I’m not good at Lent. I have no great Lent advice and I always have a hard time thinking of something to give up. This is not because I lack possibilities, but because I have too many. Where do I start in becoming a better person? Those of you who know me likely have several very specific suggestions.
But this year, I’ve decided to give up snark as a way of making room for gratitude and generosity of spirit. I’m aware that the previous sentences run along the boundary of snarkiness. I know how much of my sense of self is tied to being clever. Public cleverness, with an edge, is a way to show others how smart I am. “Look at me, don’t I have a way of turning a phrase, of making you admire me?” I think at times snarkiness says, “I’m smarter than most of you.” Whether or not that’s it’s intention, that’s the way snark often functions rhetorically. It can be a form of self-promotion. And it’s often offered at someone else’s expense, the dumb ones, the ones that don’t get, the ones that don’t have a clue. In its worst forms, it promotes the self and diminishes the other.
Look, I’m as guilty of this as anyone. It’s not what I think I’m doing in the moment, but it’s often the practical effect. So, this year, I’m thinking of Lent as an opportunity to emphasize a more generous way of being with others. I easily slide into cynicism, into assigning less than the best motives to others. When it becomes pronounced in my life, I feel it like an illness.
The path to getting better, I think, is twofold. First, just practicing gratitude is a path to healing. Expressing gratitude, I once heard Randy Harris say, is the chief Christian virtue. It opens the heart to the world. It replaces complaining with appreciation. It helps me see my life as something given to me, a gift, and not something I have constructed out of my own ingenuity. This is a perspective I lose from time-to-time, and suggests that gratitude is not an attitude as much as it is a practice.
Second, I’ve come to think of generosity of spirit as a way to love those who are difficult for me to love. By love, I don’t mean have affection for, but to the extent that I can, to do what’s best for them. I need frequent reminders that people don’t wake up each day thinking, “Who can I screw over today? How can I make Mark’s life difficult today?” We’re pushed to assholeness by a variety of factors. There are evil, malicious people in the world, but most of us are just a bundle of contradictions who find ourselves playing roles that if given the chance would do something different. It’s just good to remember that. Again, this is a practice more than it is maintaining an attitude. I find Jesus’s advice on loving enemies in Luke a good way to practice generosity of spirit. Do something good for others. Be kind. Bless them. Pray for them. These are ways perhaps to embody Paul’s advice in Romans 12 to associate with lowly, not to think of yourself better than you should, but rather to consider others better than yourself.
This is hard work. It’s not in my spirit to do these things. It takes a holy Spirit. God have mercy on me, a sinner.