In the past I have given up things for Lent. In recent years I have fasted from social media (always a good exercise in mental health), I have eschewed chocolate, I have shunned sweet iced tea (get thee behind me, Satan!), I have skipped meals and have sometimes intended to read my Bible more faithfully.
This year I was thinking, what could I give up that means something to me? That I hold so tightly, that it would be a sacrifice? And two things came to mind.
Worry and negativity.
I think I’ve narrowed it down to worry. I’ll work on negativity next year. As a writer, and one who writes a lot about medicine and culture, it may be too much of a culture shock for me to try and extricate myself from years of sarcasm, frustration and cynicism. You have to let fish adjust to new water. Mind you, as a believer I need to be positive and hopeful. And I’m trying! It’s just that I feel powerful emotions about the way my fellow ED physicians are treated these days and furthermore, snark is fun. I have to remember not to let it contaminate the way I believe or portray myself. And yet, I like to think St. Paul was a little like this as well. Anybody who says, ‘I wish those who are disturbing you would go ahead and get themselves castrated,’ (Gal 5:12) is a person to whom I can really relate.
(For better or worse, my daughter has my gift. About 33% of her conversations begin with ‘and another thing,’ or ‘can I just say…’ after which she proceeds to engage in the most charming and clever tirades imaginable, her smile bright and her blue eyes dancing.
But worry? Ah worry. My besetting sin. My pet sin. My ‘precious.’ The thing I hold close to my heart. The thing I do in the false belief that it gives me some element of control in an uncertain life and chaotic world. As if worrying made it less likely that the thing would actually happen, because I gave it life in the virtual world of my mind. Madness.
Worry, the thing which distracts me from productivity, creativity, even rest! Worry, one of the fiery darts the enemy fires at me.
As a person who really loves cookies, cake and sweets in general, I see now that worry is a sweet, delicious confection that I go back to over and over. Even when God says to leave it in the cabinet . He leaves us scripture about worry:
Jesus said, ‘And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his lifespan?’ Matthew 6:27.
St. Paul joins in: ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, with prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.’ Philippians 4:6
But I go back and take a bite. My wife is traveling. Seven years out from cancer, she has a cough, or an ache. My kids are in college and far away. My day is busy, my patient is sick. I am growing older. The list, the litany goes on. I bite into the sweetness and bitterness of worry. The flavor is familiar, and briefly pleasant even though I will be sick later. Not unlike a youthful tequila experience I recall.
Like abused sweets to the body, it makes my soul fat and lazy. Why try to do better, why try to act, why move on in joyous life when I can sit and ruminate on things I cannot control under the delusion that I can?
Carbs for the soul. Worry is delightful but in the end, it makes my heart sick.
It isn’t easy to fast from sweets. It’s even hard to fast from worry, to remake a pathway of the mind, a pattern of the soul.
But I’ll keep at it. And maybe at the end of 40 days, my soul will be a little leaner and a little happier. And maybe then I can just quit worrying permanently.
Entirely unlike the way I fast from chocolate…