Thursday, February 22, 2007

Keeping Promises

Although the church in which I grew up (and which I now again attend) is more liturgical that most Baptist churches, I mean, come on--it's still a Baptist church. I never heard of giving up anything for Lent until some time in late elementary school. Since I hadn't, I assumed when my friend Jackie told me she was giving up chocolate for it that either such a practice was evil or unimportant. (I spent most of my childhood operating under this "logic," which is why in third grade I thought "beer" was a swear-word. This detail is now rendered hilarious for multifaceted reasons. At the time, my younger brother would taunt, "Beer, beer, beer!" and I would say "SHHH!" in a very annoyed tone of hush.)

I don't remember ever having a conversion experience about it--a moment of time when I went from thinking it was not-okay to thinking it was okay. But I do remember when I decided to start observing some sort of discipline for Lent. It was when I lived in London and a once-Muslim friend said that the thing he missed most about Islam was the fast of Ramadan. And I thought about it and decided I'd probably disappear if I went without food for twelve hours a day for forty days, but I could observe the Christian tradition of Lent and it might be a good discipline and provide a sense of solidarity with other Christians. So I started.

Since then, I have found that I usually break my Lenten "promise" at least once during the season. It kind of bums me out when it happens, though I believe that it doesn't mean I'm going to Hell. On the other hand, I also believe there are some fairly serious implications to breaking a promise made before God, even if it's just giving up caffeine for a while. The thing is, up until this year, I don't think any of the things I've given up for Lent have really had a moral element. I mean, it's not like caffeine (in moderation, as they say) is bad. Mostly I've just given stuff up to remind myself that I don't need it, and for other beneficial psychological reasons like that.

This year I decided to give up saying mean things about customers.

I broke the promise three times yesterday, and it was only the day after Ash Wednesday.

This fact is making me take a long hard look at the Nature of Jenn. If you asked me point blank, I would say I'm not a good person on my own, but am a sinner saved by grace (or some less religious-jargoned phrase if I could think of one). But I'm pretty sure I really do think I'm a good person. It's mightily dismaying to find I have so little love to offer people who mostly just want their coffee and aren't really that in tune to anything else. Sometimes, granted, they aren't very nice about it. Sometimes they're downright selfish. But I think the reason I find this so offensive is because in fact I'm downright selfish--I'm just annoyed that they aren't thinking of me. Since I, however, am, I can say something bitingly funny about them behind their backs, all my colleagues laugh, and I feel better.

This is when I realise that Lent is about more than discipline. It's about repentance. It's about staring my own ugliness in the face and acknowledging that, apart from what happened at the end of this season--the death and resurrection of the Perfect Man--I'd be stuck with it forever. By which I mean forever.

Not-saying-mean-things-about-customers is kind of like a New Year's resolution, I guess. Because it's not like I hope to engage in a frenzy of customer-bashing at the end of Lent, like I might (but probably wouldn't) drink a triple espresso after giving up caffeine. I hope that maybe after forty days of trying to see people more as Jesus did (or to see Him in them), I won't feel the need to be cleverly malicious. But it's different than a New Year's resolution, too. This is me, trying to put a rather cherished habit on the line, before God, and saying I'm sorry. And asking Him to take it away. And I have to be intentional about it, because there's still a part of me that doesn't want Him to.


Annelise said...

This is not to demean your very serious (and excellent) blog, but the story about you and Dave and "beer" was hilarious! I never knew that. And I'm amazed that you never realized, apparently, that I actually gave up things for Lent when you were young. The most difficult Lenten fast (but certainly not as soul-searing as your current Lenten goal) was giving up reading fiction to read more intentionally "spiritual" material. (You KNOW that did not come naturally!)

L.L. Barkat said...

that is an interesting thing... to give up saying mean things... almost as if this feeds you or sweetens some part of you... I know I would find this a fascinating point of reflection (in fact, I think I'll go off and think on it for myself and my own actions!)

Dave Grosser said...

Whoa, that was honest.

You're cool, Jenn.

Oh, and ...


Jenn said...

Mom--I thought it was hilarious, too. But I didn't realise you hadn't been aware of it before! As for MY not being aware of your Lenten observances, it's probably because you did them the way you're supposed to--in secret--unlike, um, your daughter. Thanks for your good example . . . in so many things.

LL--Huh. I hadn't thought of it like that either, really, but I think you're probably right.


Philip Tallon said...

I always assumed Lent had to do with giving up, so when the conversation occurred, "What are you giving up..?" last Tuesday and I had nothing to say, I felt weird. But then another friend commented that he and his wife were "giving up not praying." And we talked about habit building - taking ourselves before God and asking what he'd like us to _do_, not just _not do_. So, I don't know, it just reminded me of your post - asking God "who do you want me to be" rather than, "what thing can I give up without _too_ much of a hassle to my life..." Ok, I'm rambling... =] (And I'm taking your mom's lead on this "fast", to my great lack of willpower.)

Jenn said...

Philip--thanks for stopping by and commenting. And agreeing. ;) All the best with your Lenten observances.

You don't happen to know Mariam do you? Or have relatives in New Zealand?

GreekGeek said...

actually, what's really really funny is that "Philip" was me... I was on Philip's wife's computer in Germany, thought I was logged in as me and commented. Now I looked and thought, "Wow, how does Phil know Jenn - this world really is small!" and then realized that his comment sounded remarkably like what I'd thought I'd written... And, well, yeah. So, sorry, but Phil hasn't found you, but he is a cool guy if you do happen to stop by his blog, and.... yeah, nevermind, I'll stop rambling now! =}

Jenn said...

Oh Mariam--you're hilarious.

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