Friday, February 27, 2009

plus one

{to the summit of self-improvement!}

there has been a lot of facebook status updating of the "so and so is giving up such and such for lent" variety over the past week or so, which is all very admirable and fine and good, but i have to say that i am not totally sold on this "give up something (usually trivial) for lent" idea.

of course, as with every religious observance, there are people who take lent adequately seriously and, no doubt, use it as a starting point for lasting and positive reflection and change. and, more power to them. but i feel like a lot of lent "sacrifices," while certainly good-intentioned, boil down to pretty trivial goals based in nothing more noble than self-inflicted deprivation. and i am just not on board for that. i could, for example, make the goal to give up diet coke for lent but a) i probably wouldn't actually do it and b) even if i did give it up for 40 days i would start drinking it again as soon as those 40 days were up and then what would i have accomplished? not much.

personally, i am always much more successful when i add things instead of taking things away. and, if i am adding good and worthwhile things, they slowly push out the bad things i shouldn't be doing anyway. so, instead of saying "no more TV online," i can say, "read a book for half an hour a day" and suddenly there isn't as much time for TV online as there was before (sorry jim halpert. but, call me!). or, instead of "no more negative thoughts" (is that even possible?) i can say, "give five compliments a day" and at least some of my negative thoughts will be replaced with something better.

isn't this fun?

(also, i should probably say that i am under no illusions that no one has ever thought of this idea in the history of the world before me, and there are probably plenty of people using it this very lent. but, it's what i am thinking about and, hence, what you are reading about. so there.)

after this little soap-box moment it's probably no big surprise that i have never given up anything for lent, but this year i decided to take the opportunity to put my "add something good" idea into official, lent-ish practice.

my inspiration came in our book club discussion about "gilead" (are you reading it yet?), about a passage where the narrator, an aged preacher, writes to his young son about the ten commandments. of all the commandments, he says, "thou shalt not covet" is the hardest to keep. and then he says, "i have always found it easier to mourn with those who mourn than to rejoice with those who rejoice."

i could not agree more, and i have thought about this idea a lot (and i mean, a lot) over the past couple of years. it can be really hard to feel happy for other people all the time, especially when they are being blessed with things for which you are still waiting. it is not, of course, that i feel sad when other people have cause to rejoice, but there can come a pang of disappointment, envy or even resentment that it was not me instead. to truly rejoice with others, with no thought at all for what we want and may not have, is a task more difficult than we give credit.

one thing that has helped me is to remember that life and blessings are not a sum zero game. just because someone else gets a particular blessing doesn't mean there is any less of that blessing left over for me, whatever that blessing might be. just because someone else gets it first doesn't mean i can't just get it later.

and now, the lesson has expanded. i was really struck by the idea of tying the ability to rejoice with others to avoiding covetousness, and it fits in perfectly with the idea of adding good instead of just subtracting bad. instead of just saying, "i am not going to covet any more," (again, is that even possible?), if i can learn to truly rejoice when others rejoice, to be happy for someone else with no thought to myself or my have-nots, there will be less and less room in my heart for disappointment or anger or sadness or jealousy or coveting, because my heart will be so filled up with real, true, pure joy.

doesn't that sound nice?

i think i'll call it the "plus one experiment," and lent seems as good a time as any to start (you have to start somewhere, right?), though i am quite sure it will take me more than 40 days to master this one. luckily, i'll have all that diet coke to help see me through.


Sarita said...

Sarah Jones likes this. (thumbs up)

Naomi said...

I like this concept. A lot.

I, also, have never got on board with the whole Lent idea for the very reasons you state.

You've given me at least a reason to re-evaluate my position.

Anonymous said...

You drink Diet Coke? Nasty

Julia said...

This makes so much sense. Witty AND inspirational. I should add "reading Frances' blog more often."

But seriously...great idea.

Anonymous said...

you are so totally clueless when it comes to understanding other religious practices. Do you even know what the season of Lent represents? One day you will realize that the world really doesn't revolve around you. You may have a good idea to replace something good instead of giving up something - but don't do it in the name of Lent when you know nothing about it and then think you are being wonderful for doing it. Your goal is something that is actually pretty superficial and I doubt you'll have any success. One day maybe you will actually see all the good you already have instead of always looking at what others have and wanting more. Why can't you just be happy for what you do have now and go from there.

Marcelina Moreno said...

Frances, I applaud you. You are constantly an inspiration to me. I find you to be refreshingly honest and thoughtful. Thank you.

suvi said...

Wow, you got a hater message from Anonymous! That is hilarious. Well, I certainly don't really understand Lent either, but I can get on your bandwagon of plus one. I'm not so good when it comes to giving things up, but crowding out, that I can do. I've been trying that with chocolate-- I'm not quitting it, just eating other things before i get to eat chocolate. I could work on the rejoicing with others part as well. Good call, little lady.

Susan said...

very inspiring, and, you know you've hit the big time when anonymous haters write in. i promise it wasn't me. really.

Jill N said...

i love this post. i think it's a great idea--and one i plan to start putting into practice in my own life. sure, anonymous thinks you missed the point of lent, but i feel a bit like anonymous missed the point of your post. either way, well-done.

Anonymous said...

At the sake of starting a bun fight here, I want to comment on the posting by Anonymous. I don't agree with everything Frances says either (including the posting on Lent), and I am her father. However, vitriol without explanation is meaningless. If you have strong feelings about this, and apparently you do, then provide them. Otherwise, you open yourself to what may be unwarranted attacks.

Permit me to provide my perspective. Many religions (including Frances' chosen one) include as part their doctrine a period of denial and reflection. For the Roman Catholic, Easter, and some Protestant churches, this period of penitence and fasting is the 40 weekdeays from Ash Wednesday to Easter. For the Moslems, it is Ramadan, which is the ninth mongh of the Muhammadan year observed as sacred with fasting practiced daily from dawn to sunset. For the LDS Church, it is the first Sunday of every month, which is to be observed by fasting and prayer. All have a common thread, and yet all have certain secular practices to tend to carve back on the religious purpose on which they are based (take, for example, Mardi Gras, which is a purely secular practice that tends to extol vice prior to the period of virtue). Yet, the religious aspect of all of these practices tend to have the same fundamental core -- drawing closer to God through denial and reflection. As a result, all of them fundamentally are good, if different.

So, to anonymous, I think that your premise fundamentally is sound. The point on which I disagree is attack without explanation. In the future, then, please consider providing substance behind your position; it will serve a better purpose for all.

And to Frances, perhaps this may spur some debate on the topic.

becky said...

you know you've hit big time when someone hates anonymously. i mean, if you want to start a debate (which i doubt anonymous wanted to do [considering there was no actually point to the post]) you can at least have the guts to put your name down. how very cowardly.

francis, whether i agree with everything you say or not, i appreciate your opinions because they are always very sincere and well thought out.