Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, the season of giving up or reducing indulgences that hinder our lives of faith. As an adult convert to Catholicism, I have not once successfully committed to the full length of forty days from abstaining from things that make me, Catholically speaking, a worse person.
Typically, I go the wellness route. One year, I committed to drinking plenty of water. Another year, I committed to less yelling. One year, more recent than the others, I committed to the grace of mercy by forgiving those who have wronged me in the past.
The French word for ‘thank you’, merci, is a daily implementation of mercy. Gratitude is a practice of acknowledging the gift of others. The gift of others. The practice of mercy untethered me from a victim mindset to one of growth. Even pain, and in my case, trauma and PTSD, was a gift of others. Suffering is usually not a human condition one enters into by themselves, and only our most-whole selves can begin to understand the gift, the transference, of another’s pain.
For my Self to feel whole, I had to practice mercy on myself. Forgiving my past failures and fears was much harder for me than forgiving others. Learning to treat myself equally, to not be my own victim, was a step that allowed me to face life’s uncertainty with the dignity that I deserved. Mercy doesn’t seek revenge or tolerate injustice. It’s a fortitude that allows the dissolution of control. When we let the nature of things go where they will, when we stop trying to counter the force of the hurricane, we are rewarded with nature’s inclination for balance.
By practicing mercy in the world, the opportunity for gratitude grew stronger which allowed me to feel less concerned about being wronged or shortchanged. Somewhere in my childhood, the notion that everything was supposed to be idyllic and perfect set a high standard, somewhere near the mark of 100%. It took me many years into adulthood to recognize this ideal was unnecessary, and quite frankly, impossible. My happiness is quite full, even at the 75% mark. For that, I am grateful.
For me, Lent is not just a period of deprivation, but a time for reflection. We are all shortchanged in life, but the lack doesn’t correlate with our worth. Digging deep to a place of forgiveness and mercy is an act of integrity and compassion. The world could use more of that.