In case it snuck up on you like it snuck up on me—Lent starts tomorrow (what?!). Especially in the years in which the Lenten season comes early, it can be tempting to choose something familiar to give up in the mad rush before Ash Wednesday. If you, like me, are still unsure what to commit to this year, I encourage you to spend time in prayer about this decision (even if it means starting a few days late). While participating in Lent is a feat in itself, I found that what we commit to can have a lasting impact. Two years ago, as a senior in college, I wrote the following Lenten reflection for my cousins’ blog, Princess Prayer, now Castle. Although reading this piece may be the second time around for some of you, I hope my insight serves as solidarity and inspiration for the question we ponder this time of year,“What should I give up for Lent?” As we pray over our Lenten commitments, may we recognize where we most need God’s grace in our lives and be willing to receive it there.
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One of the unfortunate aspects of going to a school on the quarter system is having an extra set of finals, as we have three terms per year, rather than two. Finals in college mean several things: late nights, coffee, anxiety, stress…and for me, a glowing breakout of blemishes and pimples. Thank you, stress! While a little acne is certainly nothing new to me, my winter finals—and the inevitable breakout they caused—last month posed a new challenge: no foundation or concealer to cover them up! I had given up makeup for Lent.
I had acquired the perfect regimen to conceal my usual blemishes (Make Up Forever concealer + a foundation brush, thank you very much!), and of course I loved to add eyeliner or mascara, and lipstick for special occasions (I am totally digging the red lip trend). You might even call me a “beauty junkie”—I love reading about the latest and greatest beauty products and collecting my slew of samples from Sephora.
But why makeup? Wouldn’t giving up desserts or Facebook for Lent do the job? Well, certainly for me, going without sweets or social media would also require the sacrifice and discipline that Lent calls us to. But when I read about the idea to give up straightening or curling your hair, I knew exactly what God was calling me to sacrifice this Lent. Although I play collegiate field hockey, I also indulge my inner girly-girl: I love to dress up and get all glam. For this reason, I knew going 40 days without makeup would be the perfect Lenten challenge, but there was more. I wanted my Lenten sacrifice to be something that helped me grow in faith and virtue, not solely a sacrifice that strengthened my discipline.
Especially as women, we expect so much of ourselves. We hold ourselves to a seemingly impossible standard of working out, acing our classes, landing the perfect job, baking a cake for our best friend, and a million other things, all while looking “flawless.” Yet one of the most dangerous things we can do to our spiritual lives is to look like we have it all together. We are human. We are broken. We are sinful. Every one of us. And covering up that frailty, that humanness, allows us to say to Jesus, “I’ve got it, I don’t need you.” Personally, the sins I struggle with most are “sins of the heart,” as my dear friend calls them. Independence from God, righteousness, judgement, jealousy, pride… The sins that we commit on the inside while looking like everything is perfect on the outside. It is easy to “put on a face” (figuratively and literally), and present myself to the world as if everything is okay. Regardless of the brokenness I’m feeling or the sins I’m committing, I can wipe on a smile and fool my friends, family, and certainly strangers. But Jesus is never fooled. Jesus sees right through our foundation and concealer, past our Crest-whitened smiles into the true, broken humans that we are. Yet under society’s pressure to hide our vulnerabilities, weaknesses, and sins, we continue to do so.
Father Manny Dorantes, a priest here at Northwestern, once said that pride—appearing and believing we have it all together—is one of the worst sins we can commit, “For when we are proud, we don’t feel that we need to be saved, and when we don’t need to be saved, we don’t need a savior, and when we don’t need a savior, we don’t need Jesus.” Although the world tells us to be strong, confident, and proud, all relationships require vulnerability in order to form a close connection. Even as little kids we understood this; we told our deepest secrets to only our best friend, “I still watch Barney…don’t tell!” As young adults we continue to do this, as our closest relationships are often those with whom we can share our personal and emotional vulnerabilities. In the same way, accepting Jesus into our lives requires vulnerability on our part. It requires us to look at ourselves and say, “Jesus, I am broken, sinful, and far from perfect.” Jesus died on the cross for our sins, not for the perfect image of ourselves we create. We are made perfect through Jesus’s death and resurrection, as we will commemorate on Good Friday. In order to enter into a relationship with Him, we must first recognize our need for His saving grace. We must feel the urgency of the word, “Hosanna,” which means “Savior, now.”
For me, it is embarrassingly easy to let go of the urgency and meaning of Hosanna, despite the countless times I have sang it. I build myself up to believe that I don’t need a savior at all, or any help for that matter. Regardless of how I really feel, I like to look like I have it all together, to cover up my vulnerabilities, to dress the part, whatever the role. When I cover up these sins and weaknesses, I convince myself I can do it all on my own. I turn my back to Jesus, and say, “I’ve got this, I don’t need you.” Going au-naturel this Lenten season has been a daily reminder that I don’t have it all together. My “physical vulnerability,” if you will, has allowed me to devote less time to independence and pride, and rely on the fulfillment that Jesus’s healing brings. While makeup is certainly not bad, it is one of the many paths to creating the dangerous image that we have it all together. So, though my spring quarter finals may bring their usual breakout, the foundation I rely on to cover up my blemishes should not be found in a bottle. The foundation that has already covered all of our blemishes was found crucified on the cross.
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