Growing up Catholic, Lent held a very sacred place in my family’s traditions. I looked forward to this time of year even at a young age. At the ripe age of 7, I started my first “real” Lent with lofty goals that later dwindled into something a bit more manageable. For instance, my first Lent I gave up “sugar.” I am pretty sure I didn’t quite understand that even my frosted flakes cereal had sugar in it. These were the 80s folks, and we didn’t yet understand that sugar was in LIKE almost everything.
So when I later ate a donut after church that following Sunday my mother gently reminded me that I had given up sugar/sweets, and my father swiftly saved me saying donuts didn’t count. Whew! That was a close one! But just to be more clear I explained to God that what I had actually meant to give up was candy. Just Kidding God! You knew what I meant! Then a week later I ate skittles, and decided I better narrow my sacrifice even more. Just Kidding Again! “I give up chocolate!” I declared. And I did. I will never forget that first chocolate rich dessert I indulged in that Easter. Yummmm… so well earned.
Later I began to understand Lent more as a time of prayer preparation. Somewhere along the way though I began to forget the real meaning of Lent and looked to it as a time to set a goal, go on a diet, or stick with a project. Essentially I started treating Lent as a New Year’s resolution… and I SUCK at New Year’s Resolutions.
This year was different. Lately I have been so busy I decided it was time that I slow things down and reconnect with the season of Lent. But what to give up…? There were many contenders. I mean… I have a LOT of bad habits. I thought about cutting out the TV. Then again… no way I am getting through my marathon nursing sessions without TV. Plus, I wasn’t going to wait until Easter to find out what was happening on This Is Us… That’s like spiritual soup right there! I considered Facebook… But that is kind of a blogger’s bread and butter.
So I thought again… “Yelling!” Jack Pot! I will start the process of letting go during Lent. I will give up yelling, and be mindful of my communication with my husband, my children, my dog, and even with telemarketers and insurance customer service reps. I even had a backup plan: I could yell at the automated computer voices… Because seriously, where have all the humans gone? Side note: Hubby must be right, and robots will take over the world.
So anyways… I noticed something different happening this time around. I thought I yelled because it was my outlet. And sometimes it is. My kids are tiny, so yelling at them would seem cruel. Therefore, those days when I feel beaten down and verbally assaulted by my toddler, I hold my breath. For this I am proud. But my restraint only lasts so long, and when my poor husband walks through the door, if it was a really bad day, almost anything can set me off. Poor guy. And this was a BAD week.
So here I am two weeks into Lent, and my husband walks through the door (after a BAD kid day) and my first thought was, “OMG our yard… PLEASE fix our yard!” (I know what you are thinking, I am an awful person). Instead I paused. “I have to be careful and cannot raise my voice in the slightest. This is Lent,” I thought to myself. Opening my mouth again to calmly ask my husband if he could work on our yard when he gets a chance, I stopped myself mid thought.
And I looked over at him trying to engage our sick and screaming daughter in a game of hide and seek, remembering in that moment how absolutely amazing he is. So I decided instead of letting go of “just” yelling, why not let it all go? If I want the yard to look different I have two hands. I’ve got this. You see, my husband is a kind person. He’s not going to just stack me with an unfair list of chores or go lazy on me. Let it go.
The thing about yelling, nagging, and arguing, is yes sometimes it can be a release, but it can also be a vicious cycle. The negativity just seeps from one thought and conversation to another. When I look at my husband and see the loving fun father he is rather than the person that has let our yard go to shame, I feel instantly better. So unlike when I was little and my Lent sacrifice grew narrower, more manageable, and more specific. With this practice, I am allowing what started as a meek adjustment transform into a complete reframe and attitude shift.
It is long held wisdom to “Watch your thoughts. They become words. Watch your words. They become deeds. Watch your deeds. They become habits. Watch your habits. They become character. Character is everything.”
However, I think the reverse is also true. For I often feel more control over my words, deeds and habits than my thoughts. So I would argue try “changing.” Change the action that is inconsistent with the person you feel you should be, and then see what happens. Let these deeds transform your words. Then let these words (or absence of words in my case) become your thoughts. Maybe we can change our inner voice by changing our outward actions and communication. And what better time than Lent to initiate this type of change? By forcing the habit not to “yell” I am working to change my actions, words, and how I perceive others.