Last year I decided to use Lent to discern “what is good for Martha.” It felt a little selfish (OK, a lot, some days), but it did lead to some life-giving decisions wherein I was able to give more of myself to others. It all worked out. After all, God constantly says “I love you,” so who am I to quibble with my worthiness to be good to myself?
Thomas Merton felt the same way and said it much better: The saint, therefore, is sanctified not only by fasting, but also by eating when he should eat. … Not only by his prayers in the darkness, but by the sleep that he takes in obedience to God, who made us what we are.
How refreshing! How challenging! What a concept: to eat when we should eat (healthy, not fried) and to get enough sleep (70 percent of Americans report not getting sufficient sleep.) Doing these two things alone would change the landscape of America for the good. If fewer cranky, sleep-deprived, unhealthy people were trying to parent, run corporations and governments, the better our worlds would be. Large and small.
The Great Commandment says to love God above all things. That’s pretty clear, even when honored in the breach. It’s the second part that is so hard: to love our neighbors as ourselves for the love of God. If we don’t love ourselves, as shown by all the negative things we do to ourselves and, thus, project onto others, there is little chance of really being open to the others in our lives.
Merton called for a balanced life. He wrote that by doing both the fasting and the eating, by praying and sleeping, we are then more open to God’s grace for us to share with the rest of the world. We can be open, then, to sharing this gift of supernatural love with everyone we meet. Supernatural, because we can’t do it on our own. Grace, because it is gift.
Want to love God and do more good in the world? Maybe you can start with being good to yourself. Lent, the spa we need for the rest of the year.