Giving up chocolate for Lent is far less pleasant, but it's actually easier. Chocolate doesn't follow you around. You can make efforts to avoid it. Chocolate isn't the stream underlying every waking moment - and probably lots of the sleeping ones. Chocolate isn't a creature constantly sitting on your shoulder and whispering in your ear.
Let's back up. Two weeks ago, I mentioned something that was bothering me, and younger son said that I should give up feeling guilty for Lent.
How bizarre! Isn't that what Lent's about?!
I thought about it for a while. I even offhandedly mentioned younger son's comment on Facebook. I didn't expect any response, but twenty-three people either liked the post or left a comment agreeing with younger son.
It's such a strange thing to give up for Lent, but, the more I thought about it, the more it seemed the right thing to do.
Here's an example of what I'm giving up: That Friday, I did the usual morning Zumba class. It was the instructor's 30th birthday, and we all applauded for her at the beginning of class.
Now, I can blame my behavior on other things. I had been to Broadway Dance class the night before so I was into the musical theater part of my personality. The instructor occasionally has people come up and dance a song onstage along with her, and I was one of the ones she chose that day. The onstage part of my personality was in rather high gear for a non-musical-theater-rehearsal day.
During the cool down and stretch as the class was winding down, I remembered how special it seemed when the whole cast of the musical sang "Happy Birthday" to one of the cast or crew last summer. At the end of the Zumba class, after the teacher finished and said to have a nice weekend and people started chatting with each other, I jumped up onstage, got everyones' attention, held up my fingers in a "Three, Two, One," and we all sang "Happy Birthday" to her.
And I spent the rest of the day fighting guilty feelings. What if she didn't want us to sing to her? What if she doesn't like other people hopping up onstage? What if...? What if...?
I thought I had banished that from my head by Sunday. However, Monday morning, when I went to class, she said hello to me and asked how my weekend went. Obviously, she wasn't angry at me, and I relaxed a couple of notches. Apparently, I hadn't totally banished the guilt from my head.
I feel guilty when I do something that might bother someone. I feel guilty when I'm doing the speed limit in the right hand lane on the highway and someone is tailgating me* because I'm holding them up. I feel guilty if I have too many books at the library or too many groceries in line at the grocery store - anything that might inconvenience others. I feel guilty if I don't respond in conversations the way other people seem to need.**
I also feel guilty when I don't live up to the expectations I have in my head. Last night, we celebrated older son's birthday. We got him lots of books and CDs. It was an unusually good set of very special stories and music. Dear husband and I made lasagna, Swiss chard, and brownies - which we had with 9th Street Bakery challah and Edy's Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream. We didn't finish celebrating until after 10:30 pm.
Did I feel good about putting that together?
I ALMOST felt guilty because I was too tired to do the dishes. One of my own expectations for myself is to have the kitchen clean before I relax in the evening.***
I couldn't feel guilty, though, because I gave it up for Lent. There were five different times yesterday evening where I would clench my hands in frustration because I was tempted to feel guilty, but couldn't. The guys kept giving me stranger and stranger looks everytime I did that and said what I was feeling guilty about. Younger son finally said, "Your mind is broken."
As I said at the beginning, guilt seems like a stream that underlies every moment, or a small creature who always sits on my shoulder and whispers in my ear. How can I get rid of that? Can I?
Every time I feel guilty, I push it out. I may have to do it every ten five three really often. It's often hard to remember.
The result is really strange, though. It feels like there is a really large, open, grassy park in my head, or a large dance studio. There's all sorts of room to think all sorts of things. What do you fill your mind with if you're not filling it with guilt?!
Getting rid of guilt doesn't mean I'm all of a sudden doing all sorts of wrong things. Morals and guilt aren't the same thing. I do what's right because - it's right - not to avoid guilt, which I can't avoid anyway. I actually feel freer to do things the right way because I'm not spending my time and energy on guilt. I actually even have more energy to think about God this way.
I'm not sure where this focus on guilt came from. I certainly didn't grow up with it. It came along later. I know lots of people used guilt on me in college and after, and there are lots of religious books/blogs/articles/sermons that motivate with guilt. Interestingly, the numbers are pretty even in terms of Catholic and Protestant as far as motivating by guilt. Protestants do it a lot too.
On the other hand, my experience with the clergy has been different. Thinking back on all the priests that have been at the Catholic churches I've gone to, I can't think of any priests that focused on guilt. Oh, they would discuss right and wrong, but they didn't use guilt to motivate. Occasionally, a visiting priest would, but the regular ones didn't - not the one whose homilies sounded like editorials from the Independent, not the one who had been a clown before becoming a priest, not the one who was involved in the Charismatic movement, not the one who was a poet, and certainly not Father C. However, I've known two Protestant ministers who could make me feel like I was God's biggest mistake and that everything was hopeless. They're part of that guilt stream that runs under every moment.
It will be interesting to see how Lent plays out.
- Here's another post I wrote, six years ago, about guilt. I like the post - it's a shame I can't keep these thoughts in my head.
* Older son said that he's decided not to feel guilty about following traffic rules.
** I've realized, recently, that, after a while, this has the result of making most people seem very needy and incapable of handling any inconvenience whatsoever.
*** I don't have those expectations if someone else is doing dishes though. If someone else were doing them and they were tired and left them for the morning, I'd be fine with that. I certainly wouldn't want to exhaust them any further. I don't treat myself that way, though.