Stop punishing yourself.
So, yeah. I had to stop fasting around 2:30pm on Ash Wednesday. The thing is, I have to be careful. I am already prone to melancholy. I tread a delicate balance between dark and light. I'm very aware of my shortcomings, sinfulness and mistakes. I can easily slip into despair. I punish myself.
I started remembering all my old sins, perceived sins, sins I confessed years ago, mistakes, failures, sins from decades ago, the sins of my family, the sins of the world and then? I pretty much felt like throwing myself over the edge of a cliff.
I slumped down and started crying.
A thought came to me: Stop punishing yourself.
This is a new thought for me. See, punishing myself comes easily. It's actually more challenging for me to let myself be loved. I don't know how to receive love.
I wiped my tears and was all: God? Are you talking to me?
And then I broke my fast, ate something and felt a little better. Then I took a hot bath. Then I rested. Here's another thing: I don't know how to rest. I don't know how to NOT be busy. I dread silence and emptiness. I somehow think my worth is tied up in produce, produce, produce, check off that list!
My mom used to tell this story about me as a little girl: when I did something wrong, I couldn't wait for her to give me a spanking so I gave myself one. And then when she got home I ran straight out to the car and before she could even enter the house I was confessing all my sins and asking her to spank me properly.
This story was supposed to prove how honest I was and that my conscience was sensitive. I don't know if I accept that conclusion anymore. I mean, I remember that incident, too, and the only lingering impression I have is: fear. I remember being the little girl who freaked out over every single little mistake. I remember being a child terribly afraid of making one mistake. I remember being so worried about my sins that I charted them on little diagrams. I made lists of my sins. And I punished myself.
I asked for spankings.
What would be really revolutionary for me is to stop punishing myself. What would be really challenging for me this Lent would be to engage in self-care, to get enough rest, slow down a bit, stop thinking mean, nasty, critical thoughts about myself.
Perhaps, for me, a true Lenten season would be to rest in God's care, to let God love me, to be gentle with myself.
I've fasted and prayed and wept over my sins. I've hated myself and cut myself and spanked myself and obsessively charted all my sins. I've done All The Things.
What would be far more radical is for me to simply rest. And allow myself to be loved.
Actually, that would be the most difficult thing of all.