Wednesday, February 18, 2015

No Complaints Allowed

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Christian Season of Lent. The ashes on our foreheads symbolize both our own nature (created out of dust) and the grief we feel about our own failures and sins. During the 40 days (not counting Sundays) of Lent we prepare for the joy of Easter by engaging in self-reflection and honest sorrow for the things we do wrong. From this place of honesty and sorrow, we can make a new beginning. A pastor from a church I love wrote today "It's the chance to look at our lives with heightened honesty and see those stuck places where we might just be ready for change, for newfound freedom, and for growth." Yes. Repentance means turning around, turning back towards being the person G-D is calling you to be. It's not about guilt and shame, it's about growth and change.

Each year for Lent I choose something to give up. This is a traditional way to fast, by giving up something you enjoy. Not as a form of self-punishment or because G-D doesn't want us to enjoy things (because I believe he does want us to enjoy his good gifts) but because in turning away from something we like we open up to being more fully reliant on G-D. We signify that we are open to changing, open to putting G-D first in our hearts and asking him to fill our needs.

When I was a little girl my mother chose for me, and I gave up desert. As an adult I try to choose something that I enjoy but that I need to give up for a season in order to grow. I am looking for a sacrifice that will bring me that newfound freedom, that will go to work on a stuck place inside myself. Last year I gave up reading novels for Lent because in the months before Lent I found myself too often hiding in books instead of interacting with my family. I wanted to be more present for them and I wanted to relate to books and reading in a healthier way; as a pleasure but not as an escape from or substitute for life.

This year I am giving up complaining. I have come to realize that I complain quite often, that I do enjoy complaining, but my habit of complaining keeps me stuck. Complaining keeps my attention focused on what I don't like, don't have or don't want. It leaves me in the mindset of scarcity and deprivation. I don't want to live in that space. I don't want to feel constricted and shut down. I crave the spaciousness and freedom of living in gratitude for the abundance all around me.

So I'm giving up complaining for Lent. I expect it will be harder than giving up novels. With a novel, I'm either reading it or I'm not. I pick it up or I don't. It's very clear. Complaining is such a habit that I am not always sure I will even recognize it all the time. I have decided that if I make a statement followed by a polite request or a solution, that's not a complaint. For example, I came home from work this evening and said to my husband "My back hurts, please could you rub it for me this evening?" However, if I just stop at the negative statement, then that is a complaint. For every complaint this Lent that I catch myself in (or my husband, or anyone else, catches me in) I will put a quarter in a complaint jar. At the end of Lent I will donate that money to a charity.

During the Passover Seder (which will coincide with Good Friday this year, which I kind of like) there is a song we sing called "Dayenu." I don't know if my translation is quite right but the sense of the word I have learned is "it is enough." Whatever G-D has done for us, it is enough. If G-D had done only some things in the past, but not others, if he had only sent plagues, or only brought us out of Egypt, or only opened the Red Sea for us, or only given us the Torah, it would be enough. Any of those things would be enough, all of them together are riches overflowing. That's how I want to live my life, in Dayenu. That's where I hope my Lenten journey will take me.