This year I gave up something unusual for Lent: Contempt.
After more than a week of giving up contempt for Lent, I’ve discovered something rather unremarkable:
I have a lot of contempt in my life.
Honestly. Not surprising. What caught me off guard, though, was how contempt has revealed itself in my life. Contempt tends to pop up in the crevices of my life, thin corners and deep crags, places I wouldn’t have guessed.
A friend of a friend asked to purchase something we owned. I spent most of the day getting it ready only to have that person not show up. I felt contempt. But I soon realized that in addition to feeling disdain for the person, I immediately assumed the worse-that the person had never intended to purchase the item or wanted to waste my time. Later I discovered that they had a sick one they had to care for last minute and didn’t get a chance to call.
From the experience, I discovered that one of the biggest problems with having contempt in my life is that it leads to me to see the worst in people and situations rather than the best.
For example, while teaching the weekend services at a fabulous church in Houston, the church attenders were a bit unruly-sometimes in the most beautiful ways. One man walked right up to me the middle of the sermon, while I was teaching, stared at me, then walked away. I kind of liked him. And then there were infants who screamed and cried, but unlike other churches, the parents didn’t remove them from the service. Again, unbothered. We even watched as people stole items from our book table-again, just smiled, after all if someone is going to steal, I’m glad they’re taking items that share the love of God.
But in one service, I heard a squeaking toy. SQUEAK. SQUEAK. It grew louder and louder. As I’m teaching, trying not to lose my train of thought, I’m wondering, “Did someone grab one of Hershey’s squeaky toys?” “What is that?” “Why won’t it stop?”
God is. SQUEAK. Our Good Shepherd. SQUEAK. SQUEAK. He hears us. SQUEAK. When we cry out. SQUEAK. To Him. SQUEAK.
That’s when my contempt surfaced. I was so upset at the squeaky toy. Why didn’t someone make it stop?
Rather than break from teaching, I simply raised my voice to drown out the squeaking. In a few moments-that felt like forever-the squeaking ended.
After the service, I found out that animals weren’t playing wild with squeaky toys. A small boy was running around wearing squeaky shoes.
Squeaky toys during a sermon made me feel contempt.
Another area where contempt surfaced that surprised me was toward my bank. We use a major bank and when someone brought up their name, I responded with a sharp, sarcastic comment. I’ve been bothered by their lack of customer care, neglect of sending statements, and employees who are trying to upsell me some feature every time I make a deposit for two years. But I’ve been hesitant to change banks because of all the work involved changing direct withdraws for all our bills.
Now I realize that it’s time to make that change.
At times, contempt alerts us to areas of forgiveness and grace we need to develop, but sometimes contempt reveals just a basic shift we need to make in how we do things.
But the biggest moment of contempt came when I was meeting a friend for lunch. Already running a few minutes late, I popped in the car to see the low fuel warning. I swung by the gas station and filled up. Then drove 3-4 miles down the road. That’s when I felt the engine tugging and realized:
I filled our diesel car with unleaded.
I cannot tell you the contempt I felt for myself-it was a thousand times worse than anything I’ve felt for anyone else. How could I have been so incredibly (insert dirty-dog ugly words here)?
Stranded between the exit ramp and the Interstate, I called my beloved husband to deliver the news: I had ruined his car.
Then I called a tow truck. They took our vehicle to the nearest dealership.
The next day we discovered that I had done between $5000 and $7000 in damage to the car.
But that’s also when received one of the most amazing gifts of grace I’ve ever received: the damage was covered under warranty.
I don’t understand why. I didn’t ask why. I just said, Thank you, a billion times over to the repairman.
This season of Lent as I’ve begun to glimpse my own contempt, I’ve seen a breathtaking moment of undeserved grace. And I can’t help but notice how in the face of grace, contempt falls by the wayside.
What lessons (easy or hard) are you learning during this season of preparation?
**Photo courtesy of: here.