Lent at My Fingertips

For several years, I’ve had a quirky practice of giving up so-called good things for Lent: going to church, for instance. One year I gave up Lent for Lent. But this year, that seems like a way of avoiding focus in my spiritual self-assessment — “giving up” something so large and vague that it doesn’t generate any concrete changes in my moment-to-moment living.

So I’m giving up biting my nails for Lent.

Hundreds of times a day, my poor tortured cuticles and I will have to find another way to cope with boredom, anxiety, or the need for comfort. I’m not committing to any showy promises that I’ll say a prayer each time I avoid snacking on my epidermis. I’ll be lucky if I make the time occasionally to inquire into the feelings beneath the bad habit. Who knows, maybe there are no feelings. Overthinking my own motives is another behavior I could gladly give up for Lent.

I’m going with the smallest, most specific change I can think of this year, because I can be honest with myself about what it is and whether I’m doing it. My perspective on the big issues of Christian faith is in such flux that no major action feels satisfying or sincere.

For instance, living with a baseline of constant, object-less fear is something I would like to change. Some would say that God would take this burden away if only I had enough faith — that I’m choosing to be stuck in the past, to dwell on the times I felt abandoned rather than the times when God’s felt presence or human allies supported me. Or the reverse interpretation could be true: as I finally apprehend how awful my past was, I experience God’s absence at a whole new depth. What follows from this? Is “God the Father” compatible with coming into my full strength as an adult? Or is trauma healing not a theological problem at all, but primarily a matter of slowly retraining the nervous system? In that case, religious promises of instantaneous deliverance ring hollow.

I’m unlikely to have an answer for these questions in the next two days. The best I can do is resolve to respond to fear with more mindfulness and less compulsive, self-destructive behavior. And it starts at my fingertips.

One comment on “Lent at My Fingertips

  1. We both seem to suffer from “generalized anxiety” for want of a more accurate diagnosis resulting from events in our childhood. Sometimes age can bring a bit of relief but not always.

    The nervous system is always on fire but to a lesser degree, I have found, as I grew older and prayed more than I did for most of my life. I don’t pray very well but I do it because it’s the least I can do in thanksgiving for God’s gift of faith to me.

    I suspect that you have deeper reasons for anxiety than I do although mine are not minor. Yours, I think, stem from your interaction with your mother and mine from my interaction with my father.

    I think Episcopalians agree with Catholics that suffering can be beneficial if offered up to God for the needs of others–those without faith, those lingering in Purgatory (unless the doctrine of Purgatory has been jettisoned by Episcopalians), those suffering from illness, etc.

    In terms of guilt, much of which I have deservedly carried all my life in one way or another, I find relief from in the Sacrament of Penance which I think some branches of Episcopalianism or Anglicanism still offer. I go to confession and realize that it is not the priest absolving me but Jesus Christ through the priest who is acting in persona Christi.

    The most important thing, however, is receiving the Holy Eucharist at least once a week.

    We may differ in many ways because of our faiths but we have anxiety and our gift faith in Christ in common. Standing as i do now in the foyer of dotage, I find the latter is a big help in ignoring the former.

    I hope this Lent brings you some peace of mind that stays with you beyond Easter. Not trying to be perfect, as was expected of me at times, has been a help.

    All the best.

    Donal Mahoney

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