash Wednesday. Nevertheless, I found myself spending much of Fat Tuesday wondering what I would give up for Lent.
A couple of times I’ve given up chocolate (in all forms, including espresso-based drinks). That was hard.
Once I gave up coffee. That was harder.
One particularly masochistic year, I gave up chocolate and coffee. It was a very difficult Lent (perhaps particularly for the people around me).
One year I said a rosary every day. On my knees. It was tiring.
This year, none of those options felt right. I gave extensive thought to giving up fixating (on conversations; emails; the meaning of life; the quality of my writing or lack therof; why people do the things they do and why they don’t do other things that I wish they would do), but it occurred to me that without the fixating, there would be very little left of my personality. Plus it would probably be impossible for me to be successful in that endeavor.
Then, as I was getting ready to go to my catechism class, and I was gearing myself up to say something pointed about the idiot father who enjoys interrupting my class because he thinks he’s very adorable and hilarious (he is neither), and someone who knows me very well heartily disrecommended my plan, I came up with a brilliant Lenten assignment.
I am going to be nice.
Okay, not all the time. Let’s not go crazy. But I am going to be nice to someone (anyone) every day. (Totally feasible! There’s only 40 days in Lent.) I have a couple of special targets in mind—people I care about but don’t want to hang around with. The kind of people that I love(ish) but don’t necessarily like. People who drive me nuts, in other words.
After a lengthy, lengthy, way too lengthy discussion with my students about meatless Fridays (and Ash Wednesday) and the importance of sacrifice (I never knew nine-year-olds were so fond of bacon. Evidently this is going to be a very sacrificial Lent indeed), I told them my plan. I could see the wheels turning: “So I don’t have to give up bubble gum or my X-Box. Hmmm….”
The dividends of my plan started paying off right away (before Lent even began, in fact). The idiot father came into my classroom again yesterday—about five minutes after class was dismissed. And he was calm and polite to me.
This morning I got my first Lenten good deed out of the way early. I see my former violin teacher at church pretty regularly, but had never yet said hello to her because (choose one) I looked kinda grungy; my hair was being temperamental; I wasn’t in the mood for socializing; she looked pretty intent on praying; all of the above. (I mean, I haven’t spoken to the women in 15 years. I wanted to make sure I made a good re-impression on her.)
This morning my hair was being fairly obedient and I was wearing a snappy enough outfit, plus it was 6:15 a.m. and I was too sleepy to argue with myself, so after Mass I went up and said hello. And yes, she was excited to see me. And yes, I’m an idiot not to have said hello to her before. But isn’t that what Lent is really all about? Decreasing one’s own idiocy? (Well, in my world, any excuse for idio-decreasing will do.)
And as if God had a few extra minutes to tell me he approved of my plan, I saw the idiot father, his wife, and my student at church this morning—and again, he was friendly and polite. (I may have to give him a new nickname.) And, the wife told me, my student would have been devastated if they had missed seeing me. (Well, it is nice to be loved.)
I get the feeling, though, that my pervasive sense of self-satisfaction is decidedly not what Lenten sacrifice is supposed to inspire in me. (Maybe I’ll give up excessive self-satisfaction next Lent!)