Several weeks ago I set out to do something a little bit different from my usual Lenten practices of self-denial and giving things up: Inspired by a partnership between the U.S. Postal Service and The World Needs More Love Letters, I decided to dedicate myself to one intentional act of kindness every day for all of Lent.
I had big hopes for this Lent, y’all. I’m, as you might know, a big ol’ introvert and thought this would be a great way to nudge me out of my cozy little bubble to do some nice things for people.
And the first few weeks were great. But then things took a tumble and, well, let’s just say I didn’t really live up to my promise. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t want to be good to people, though; most days, I just forgot. Kind of like how I almost ate a meat sandwich on Good Friday because I forgot that I’m Catholic and don’t eat meat on Lenten Fridays.
I had planned on writing you a blog post brimming with good news about how much I learned from buying a stranger’s meal at a fast food restaurant or from donating things that I don’t need or from writing an encouraging note to somebody who needs one. But that plan’s not exactly working out now.
Still, I’m a firm believer in learning from mistakes and failures, and I think I managed to pull a few lessons from this experience anyway.
1. I’ve learned vulnerability is really stinking hard. Especially when you’re like me and sometimes switch between introverted and extroverted moods. It’s especially hard when I feel like being a hermit or when social interaction feels like a chore. I have my moments when I feel bubbly and like I could talk to anyone. Vulnerability and kindness are easier when those moods strike. A lot of the time, though, I feel stuck in my own head to the point that going out of my way to show kindness feels forced and awkward. Which sounds terrible and makes me seem anti-kindness, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Similarly…
2. I have this false sense of who people expect me to be and that keeps me from being open and vulnerable sometimes. People who know me well and people who are familiar with my writing/Facebooking/tweeting styles all seem to think I have a great sense of humor. Which is flattering, but sometimes I’m so self-conscious about how quiet I can be that I wonder if that’s all some people know about me: that I’m the one who keeps to herself most of the time. I honestly have no idea if this is how a lot of people perceive me, but that possibility is enough to make me wonder if that’s how others expect me to be. And it makes being my true self awkward. I know I’ve got a good heart; I guess sometimes it’s not always easy to show it in a way that doesn’t involve the written word. Being able to shed that and just be me is liberating, though. I wish I did it more often.
3. Love isn’t always convenient. It’s not always routine. I’d consider myself an agreeable, nice person, but I think showing love goes beyond being nice and agreeable. Love is unsettling. It lights a fire in your bones and drives you to do things that you might not ordinarily do. It requires you to go out of your way and to get out of your comfort zone. I do think that, eventually, it’s possible for those good deeds to become so rooted in us that it changes us and that they do become routine or part of our nature. Maybe love is habitual. I obviously haven’t reached that level of awesomeness. I think it’s still this romantic, abstract thing that I sometimes struggle to put into practice and to make concrete. But…
4. Doing good feels really, really nice. Making somebody’s day is kind of awesome. But I think you knew that.
5. A bit unrelated, but I think I’m losing my taste for soda! I gave the stuff up for Lent but I had a ginger ale on Easter and a Diet Pepsi the next day. That’s all I’ve had so far. I hope I can kick the stuff for good, or at least wayyyy limit my intake.
So Lent 2013 may not have been as “Sealed with Love” as I wanted it to be, but I learned something. That counts, right?