What It Means To Be Me

Day five post-surgery. I ventured out this morning, having aimed all along for Church On Sunday as my first day out. Regardless of my physical condition, I intended to get out of this house and get to church.

Last night, I had second thoughts. This morning, it seemed a wise course to opt for the Westchester Campus. Less people, closer to home, easy to get in and out. True, that – especially when Tony jumped the curb and drove the Suburban right up to the door of the theater.

I stood and sang with the crowd during the first song. Halfway through the second song, I found myself thinking, “Maybe I was a little optimistic about being so completely recovered…” Once we sat down, I was okay, but grappling with a little nausea and icky feelings. The “lift my hands and spin around” did me in.* It was a great service, but when it was all over I wasn’t feeling too great.

So I’m home now, grumpy, parked on the couch. Again. Tony’s off doing All That Needs To Be Done, and here I sit. We had some tense words earlier, because I just don’t know how to let somebody else make decisions and handle things and I’m too controlling and too protective and whatever.

About a week ago, I was longing for a few days like this; time to sit, to think, to regroup. Now I’ve got it, and all I can do is sulk. And feel disappointed in myself.

Wednesday was the first day of Lent. I decided to give up chocolate for the next 40 days, to abstain from something that I crave deeply and seek to fill those cravings with something of a spiritual nature. But people started bringing food over, blessing us with homemade gifts and treats. Of a chocolate nature. Homemade truffles, a huge container of chocolate/Oreo ice cream from Brusters, Rachel Huff’s chocolate eclair dessert…I caved. I dug in. And I’m disappointed in all that I cannot do, which includes the willpower and self-discipline to deny myself the one food ingredient I determined to forsake, in observance of the pivotal sacrifice of the faith I follow.

Brilliant.

Epic fail.

I am not feeling too good about these things today.

But as I perused some blogs this afternoon, I stumbled upon something that Sammy Williams wrote. He included this excerpt from Frederick Buechner’s Whistling In the Dark, on Lent. I will plaster it here in its entirety, confessing that it smacked me between the eyes. Good for me, perhaps also for you.

Emphasis is mine.

In many cultures there is an ancient custom of giving a tenth of each year’s income to some holy use. For Christians, to observe the forty days of Lent is to do the same thing with roughly a tenth of each year’s days. After being baptized by John in the river Jordan, Jesus went off alone into the wilderness where he spent forty days asking himself the question what it meant to be Jesus. During Lent, Christians are supposed to ask one way or another what it means to be themselves.

If you had to bet everything you have on whether there is a God or whether there isn’t, which side would get your money and why?

When you look at your face in the mirror, what do you see in it that you most like and what do you see in it that you most deplore?

If you had only one last message to leave to the handful of people who are most important to you, what would it be in twenty-five words or less?

Of all the things you have done in your life, which is the one you would most like to undo? Which is the one that makes you the happiest to remember?

Is there any person in the world, or any cause, that, if circumstances called for it, you would be willing to die for?

If this were the last day of your life, what would you do with it?

To hear yourself try to answer questions like these is to begin to hear something not only of who you are but of both what you are becoming and what you are failing to become. It can be a pretty depressing business all in all, but if sackcloth and ashes are at the start of it, something like Easter may be at the end.

I find some relief here; perhaps the question is not so much of self-discipline and willpower, but of a closer look at what it means to be Beth. Rather than define the next 40 days by what it is I can deny, perhaps I can choose what it is I will embrace.

This is a good word, one my mom suggested a few days ago as we talked about the traditional sacrifices of Lent. One worth hearing. One worth putting into practice. Even if I’m stuck at home on the couch on a beautiful sunny day. Maybe that’s my sackcloth and ashes.

*Note: I did not actually lift my hands and spin around. I just sang it.

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