Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Another mom objected, saying that she'd always heard that one should keep all sacrifices a secret or they weren't true sacrifices. I had never heard it put quite that way. I suddenly felt overly talkative and really nosy.
But I understood her point. Certainly, on Ash Wednesday we hear:
“When you fast,
do not look gloomy like the hypocrites.
They neglect their appearance,
so that they may appear to others to be fasting.
Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.
But when you fast,
anoint your head and wash your face,
so that you may not appear to be fasting,
except to your Father who is hidden.
And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.” (Matthew 6: 16-18)
Since this advice comes straight from The Top, I take it seriously. I've never wanted to perfect the gloomy hypocrite pose (though I'm sure I stumble regularly into gloomy hypocrisy without even trying.) I know that our Lord doesn't want us making meaningless sacrifices that appear to be for His sake but are in reality for the sake of earthly kudos. But I also wanted my friend to understand that I didn't advocate sharing Lenten ideas in order to sing our own praises. I didn't want us saying, "Hey, look at all the really big stuff I'm giving up for Lent! I am so good at this sacrifice stuff!"
Rather, I think that on the human level, it can be quite helpful to share ideas and choices, for a few reasons:
1. Sometimes, we fear that we won't do very well with our chosen fast. Telling a few friends about what we're giving up can help us to feel more accountable. While it's true that we're really accountable to God, it's also true that having a friend say, "How are you doing with that?" or having them pray for us or offer encouragement can be a good thing.
2. New ideas. The other day, I was telling my daughters about the year I gave up wearing jewelry (other than my wedding ring, scapular, and crucifix.) They were so interested! They asked how it made me feel, and did my pierced ears feel bare and plain? Did I miss it? What did it have to do with my relationship with God? What did I do when Lent ended? I have also gotten great ideas from other people through conversations like this.
3. Help with the kids. Moms love to get, give and share advice and ideas. Swapping stories about what works and what doesn't is as much a part of being a mom as a strong stomach is.
4. Have you ever had the feeling that you're taking on something too big? Too easy? It can be helpful to talk that over with trusted friends. Sifting through ideas and experiences can lead to new insights. So can praying for each other that throughout Lent our sacrifices -- however large or small -- will bear fruit.
I suppose that sharing some details of our fasts could turn into a temptation to spiritual pride, but I've always found the opposite -- sharing details is humbling, because as soon as I voice my intentions, I know a couple of things: that I am pitifully weak, that I'm spoiled, pampered and overfed, and that I need God in order to accomplish my goals, which I know that I am only truly accomplishing through and with Him.
All that said, I have to admit that I know there is also enormous benefit in hidden sacrifices. Silence can help us to pursue good works without counting the cost to ourselves. It can keep us from grumbling. Silent sacrifices, hidden from the world, are not hidden from our Father, Who knows when we succeed and when we fail, when we're trying and when we're not, what is too hard, what is too easy, and what is just right.
Still, it would be hard for me to stay silent about everything. Depending on what I've given up in a given year, there are situations in which those around me would suspect: "Obviously she gave up chocolate, but the silly girl won't come out and tell us that!" Honestly, in a case like that, I'd rather just say it as have you tempt me with something that is rich and dark and will lead to me embarrassing myself by muttering bitterly about a major chunk of the liturgical year.
But, that's not really always true either. This year, I gave up something that led Atticus to say, "Oh, I'll just give that up, too, and then you won't have to be around it," but I didn't want him to do that. Sometimes, I think I need to relearn that I can indeed be sitting right next to the thing I shouldn't have, and that, too, is okay. So, tempt away. I'll see your temptation and raise you God's grace.
Anyway, what I have finally settled into over these last few years is a combination of approaches. There is usually some "big" thing, a difficult or challenging thing that I choose to give up. And then there are some other fasts, too, "smaller" things, sprinkled in here and there. Some of them I talk about, and some I keep to myself.
It's the right balance for me -- I can seek support, advice and prayers as needed. I can be nosy and ask my friends what they're doing, if they feel like talking about it. But I also share sacred secrets with my Father in Heaven, and sometimes it's lovely to know that He knows me as no one else does.