Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 25, 2002
Denial can bring God closer
When something is given up, a space is created and must be filled with care
By RENATO GANDIA
WCR Staff Writer
Carol Loepp and her family have given up meat for each Friday of Lent. She is also fasting, taking bread and water only, on Wednesdays and Fridays.
Loepp, who is active in Edmonton's St. Theresa Parish, explained this to her children, saying, "When we fast and abstain, we deny ourselves. When we deny ourselves, we start to see other people around us and see God."
For her, Lent is a season when she closely examines her relationship with God. Loepp believes exploring this relationship is an ongoing reality. But for her it becomes more intense during Lent because Christians reflect on the suffering of Jesus Christ who denied himself and was crucified.
"Jesus said if we want to follow him, we should deny ourselves, take up our cross then follow him," Loepp said.
Raymond Lloyd Richmond, a clinical psychologist from San Francisco, echoed Loepp.
"Self denial is really one of the essences of Christianity," Richmond told the WCR. In taking up one's cross, psychology really comes into play, he said. "You can't really live a good Christian life unless you have 'died crucified,' but it doesn't literally mean that you have to be nailed to a cross."
Richmond calls this "psychological crucifixion." For him, it "really means giving up of your personal identity, giving up of all of your pride, all of the things that we cling to as human beings about our human identity."
This letting go is the basis of Christian life, said the 51-year-old convert to Catholicism.
"In many ways, I think we should be fasting all the time."
It is not so much giving up food or other things, but it's the act of giving up something for the poor, giving alms to the needy and taking care of those in need.
This is what Richmond considers true fasting.
"So the problem is that what most Catholics do for Lent really falls far short of the true psychological sacrifice that needs to be made everyday. It's a hard thing to talk about because if we talk about the psychological significance of giving up chocolate, it falls short. It's not really what's being asked in Lent."
The Christian practice of giving up something during Lent is widespread. But this deprivation does not necessarily mean just tangible things.
When Archbishop Thomas Collins preached during the Rite of Election for the RCIA, he mentioned giving up sin.
Richmond believes letting go and giving up something creates fear. But one can also give up negative emotions like fear. "To give up fear is to enter into the trust of God, to completely trust in God," Richmond said.
People grow up with all kinds of hurts and wounds and develop defences against them, explained Richmond. Those defences keep them protected and keep them alive. It doesn't matter whether it is a traumatic life or it's just an ordinary life.
"We develop ways of protecting ourselves, to keep our wounded pride hidden from the world. We make ourselves look powerful and strong - like we can deal with it. That's what we do as children. But we grow up as adults keeping the same defences."
Those defences that protect our identity keep us separated from God because we're not really trusting in God: We're trying to look good to the world, Richmond said.
Fear is what happens when a person encounters the need to let go of all those defences to live an authentic life, to give their trust over to God.
"And it's terrifying to think, 'Well, what would I have if let go of it? There is nothing else there.'"
So when someone said, "I'm giving up fear," Richmond believes it's a profound statement because it means the person is trying to let go of his or her old defences.
That means the person is trying to let go of an old identity, an old way of living and a self-contained life that is apart from God.
"So giving up fear is a wonderful thing, because that means the person is trusting God and letting go of their own self-identity and putting that trust in God," Richmond said.
When something is given up, a space is created in the person. It is important to identify what to choose to put in its place.
So Carolyn Connelly, an Alberta chartered psychologist, believes motivation and planning on how a person will give up something is crucial.
She thinks if people give up something during Lent "to increase their commitment to God and to improve their relationship with God," the motivation is excellent.
"One has to ask, 'How is it going to enhance my relationship with God?'" This is so a person will have a greater commitment to it, rather than just picking something they think they should give up.
Giving up something creates change in people's lives. Connelly thinks it is important to turn to God for the strength to do that. "A lot of times when we try to do changes in our lives, we try to do them on our own. For example, if one decides to quit smoking and becomes so irritable while trying to give that up, you're actually bringing disgrace and dishonour to God because you're treating other people so badly."
During Lent you might actually have a cigarette and then feel bad about yourself. So you want to be able to say, "How do I recommit to this?" and look for support."For example, if I wanted to give up anger, do I need to seek some help with that?" says Connelly. "Do I need to go and talk to my pastor, or do I need to go to a counsellor who might help me with this?
"I think what is important is that emotionally we know that we need to take care of ourselves spiritually, to be healthy and well."