In the days leading up to Ash Wednesday, I'm usually doing a good deal of pondering what I will give up between now and Easter. I'm not Catholic, but have a good childhood friend who is, and introduced me to the concept of Lent back when I was a teenager. Voluntarily giving up something for 6 weeks as a means of spiritual growth just struck with me as something I could benefit from, and I've participated in some form or another for more years than not ever since.
Most years, it's something concrete that I give up. In the past, I've gone without things like:
*coffee, (my children have requested that I not do that again- apparently, it's unpleasant for the whole family)
*meat (It was hard when I did it for Lent, but then I saw Food Inc last summer. It grossed me out so badly that I pretty much quit eating it altogether now anyway)
*wine (I'm at a point in life where I feel I've both earned and benefit from the occasional glass more than I would from skipping it.)
*chocolate (yeah- that was just plain painful, but I did it)
Last year, I tried giving up something that wasn't so tangible, but was real, nonetheless. I went 40 days avoiding smack talk ( aka negative commentary.) To be honest, I don't think I would have attempted the feat if I hadn't been traveling with my kids for 5 of the 6 weeks. Not that my kids don't ever talk smack- they do on occasion, but I try to squelch it. The helpful thing was that talking smack with kids just feels ickier than a session with the ladies, so it just didn't come into play as regularly. I certainly caught myself starting in on a negative rant more than once, but having the goal and the kids constantly present kept me from going very far with it.
This year, I have another intangible, but very real goal. Lent is about stretching and this will be a stretch for sure. I'm going to try to give up all things bitter. That's right- no more bitterness from me until Easter. (not that I plan on picking it back after the holiday, but just that I need a goal marker)
Some people who know me, but don't happen to live in the same home as I do, are under the impression that I am a cheerful person. (random trivia- my first name means "all honey") I suppose my cheeriness is mostly true, but internally, I'm also housing a whole lotta acidic, vinegary thoughts, and they bubble below doing unpleasant things to my heart, my soul and my mood, not to mention giving me scowl lines between my eyebrows, which will naturally make me even more bitter in the end. (More random trivia- my middle name means "bitter ocean" which may explain this "other side" of me)
For the record, it's not like I'm bitter about just any old thing. There are just a few certain groups, situations and people who've done some things (and continue to) which are just not OK, and really tend to make me mad as heck. Since anger is the precursor to bitter, this is where I'm trying to start.
I know that being mad at them doesn't fix anything. I also know that focusing on how justified I am in my anger just wastes my time and sucks my energy, both of which I should be directing into more productive avenues. Plus, the people I love get the brunt of my bad moods and that's just not fair.
In preparation for how hard this will be, I decided that I will nip any stray bitter thoughts in the butt by snapping a hair tie rubber band on my wrist whenever they pop up. Realistically, I know those thoughts will, and I'm hoping I'm ready.
I even started my better than bitter plan a day early (which is traditionally Fat Tuesday, where you can go all out with a feast before Lent. I kindly opted to spare everyone the trauma and drama of my going hog wild with any bitter gorging, airing of grievances, etc. I think I'm growing already...)
Well...as of this morning, I already have a small red mark on my wrist from the snapping. (It's surprising how often I think potentially bitter thoughts)
Two wise woman friends have mentioned that Lent is as much about what you add in as what you take out. In that light, I'm adding in some positive thoughts, meditations and writing prompts for myself every day of the season. Today, I found this whole page of quotes on anger, and they're just thing for me to reflect on as I start off this journey.
I'm still wondering....what about all of those other "cheerful" people out there? Are they all really a bit bitter as well, but just good at concealing it from the public eye, or are they truly a peaceful, serene and full of joy as they appear? I'd love to hear responses from both the "happy" people and those who live with people like that. As I mentioned, my family has a slightly different impression of my personality than the outside world.
So, if you happen to see me in the next few weeks with large puffy marks on my wrist, you'll know why. It's not an allergic reaction or some form of self mutilation. It's just part of my attempts at becoming a nicer person, and it's better than being bitter. Wish me luck....