“To thy own self be true.”
It’s a lovely saying, isn’t it? But sometimes I struggle with living it because I think, in many ways, I really don’t know myself all that well.
I would venture to assert that I’m not alone in this predicament.
Self-knowledge is extremely difficult to acquire. Yet, how very simple it is for us to know (and in knowing, judge and criticize) those around us. It’s astonishingly easy to critique and condemn my neighbor while simultaneously remaining ignorant about my own vices and shortcomings.
If I were to ask you, “What is your greatest fault?” could you answer? Do you really know yourself? Self-knowledge is so key because, well, if you don’t know what’s wrong…how can you fix it?
The thing is that, no matter how long we stare in the mirror, sometimes it’s just so hard to have an objective view of ourselves.
Sometimes we need to enlist the help of those closest to us. I thought I knew my greatest fault, but it wasn’t until an incredibly revealing conversation with my husband a couple of weeks ago that my eyes were opened to something I never saw before. He identified something I really struggle with, but that, until said conversation, I had been more or less blind to.
The reason I bring this up is because it’s a timely topic. Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and thus starts the holy season of Lent. It’s traditionally a time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. The word Lent means “spring.” So you can think of it as the passage of your soul from the dead of winter’s sin to the new life of springtime grace and virtue.
For that spring cleaning in your soul to occur, you need to remove the dirt and grime of sin. You need to really do some soul searching and ask yourself: What is my greatest fault? What do I need to clean up?
Really step back and take the broad view. Perhaps you fall into the same pattern that I do: you become so engrossed in the most immediate tasks and problems at hand, you don’t really pause and step back to reflect, to ask the deeper questions, to review, observe, and imagine.
This Lent, I challenge you shift your perspective. Reflect on your life–past, present, future. Then ask yourself: What do I see as my greatest fault, the vice that most often is the obstacle in my way of being the person I should be? Test your answer by asking someone who knows you best; his or her response may cause you to revisit the question. And then work at your fault–it may mean stopping a particular habit, or perhaps pursuing a positive habit in its place.
My challenge this Lent? Moral courage. I’m not talking about letting my faith show–I’ll whip out a rosary in any public place without a second’s thought. I’m talking about having the moral courage to speak the truth, especially when such truth will be met with opposition. I’m going to strive not to be a “people pleaser.” Obviously charity must always guide our actions, but sometimes charity demands confronting someone who is hurting him or herself through sin.
There is a memory that is so clear in my mind. I was on bus #76, riding along Spring Avenue on our way to high school. My sophomore self was sitting next to sixteen-year-old Leah, a real talker who loved music, her boyfriend, and life in general. Leah had a developmental disability. In front of us sat two boys, who sadly fall under the stereotypical category of “bully.” For that whole ride they bullied Leah, tormenting her with crass jokes, disrespectful names, and taunts and teases.
And I sat there, burning inside that they could be so cruel and hurtful. But it was like I was paralyzed. I said nothing. Why? I was scared.
It’s a scene that’s been replayed throughout my life–different people, different scenarios, but the same idea: I was met with a challenge and, through fear of what someone might think or concern I would offend or bother someone, I was silent when the truth needed to be declared.
So, courage. That’s my Lenten goal.
By the way, since we are on the topic, let me also share something else I do every Lent. It’s a favorite tradition of mine, one I was inspired to start more than ten years ago. Each Lent I cut out 40 pieces of paper and write on each one the name of someone important in my life: mostly family and friends, but I include my “enemies,” too, since we are also supposed to pray for them. Then every morning I draw out a name and pray for that person throughout my day, remembering him or her in my prayers and offering up any sufferings for him or her. It’s very beautiful, plus it’s exciting to see how grace works. Frequently I have found myself praying for someone the very day he or she needed extra prayers. God works in pretty neat ways sometimes.
I pray that this Lent will be a springtime of spiritual renewal for you. The beautiful thing is that, when we shift our perspective and take the broad view, suddenly our lives are filled with the new light of understanding and clarity. Do some reflecting tonight. And tomorrow, begin Lent by tackling that which most needs work in your soul.
~Cassandra Spellman (originally published on CassandraSpellman.com)