by R. A. Linton
We are almost to that season of the church calendar many dread – Lent. Lent is a time of reflection and often, sacrifices. It is really a journey we undertake. Perhaps one way to undertake keeping a holy Lent would be to follow the example of Lewis Carrol’s character Alice and fall into our mirror. What would we really see if we fell into the looking glass of our lives?
“The worst loneliness is to not be comfortable with yourself.” Mark Twain spoke gospel words when he said that. How often do we look in the mirror and think we are not as good as we should be? What happens when we are too full of ourselves? When are we being prideful and when are we practicing self-respect?
Many would say that pride and self-respect are the same thing while others have written that they are two different sides of the same coin. I have no worldly wisdom here. Let me say that before we go any further. I too am on a quest. If I was perfect and/or had all the answers, I would no longer being seeking. I would have arrived.
In my humble opinion, pride is fine as long as it does not include a sense of betterness, of being on a higher plane of existence than anyone else. I might even go so far as to say there are many times in which pride and self-respect can be synonyms. However, pride that elevates one’s personal worth to being “better” than another is wrong.
Self-respect means seeing the value in one’s existence. That existence will not be perfect, though, and it will have its challenges. It will be a journey and like most journeys, it will have its detours and delays. However, the journey will also have a purpose and value.
The Reverend Peter Marshall once said Americans should not look to their Constitution as carte blanche to do whatever they wanted but rather as an opportunity to do right. When you live with intentions, you live with purpose. Anyone who lives with a purpose has to have self-respect. You cannot and should not separate one from the other.
The dilemma about self-respect and building it is not a new challenge. In his “History of the Peloponnesian War”, Thucydides spoke of it. “Self-control is the chief element in self-respect, and self-respect is the chief element in courage.”
When we look into a mirror, we see a reflection staring back at us. That reflection is just an outer covering. What we should respect and inspect is the deeper self of the character within the outer shell. Joan Didion explains: “Character — the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life — is the source from which self-respect springs.”
Life is not for the weak or lazy. It takes courage and it requires an intention to live. When we accept those two gauntlets that being born shoves on us, then we can live and build our self-respect. Author Adrienne Rich agrees. “Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you; it means learning to respect and use your own brains and instincts; hence, grappling with hard work.” The reward to really being the image we want to see in the mirror is the best prize of all. We gain self-respect and control over our being. No one can ever deny us that. You will never be without yourself when you can respect yourself. Happiness requires that we have some measure of self-respect. Be happy and start building your own bed of self-respect.
Keeping a scared Lent is not for the week-minded or lazy, either. It requires deliberate action and an acceptance of the core of Christianity – love. As we enter the liturgical season of Lent, may we recognize that we are pilgrims on a treasure hunt. The treasure we will hopefully find is the realization that God’s love is ours for the taking… and sharing… and… most importantly, giving to those we least like. Too often we hear the emphasis of faith being the end game – a ticket into heaven. Really, though, faith is about living the game of life for the here and now.
Life is much easier when you can look into the mirror and can smile at your own reflection. Then we are able to smile at others and be sincere. A smile is the first invitation to others to join us on our journey of faith. That is the blessing of truly keeping a holy Lent. The end of Lent is not the end of our journey to do better but rather an important layover. The story does not end with Easter. The resurrection is our invitation to fully live into our own self-worth. Lent is a four letter word but so is Love, a four letter word that can unlock the beauty and grace that faith offers.
Rie Allen Linton is a lifelong Episcopalian having lived in three provinces, five dioceses, and countless parishes. Currently a member of Church of the Nativity, Huntsville, AL, she is a graduate of EfM, Cursillo, member of DOK, ECW, Girls Friendly Society Advisor, former LEM, LEV, organist, chorister, altar and flower guild member, church school director, youth minister, newsletter editor, and parish homeless coordinator. You can find her blog at n2myhead.wordpress.com
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