Lent, Honesty, Mental Health and Freedom

“Holy God, our lives are laid open before you: rescue us from the chaos of sin and through the death of your Son bring us healing and make us whole in Jesus Christ our Lord.”
—Common Worship, the Church of England

“Did you ever look inside yourself and see what you are not?”
—Flannery O’Connor

As this year’s Lenten season draws to a close, I have been struck by the way time and awareness and health are intersecting this year. A good friend of mine has a degree in psychology and counseling, and she was telling me that mental health is really about self-awareness – seeing who we truly are and being able to hold the good and the bad, the dark and the light, the best and the worst all together in one piece without lying to ourselves about who we really are. This holding together of the diverse parts of the self is what psychologists term ‘coherance’ – my friend is especially good at helping people talk through their own lives, look at their own stories, and come to places of deeper coherance where they can hold the whole story together, in one piece – finding better mental health.

I never would have connected musings on mental health with Lent, but the correlation between understanding my true identity and finding greater mental health now seems obvious. Am I able to see who I really am, deep down, and be disgusted by the sin, the brokenness, the selfishness – while at the same time see the growth, the beauty, and the strengths? Can I be honest with myself about my whole story, hold it all in my hands, not pretend or shield or talk up myself or berate myself when I see it? Can I invite Christ into all the spaces of my heart, light and dark, fragile and rehearsed, seeing myself for who I ? Do I try to let others into those crevices inside my heart? As a Christian, do I really believe the fundamental truth that my identity is not found through my hard work or my own brokenness, my strengths or my ugliness – but through Christ? Do we share that truth about our identity in our communities? And what is my response when I see that truth, when Christ guides me to ‘coherance’ –, or whatever we call it? Can I see who I truly am, good and bad, and accept it? Do I have eyes to see where to repent? Where to rejoice? Ask for help? Celebrate how far God has brought me?

I am feeling a renewed freedom this Lenten season with being honest with myself, and with those I love, about who I am. Instead of a sense of worry about exposure, or working to cover up my weaknesses or needs, I am feeling freedom in bringing my honest self to the room. It is so much less work to lead, to serve, to minister, to parent – to live – with honesty and strength, when I bring me. Both my imperfections and my beauty, my uniqueness and my sometimes rough edges – it is all part of me. When I am courageous, present, and simply me, true to my whole story, then that is where growth and grace take root. I think there is something spiritually liberating about practicing being honest with ourselves as well – it primes me to see God, and then show myself to God, more honestly. I can cry out, God, here is where I need You, here is what I am limited in, here is where I am not able. When I am aware of my need that is when I can ask for help – and then I can also release the expectation that it is all up to me. What a gracious realization, what invitation and freedom that opens up in me! I can tell deep in my spirit that honesty grants me permission to be, to grow, and to heal – and I sense that so many others around me are also hungry for that grace, that space, that ability to simply, honestly be. I sense the Spirit reminding me – Liz, bring all of who you are, cracks and all, and repent – return to Me. I am here for you.

When we see as God sees, when we follow Jesus’ way, that is where we find truth and wholeness, freedom and health – that is where we will find life.

“No one wants to take the descending path to that naked, unvarnished truth, with all its unacceptable humiliations. It is much more comfortable to stay on the level of the plain and ordinary… The reason Lent is so long is that this path to the truth of oneself is long and snagged with thorns, and at the very end one stands alone before the broken body crowned with thorns upon the cross. All alone–with not one illusion or self-delusion to prop one up. Yet not alone, for the Spirit of Holiness, who is also the Spirit of Helpfulness, is beside you and me. Indeed, this Spirit has helped to manuever you and me down that dark, steep path to this crucial spot….

The spirit of truth does not seek comfort. The purpose of Lent is not to escape the conscience, but to create a healthy hatred for evil, a heartfelt contrition for sin, and a passionately felt need for grace…. Lent is a journey that could be called an upward descent, but I prefer to call it a downward ascent. It ends before the cross, where we stand in the white light of a new beginning.”

—from Upward Ascent by Edna Hong

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