I gave up solitude.
For Lent, I mean, mostly.
You might have caught a subtle hint or two of my introverted nature here on this little blog of mine, a refined whisper, delicate allusion, artful inclusion of the fact that I would rather spend the morning getting a root canal than walk into a crowded room and be forced to INTERACT with all those people (HEY: that dentist’s chair is easy, you know? You’re confined to a single place, rendered voiceless, and the drone of that drill pretty much rules out any excessive jawing from the doctor or her hygienists.).
I recognize this tendency as one with potential to be problematic. It’s the trait I I regularly choose to hide behind in practiced avoidance of awful, threatening things like CHANGE and TRANSITION. “Oh,” I think, “I really ought to have some alone time right now to figure things out.”
“Figuring things out,” BTW, is another prominent tendency with oodles and oodles of potential for delaying decision-making and bullet-biting.
[Meyers Briggs: INTJ; Enneagram: 5; Gilmore-Fraleigh: BLUE, for all y’all aching for a personality text box in which to shove me. Added bonus – Dressing Your Truth: 2.]
Anyway, recognizing my tendencies toward hermit-ville, and my further tendency to use that hermit vibe as excuse for sitting things out, thus refusing to listen, trust, or obey what God may or may not be calling me to do, I thought a discipline of connection might be a good Lenten practice.
So, for Lent, I sort of gave up solitude. I accepted every invitation, made purposeful effort to connect in person and email and on the phone, and – maybe most strikingly – had a housemate move in on Ash Wednesday. You extroverts are wondering what the big deal is; my fellow introverts are writhing in pain. It was all people, all the time.
Here’s what happened: I got so exhausted I couldn’t think straight. I’m not exaggerating. I could not think in logical patterns. My brain simply threw in the towel and refused to make connections, leaving me stranded in the land of “like” and “um” and verbal stalling techniques. I felt more exhausted than I ever have, slept ten hours a night, got myself tested for the flu, googled the possibilities of a mono relapse. I spent three weekends in a row leading youth trips and women’s retreats, not only surrounded by people every waking AND sleeping moment, but surrounded by people who kept looking at me for direction and content and leadership. I came home after that third weekend and promptly booked a cabin on a mountain ten miles out of any town for the next two nights.
What happened was: I couldn’t hack it. I quit a week early. I cried uncle and went to the mountains and wrapped myself in a cocoon of silence. I didn’t even do anything at that cabin other than read a book and cook some brussels sprouts. I couldn’t even bear to play music: my entire being was demanding a long, empty stretch of nothingness to sort itself out and work all that interaction overload out of its system.
What I’m learning this year is that fasting – and maybe, for that matter, spiritual practice in general – is not about changing one’s self. What a foolish experiment, to force myself into such a clearly unhealthy practice with the hopes of learning to be less of who I am. Fasting ought to be a means of drawing closer – to God, to others, to the depths of one’s self. Spiritual practice ought to be deliberate, thoughtful, repeated attempts to allow God to work on and in us. We don’t get to change ourselves. We get to be ourselves, and to be loved thoroughly for who and what we already are.