Friends, for many Christian denominations, this is the first Sunday of Lent. Lent is traditionally a time of repentance, fasting, and preparation for Christ’s death and resurrection. In my own experience, I observed Lent by giving up something I loved for six weeks, allowing myself to feast on this forbidden thing on Sundays, which don’t really “count” – I’m not sure exactly why. Eventually, I came to think of Lent as a time of “dieting for Jesus.” It never had a lot of meaning for me, and didn’t bring me closer to God. This year, my decision to choose the path of ease happened to coincide with the beginning of Lent. I’m inviting you to join me in a different type of journey over the next six weeks. This week, we’re giving up pointless suffering.
What do I mean by pointless suffering? I’m defining it as mental torture that helps no one. We all engage in this from time to time. For one person, it might look like internal judgment about not being a ‘good enough’ mother. For another, it might be being internally critical of food choices or other habits. For me, it’s a whole myriad of things. I’m going to include a laundry list here so you know what I’m talking about.
My Pointless Suffering: A Small Random Sample
-Guilt about how I ended a relationship 15 years ago.
-Shame about my relationship with food.
-Anxiety about my financial future.
-Self-judgments about my worthiness as a coach, a friend, a romantic partner, a human being.
-Critical thoughts about how I choose to spend my time.
-Fear that I might not be taking care of all of my cat’s needs in the best manner possible.
This last one is a joke…sort of. She’s sitting in front of me now, and I admit I did spend at least 15 minutes yesterday fretting that I had left cooked bacon out while eating dinner and she managed to find it and steal a piece. (Will bacon kill cats? How did I not know she could jump that high? Am I not feeding her a food that has enough protein? Does she need more treats?)
My invitation for you this week – pick any area of suffering in your life. It might be easiest to start with something small, a minor torture you put yourself through. Then, try answering these questions:
- Is this suffering pointless? Do I know of any instance where this type of behavior or thought helped to create peaceful, kind, gentle results?
- Am I getting anything out of this suffering? (Some of mine: an excuse to not do things that scare me, things to think about when I’m bored, the chance to remain disconnected, avoiding change, allowing my ‘I am unworthy’ belief to continue, avoiding feelings I think might be painful.)
- How can I commit to letting go of this suffering, even if it is only for this week?
Ideas for Letting Go
Sometimes, it’s easy to identify the issue, but not always easy to identify ways to let go of it. I’m going to use one of my pointless suffering examples from above to walk through some ideas on how to let it go. The one I’m choosing is guilt over how I ended a relationship 15 years ago. The guilt has been with me for more than a decade, and it has yet to prompt me to any kind of action except feeling bad about it. This, to me, is the height of pointless. It is helping no one, and hurting me. Here are some ways I can think of to let it go this week:
- Identify the painful thoughts behind the suffering and apply any thought work model. Some of my thoughts on this situation:
- “I should have handled this better.”
- “I wish I would have been healthier at the time so this didn’t end in a painful way.”
- “I wish I could have honored both myself and my friend instead of cutting this off.”
- Heap loving kindness on the situation. Can you find a gentler view? Can you find a reframe that would allow you to let go of the suffering? For my example, I could start looking at the incident in context. I was inexperienced, traumatized, and had no models for how healthy loving relationships worked. I did the best I could with what I had at that time. I can also say the same thing of my friend. Neither one of us were emotionally mature enough to handle the situation in any other way. We loved each other, and did our best.
- Offer forgiveness and make amends. This can be to someone else, or to you. In my case, I could write a letter to my friend, or simply forgive both of us for being who we were at the time. If the situation only involves you, this can still be a powerful step. Say you are berating yourself for not exercising as much as you want, and you’re willing to give it up. In this case, you might be able to forgive yourself for not having the energy to exercise, and for being mean to yourself about it. Making amends could be anything from apologizing to yourself to committing to getting yourself a gentle accountability partner.
- Create a release ritual. I love rituals! This could be writing down the suffering on a piece of paper and burning it, or putting it in a ‘worry box’, or taking a stone and throwing it into a body of water.
It’s my belief that letting go of any pointless suffering allows us to show up in a more loving and kind way for ourselves and for each other. I am willing to let go of my decade-old guilt because I believe doing so will make me a better friend today. I believe it will make me more compassionate with others when I’m compassionate with myself. I believe it will allow me to release this old pattern and make more loving choices in my future relationships. Who would you be without your pointless suffering? Which version of you is a brighter gift to the world?