(Note: This is the second in my Lent series, Ways Off the Path, on some of the ways we can fall of the path and get separated with God. You can find a link to last week’s post at the bottom of the page.)
Once, in an online employee profile a co-worker shared that she believed one of my primary spiritual gifts is sarcasm. I’m fairly certain it wasn’t a compliment.
In my defense, I come by it honestly. I spent a good part of my 20’s being trained as a newspaper reporter, where cynicism and sarcasm aren’t personality types but job requirements.
So, it isn’t much of a surprise that some of my colleagues have been known to ask how I chose House M.D., as a spiritual mentor or that I’ve long been drawn to the characters of the Coen Brothers and shows like The Wire. For years my mom has suggested I spend less time on these stories and more time on lighter fare like The Hallmark Channel – but I’m proud to say that up to this point I’ve been able to hold her off.
Everybody has their own ways of pursuing spiritual growth, but one of the ways I am choosing to try to follow closer to Jesus these days is what I call, in a phrase you can only learn in Divinity School, becoming less of a jerk.
Well, that’s not exactly true. But during this holy season of Lent – this time in which we are encouraged to take an honest and searing look at our lives and the habits that keep us away from God – I am working to become less critical of myself and of other people.
One of the byproducts of being trained as an analyst and to be skeptical is that you become an expert in identifying the ways that people fall short of the glory of God and the inherent failures of groups and systems.
There is a place for clear-minded and honest analysis, because we can only grow more faithful if we are willing to tell the truth about ourselves and our communities and organizations. But when these efforts command so much of our time and attention, the costs can be too high.
We pay the price that comes from perfectionism when we fail to meet the impossible standards we set for ourselves. It doesn’t matter that no one can meet them – that’s beside the point we tell ourselves. And the standards not only lead to self-doubt and self-criticism but also being unable to live the life God wants for us. Instead of honestly trying to be obedient to God’s call on our lives, we find ourselves stuck and unable to move because we become paralyzed by the fear of not being able to live without failure.
Another steep price we pay is that we miss out and fail to appreciate the incredible gifts of the people around us. When all we can see is the ways it can be better, we become blinded to the ways that God has been and still is at work in and through our community.
The truth is the more devoted we become to critical analysis the harder it is to appreciate the good things in our lives.
And when we miss the good things in our lives, we miss the blessing and the presence of God – in our friends, in our families, and in the countless people who reveal God’s love to us each and every day.
I was reminded of this last week when my wife and I were discussing a chapter in the book we are reading together for Lent. As we were reflecting on the chapter, she reminded both of us that we are so much better off focusing on the blessings God has given us than stressing out on the things we don’t have. (Writer’s Note: I clearly married up.)
So, during these forty holy days of Lent I am trying to build a habit that will stick – to spend less time in analysis and snark and more time in celebration and appreciation. We all can be good at a lot of things, but I am hoping to become better at learning how to see and celebrate the way God is at work in my life, in my family’s life, and in the life of the church and the people and the community we love.
It generally takes about six weeks for habits to take hold – so I have high hopes for this season of life. I don’t know what you are up for Lent – probably something much holier than trying to become less cynical and critical- but whatever it is I hope and pray that you experience God’s grace and power to see the change you long for.
Ways Off the Path