I’m not gonna lie, I used to live in the “Lent is stupid” camp for a really long time. I believed it was laughable – like New Year’s Resolutions – and just a silly excuse to give up sugar/tv/cursing. Like everything else in our church calendar, it had become commercialized, and was no longer about the man that hung on the cross. I just couldn’t understand why people needed Lent as an excuse to give up things like sugar or television. Shouldn’t the point of whatever you give up be about closing the distance between you and God? Just give up sugar if you want to, you know?
Honestly, I wish I still lived in that camp. It’s easier to be cynical and judgmental in the name of religion. It’s easy and it feels so damn good. But last year, I gave up something for Lent. No one forced me; I wasn’t dragged to the altar kicking and screaming. In a quiet moment alone in my room, I heard that soft voice I often overlook asking me to give something up. For him. So I obliged – I gave up complaining. For forty days, I wasn’t going to allow myself to complain about anything. And every time I was tempted to grumble, I had to write on a piece of paper something I was thankful for and place it in my “Gratitude Box”.
Man, those first few weeks were every kind of rough you can imagine. In fact, the very next day, I remember having the worst fight with a good friend that made me want to shatter beautiful things left and right. And all I wanted to do was complain about how he was the worst and I couldn’t believe he said that and blah blah blah. Instead, I grunted like a cave man, went into my room and wrote down something I was thankful for. I found that box recently, and in it the sheet of paper from that day. It read, “I’m thankful for growth even when I hate it. I’m thankful for people I care enough about to fight with. I’m thankful that I can feel mad and hurt and sad because it means I’m alive and not numb.”
Those forty days changed my life. It’s now a part of who I am to pause in the middle of my rants about how the world doesn’t work the way I want it to, and say, “But I’m thankful for _____.” My glass is no longer half empty, and I’ve found that it’s much harder to lose your joy when you live in an attitude of gratitude. If you were to read my journal from last year, you’d find the words “thankful” and “thank You” scattered on every page. Every little thing is a gift that I try not to take for granted.
So this year, I thought, Should I give something else up? What needs to change? While my experience last year was awesome, I haven’t at all become an advocate for Lent. In fact, if you asked me if you should participate in it, I’d have a hard time saying yes. Yet, again, in a quiet moment in my apartment this afternoon, another seed was planted in my heart. It’s time to give up your desire to be perfect.
I’m absolutely loving graduate school so far. The professors are all incredible, and every day I am surprised at their frankness and wisdom. I mean, who knew we’d be having an open discussion about masturbation as a part of human development at a Seminary? I’m still picking my jaw up off the floor, and simultaneously applauding. I love it here. But it also scares the air right out of my lungs.
Every time we’re given more information about the requirements for completing this journey successfully, I have a mini panic attack. Yes, it’s incredible that I’ll have a team of mentors who will be monitoring my personal and professional growth for the next two years. It’s incredible that they don’t just care about my grades, but also about the state of my heart. They want to make sure that I’m healthy before I’m given the title of professional helper, and that I’m truly learning the skills essential to be a therapist – empathy, listening well, asking good questions. It’s incredible, really, that so much attention is being paid to me.
But honestly, it makes me want to wet my pants. I want to be the perfect student who graduates with honors, and completes every single requirement in two years instead of the usual 2.5 – 3 years. I want to be the one who can balance a full load every semester while working part-time, being involved at my church, maintaining all my friendships, and flirting with attractive, bearded men. I want to be the one who’s got all the answers, the one who permanently fixes every client she meets with in practicum and internship. I want to graduate at 25 so that if I have the insane urge to pursue a PhD, I can attain that goal by 30. I want to always be ahead in every single class at any given time.
And then I contracted the plague last week and fell behind in all my classes as my brain turned to mush and my lungs worked overtime to keep up with my sickness. Oh, I still dragged myself to every class half-alive, but I couldn’t find the energy to go beyond that. And today, while I freaked out about the two tests I have this week and how I wouldn’t be this behind if I hadn’t gotten sick, I realized that I’d been trying so hard to be perfect that I’d forgotten how to just be.
More than all the things I listed above, I want to be a woman at rest in who she is and where she is. I want to be a woman who can ensure that her laudable desire for excellence doesn’t turn into perfectionism. I want to be okay with screwing this whole therapist thing up, and having to learn from that. I want to be okay with messing up and being a mess. And I don’t want to lose sight of the things I hold most dear in light of living up to these expectations. I love, more than many other things, long, organic, heartfelt conversations. A woman far too concerned with graduating in two years with a 4.0 has no time for people and long conversations. And I have no time for that woman.
So this year, I’m unclenching my fists for Lent. I’m giving up my desire for control and perfection, and I’m reminding myself that my identity doesn’t lie among the many hats I wear, or the title that will eventually be behind my name. My identity is first and foremost found in the Love that set me free, and if I let him, he’ll quiet my frenzied attempts at perfection with that love.
Today, instead of studying for a test, I baked tiramisu cupcakes with my neighbor and laughed at her “That’s what she said” jokes hysterically. It felt good to laugh. It felt good to be. And it felt heavenly to eat those cupcakes.