I’m generally a shameful, petty person.
I know, I know, it’s shocking.
How can someone who adopts the moniker The Cordial Catholic be, in reality, a little bit of a prick. But it’s true.
And, really, Bad Catholic was already taken so what was I to do?
But, honestly, I am not that great and so for several years now for Lent I’ve given up my otherwise favourite pastime: complaining.
I don’t know who it was that first suggested it or where I read it would be a good idea but in terms of something to fast from it’s always served me well.
(And by served me well I mean it’s been hard as heck to give it up, and therefore very spiritually demanding.)
For years, as an Evangelical, this is what I gave up for Lent. Complaining. But it was my friend, a sorely lapsed Catholic, who once told me that when Catholics do Lent they not only give up something as a means of fasting but take up something as well, as a means of giving out God’s grace.
So, this year as a Catholic, and in this a Jubilee Year of Mercy, that sounded pretty good to me.
But, gosh, I already suck at Lent … and it hasn’t even begun yet.
This morning, immediately after deciding to give up complaining and take up mercy my resolve was put to a difficult test.
See what I didn’t realize—stupid me—was how deeply connected the act of the complaint and the dispensing of mercy were. Complaints and mercy, it turns out, are rather close kin.
It was a conversation at work which left me feeling a little chaffed. In reality I take things too personally and have a difficult time letting things go so it was, to be honest, as much my own anxieties that I dwelt on all morning as it was those of my colleague. But, nonetheless, I dwelt. And I ruminated. And I felt sorry for myself (so hard done by).And then I didn’t really know how to feel anymore.
(You know when you turn something over and over in your head so many times it sets your brain to mush?)
It wasn’t until several conversations later—and the saving grace and insight of my long-suffering wife—that I finally came around to what was going on, and what was wrong, and how difficult Lent is going to be this year.
Because if I resolve to give up complaining and take up mercy then this sort of thing, when it happens again, is going to be that much more of a challenge.
Because I can’t complain about a difficult social situation—and if I feel chaffed by it, whether rightly or wrongly, I’ve taken up a Lenten pledge to show mercy too.
That’s going to be tough because how often is a complaint coupled with an opportunity to show mercy?
But maybe that’s why, in her wisdom, Mother Church lists both, side by side, as Spiritual Works of Mercy:
To bear wrongs patiently;
To forgive offences willingly;
To patiently suffer under circumstances where I’d otherwise voice my concern (as pathetic a word like ‘suffer’ is considering the mundane situations I can find to complain about).
To willingly show mercy, regardless.
Man, oh man.
And so, Lent begins. This year, with what turns out to be a kind of double fast: from complaining about being done wrong and of forgiving those wrongs willingly.
Of giving up complaining and taking up mercy.
And surely, for a natural born complainer, this is going to require seriously spiritual discipline—and all the grace God can muster my way.
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