It is through this Winter Quarter at school I am learning more than ever the practice of the virtues of my faith. About two weeks ago, when my dad was helping me with an assignment for my online computer class that I was struggling with, his advice on dealing with the difficulties was candid. By candid, I mean honest and open. Without criticism, he pointed out that my instructor was challenging me and not putting me down in her comments about my work. It was he that pointed out that I put up defensive barriers under criticism or feeling criticized, or in anything I view as conflictual.
The first few years after I came home from the convent, 7.5 years ago, I was under the illusion that I was truly humble. Well, humility may have been there, but with PTSD I could not and did not recognize that my reactions and behavior sprang from traumatic shock as I tried with great difficulty to readjust to my new life. Others in my family have pointed out the impact my coming home in such a state had on them. Until recently in dealing with a cousin's personal and family problems I did not grasp or understand the deep impact it really had on them. When I realized how much I affected them in my mannerisms, what I said or didn't say, and how my behavior upset them at times causing flares of frustration, anger, and pain just as I experienced as I was trying to help my cousin deal with her own problems... It was so overwhelming to feel I imposed so much on people who were there for me and promised their assistance how and whenever I needed it. I had tried to limit 'imposing' on their kindness, but in retrospect, I realized just how far people could tolerate out-of-control anxiety on a constant basis. When I learned the truth firsthand, I realized within me was the seed of humility, but the compost pile of garbage from my past piled on top of it had hindered its growth. After all those years of 'service' to come home with nothing but emotional baggage - and then to realize all those years of service were so flawed in practice, it was a wonder that any good came of them at all. And I realize that only God could take something like that and turn it into good when you place it in His hands.
As I have been pondering what to give up or sacrifice for Lent, it has been a spiritual journey of insight since I began thinking about it a month ago. Lent begins early this year, in the middle of February. By the end of this past week, I thought giving up Facebook this year (again) would be good, as I desired to offer to God all spare time I wasted on frivolous online activities. Then it occurred to me that I spend as much time on YouTube, and it would be just as beneficial to give that up as well. As I prayed about it more and more and focused on trying to do what God wants rather than what is convenient for me, a thought came to me today about Divine Mercy. I had tried in the past to read the book "Divne Mercy in my Soul" by St. Faustina, but was unable to due to PTSD - I could not get past the convent life within the book let alone in my own psyche. But recent events transpired that my dad lent me his copy, telling me that much consolation was to be found in it. And so I began to read bits of it, non-sequentially and with great hesitation. But true enough, I found the consolation I had sought. In prayer I was made to understand that in undertaking the sacrifices of giving up my online leisure activities, I would undertake the study of Divine Mercy and the practice of it towards my fellow human beings. This meant not only a change in daily activities and regimen, but a whole change in my way of thinking and behavior patterns. For by myself, this is impossible - but with God's grace and an open and contrite heart, it is entirely possible. To practice Divine Mercy would mean to learn and practice humility, true obedience to God, and pure Christian love and compassion. Up to this point, I had masked the practice of these virtues with naivety, passive-aggressive behavior, and empathy.
Even as I wait for Lent to begin by the calendar of the Church, I am reading a little more of St. Faustina's diary. It's one thing to hear the coined phrase that 'psychologically we all wear masks' - it's another thing entirely to not only realize personally how and when we do so but to take off that mask and see what's really underneath. And yes, to make the step of not throwing that mask back on because we are frightened by what we see but to keep it off to watch the change we want to made in ourselves... That is a big step indeed, spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically. I want people to see God in me and that can only happen if I open myself up to the truth of who and what I am and do. By embracing the truth, I hope in the Lord to be set free of my false self and illusions, and in doing so to become a truer image of God.