Image by Elisabeth Moore via Flickr

I’m going through one of those raw times in life at the moment. You know what I mean? One of those stretches of time when I look in the proverbial mirror and I’m not crazy about what I see.

At heart, I’m an analyst. Since I was old enough to start Journaling, I’ve been looking hard at the world around me, and recording my observations with even-handed mercilessness. (Is that a word? MS Word doesn’t seem to object.) By that, I mean that I’m at least as hard on myself as I am on anyone else. I truly believe that most people share a core set of values, and so whenever I find myself angry with or sitting in judgment on someone, I try to put myself in the other person’s shoes—to understand their view of the world. To give people the benefit of the doubt.

I don’t have to be so kind to myself. After all, I know everything going on inside myself, something I can’t say about anyone else. When life is busy, it’s easy to ignore the niggling awareness teasing the edges of my conscience. But there comes a time when I simply have to admit that I’m not standing as high on the moral high ground as I thought. And then, every observation I make on people and situations feels like insupportable judgment.

At times like this, I begin to think about things that ordinarily don’t warrant notice. I sit in church, in the front row with my family, dressed up and looking like the perfect Christian, even while I writhe with the knowledge of all the ugliness hidden below the surface. I wonder what things people think about me, things they observe about me, what things make them think, How can she not see that glaring character flaw? Things they would be too polite to say to my face. Sometimes I wish people would actually say them; the greatest growth in my life has come through moments when someone pointed out something I really didn’t want to face. But when my soul feels this raw, I’m not sure I could handle it.

This is the part of the post where I’m supposed to draw it all together with some deep insight. But at the age of 36, gray hairs or no, do I have any place dispensing wisdom, as if my vast trove of life experience renders me an expert? I don’t think so. Here’s my best attempt: I always say Lent is my favorite time of year, because walking through the desert is so freeing. It strips away layers of soul binding, like Eustace shedding the dragon’s skin. Some years, that process begins, continues and ends in joy. Other years, it hurts. I just have to take a deep breath and plunge into the blowing sand, trusting that the scouring will do its job, and that joy waits in the oasis on the other side.