As a member of a 12 Step Program dealing with the disease of alcoholism I believe and embrace the idea that self knowledge gets me nowhere in terms of permanent sobriety. It is essential, on the one hand, to admit I am an alcoholic but that alone won't do the deal in terms of recovery. I have to know I have this affliction, true, but in addition to that self knowledge is my admittance that alcoholism has me on the ropes - that I am powerless against it and need to turn to a power greater than myself in order to beat this thing one day at a time.
As a Dominican, I can also hold to the belief that self knowledge is an important foundation for spiritual growth. If I know myself, I have a better chance of identifying that which keeps me from being the woman God intends me to be or, as Catholic Author and Motivational Speaker Matthew Kelly would say, the 'best version of myself'.
Ash Wednesday is a day that I can use as a starting point for a deep spiritual encounter with the Triune God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - that allows me to confront my fears and my defects in a manner that helps to strengthen me through humility. While this may seem counter productive (how does humility make me strong?) or, to the outside world, simply another way for Catholic Guilt to overtake my life, I see the upcoming Lenten Season as a chance to restock, to look deeper and to ask myself if I have truly had that conversion of heart necessary for the type of discipleship to which Jesus calls me.
One of the ways I start Lent is to share with you, in a general way, some of my Lenten practices. Some Catholics object to this - they caution (rightly so) about shouting your spiritual stuff to the rooftops in order to bring attention to how good you are, how spiritual you are, what a GOOD Catholic you are and I get how dangerous that it! I have watched some people separate themselves from the Parish because they are more Catholic than the rest of us. We get called names. They get to be isolated. It feels ugly and it feels sad and it happens a LOT in the modern world.
So why do I chose to share my Lenten practices?
I can assure you of this: I don't do so to prove I am the Best Catholic EVER. Nope..I do it because by sharing stuff, talking about it out loud, I stay accountable to you. By telling you I am going to give up a favorite snack (cashews) that I use as a source of protein and replace it with something I find less fun and satisfying to eat (but will serve the same purpose and keep me healthy) I do so with trepidation. Why? Because if I tell you then I have to do it - no more promises or foolin' around - and that means I gotta do the deal unless I am willing to lie to you.
If I lie to you about cashew eating, I will lie to you about something else...and little lies (much like venial sins) weaken my character over time. Pretty soon I am lying to you about something big - like maybe smoking a little marijuana or taking a sip of wine now and then. After awhile I am once more trying to live a double life and that means, eventually, I am dead drunk most of the time.
If I am dead drunk then I am not the best version of myself. I am not the woman God intended me to be and I am certainly not being of maximum service to Him and to you.
Self knowledge, therefore, while in and of itself avails me zippo it does help me rebuild the temple that is Leslie - body, mind and spirit. And self knowledge, in order to be something valuable, requires my willingness to dig deeper and look closely at my reaction to things. Emotional reactions - whether those reactions are joyful or sorrowful - reveal more about me to me.
I struggle with feeling positive about myself even when things are going well. I have a tendency to walk around waiting for a giant shoe to drop somewhere. Why? I think, and I may be wrong, it is because I still attach too much importance to what people think of me. I have grown in this area, of that there is no doubt, but there is still that part of me that really wants you to like me - the Sally Field Oscar Recipient part of me, I guess - and that character defect rules the roost when something comes out of left field and smacks me in the heart. By sharing with you my Lenten practice for this year, I kind of hope for approval. If I don't get approval or if someone tells me it is wrong to share that practice I MUST guard against feeling left out and defensive - they are not disliking ME, they are sharing their IDEA that all Lenten practices should be kept quiet and not be shared.
I don't agree. I still love them. They don't agree with me. They might still love me....see the difference? I have that tendency to question whether they will still like me just because I approach Lent with a different mind set than they do...which is just a character defect on my part.
Fueled by a hundred forms of fear we lash out at our fellows and they retaliate. I don't have to lash out today. Today I can just share and then ponder the emotional stuff going on with ME without attaching it to THEM. I can come to the conclusion that the problem is sin - the sin of pride - and I can take that sin to the confessional, to Jesus for forgiveness. And I can move on into Lent with a strengthened resolve to learn more about me during these next 40 days. The more I learn, the better me I can become - for the sake of the Church, The Body of Christ.
And....I can still give up CASHEWS.