Lent is a time of self-reflection and often a time of self-denial, sacrifice, to reconnect with the One who spent 40 days in the wilderness facing temptation. Many people give up chocolate or TV or Facebook. If denying yourself these items brings you closer to God, good on ya. Oh sure, I have habits I could give up (Candy Crush – I admit it, being on my phone all the dang time, and more), but I decided to take on this #LentWritingProject. I didn’t know if I would have enough to say to write for 40 days, but even if I just post a picture, my mind is on God, not on something else. So, that’s good, right?
Oh, sure, if many people don’t read my blog, it may seem like a waste of time, and I have failed. But then I may be participating in what Oscar winner and beautiful child of God, Lupita Nyong’o called “the seduction of inadequacy” in her acceptance speech at the Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon. See her powerful words here.
If Ash Wednesday is a day to remember our humanity and mortality and Lent is a time of self-denial, then it might be easy to go the route of saying I’m good for nothing, so I might as well not try to do great things. It is easy to live up to our own expectations if the bar is set at “inadequate” or not quite good enough.
But Lent is a time for us to live also into the best selves we can be. As a former seminary professor mentioned in a Facebook post:
…rabbinic teachings [suggest] that everyone should have two scraps of paper. On one you write: "Made in the image of God". On the other you write: "Made of dirt". Put each one in a different pocket. On the days when we feel unloved/unlovable, we reach in the pocket and take out the scrap that says, "Made in the image of God." On the days when we think we are God or think ourselves superior to others, we take out the scrap that says, "Made of dirt".
In a culture where individualism and independence are commended and collectivism and interdependence are criticized, it may be easy to see how we lift ourselves up, thinking that not only are we made in the image of God but that we are God. However, as one who works with boys and girls, women and men of all ages, I can tell you that when most of us look in the mirror, we see just the opposite. We see the sinner, not the saint. We see the imperfections, not the glorious reflection of the Divine. We see less than, not more than enough. We see only dirt, not God-infused soil.
We are seduced not by the power of idolatry, but of inadequacy. Teens (and adults) often engage in negative superlatives. (There is a proper term for this, but I can’t find it anywhere.) For example, a girl will say, “I have a big butt.” And another will say, “You have a big butt? Look at mine. My butt is huge!” (Or something like that.)
We are constantly putting ourselves down. Comparing ourselves to dirt. As mentioned on the latest Pulpit Fiction podcast, at a recent church event called Vino and Van Gogh, members of all ages would draw something and then say how terrible it was. Someone else’s picture was always better.
Tonight I have the privilege of attending a similar event to celebrate the upcoming marriage of my best friend. What if, when dating someone, we always said, “I am such a terrible companion. So-and-so would be so much better for you.”? Who among us would find love in relationship? When we constantly remember that we are made of dirt, we don’t have the joy of knowing that we are also made in the image of God.
I am no Van Gogh, but I vow to enjoy my time and not say negative words about my work. I will not be seduced into believing that I am less than another. I will not boast that I am better than another, either. As I write, my two-and-a-half-year-old is painting beside me, and she knows her creations are beautiful and wonderful. She appreciates her momma’s art, too.
For Lent and beyond, I will attempt to live in the tension of self-denial and self-love, and I encourage others to do the same. For we are all made of dirt, and we are all made in the image of God. We are perfectly imperfect, sinner and saint, human created by Divine spark.
Thankful for being #ShapedByGod
Former international fashion model Rev. Sarah Renfro seeks to boost the body image of young women by educating them on the myths of media and focusing on divine within. She also preaches and teaches about marriage and divorce, motherhood, ministry, and mental illness.