Responding Differently to Lint

It’s Lent, that 40-day season leading up to Easter when many Christians give up something–like chocolate, beer, their morning coffee–as a small act of fasting and self-denial and a desire to grow closer to God. Each year, I struggle to think of what I should give up, and then I feel guilty when three days later I eat, drink, or do that very thing. Still, year after year, I give it a try.

This morning, as I was getting ready for the day, I realized what I should give up for Lent this year (and perhaps permanently): Lint–or more accurately, my typical reaction to it.

“Lint?” you ask. “Seriously??” Before you close this blog and move on to watch funny videos about cats, hear me out.

While getting dressed, I noticed a bunch of lint on my pants. I stopped putting in one leg after the other and began to pull off the offending little bits of fuzz. And I felt annoyed. Picking off lint interrupts the flow of my routine and delays the process of getting dressed and on to the next thing.

It got me thinking… What other “lint” situations do I run across that disrupt my routine or delay me and bring a response of annoyance, frustration, or irritation?

  • The mom in front of me at the check-out who takes forever to pay while she juggles a toddler
  • The cereal spill all over the kitchen floor as my son gets ready for school
  • The friend who asks me to volunteer in her place because she’s not feeling well
  • The coworker’s call that comes just as I’m logging off for the day
  • The elderly man who shuffles so slowly through the crosswalk that I miss the light

When I find my eyes rolling or my blood boiling in these situations, it’s because I’m thinking about me. I have stuff to do, places to be, and schedules to keep. C’mon, people!

But what if I put myself in the other person’s shoes? Instead of sighing heavily or grumbling under my breath, I can offer an understanding smile to the frazzled mom. Or patiently tell my embarrassed son that I’ll clean up the cereal while he finishes getting ready for school. Or cheerfully answer my coworker’s late-day question and take the opportunity to ask about her sick dad.

My reaction to these types of instances can be a blessing instead of adding to the over-abundance of negativity swirling around in the world. Better yet, I can choose to see the world and everyone in it through the lens of Christ’s love so that I never view someone or their circumstance or behavior as “lint” in life.


I had surgery two days ago for breast cancer. To ensure the surgeon operated on the correct side, she marked the top, left of my chest with a Sharpie: “Yes” and her initials, “G A.”

It is a visible remindersurgery ink that my circumstances have marked me with a new label–cancer patient. This new label is weighty. It carries with it expectations of treatments, illness, hardship. And it causes people to act differently toward me than they did before the diagnosis. Suddenly, I get more hugs. People ask me how I’m doing with an extra measure of compassion in their eyes. Folks want to help me with meals and anything else I need. I’m not complaining–I appreciate the extra help and am touched by everyone’s concern.

But at the same time, I resent the label, particularly because I didn’t choose it. And it gives me pause. What labels do I give to people based on their circumstances (or my assumptions about their circumstances)? Homeless man. Rich girl. Immigrant. Disabled person. Blue collar worker. Executive. Single mom. Elderly woman. Star athlete.

And what kind of weight do those labels hold? They surely affect what I think about those people and how I act toward them. How do we fight the urge to apply labels to people and instead focus first on the person? I don’t begin to know the answer to that question. But I think it’s an important question to keep asking.

Examine / Examen

hospital gown“Undress from the waist up, and put this gown on, ties in front.” Thus began my breast cancer journey, those words preceding a routine mammogram that revealed something not so routine. The weeks that followed have brought an ultrasound, needle biopsy, MRI, surgical consult, pre-op physical, and chest X-ray. Each of which began the same way: “Put this gown on, ties in front.”

The first few times I put on the gown, I felt awkward, exposed, and uncomfortable, trying to sit so as to maximize coverage of the ill-fitting gown. However, with each gown-donning experience, it felt a little less uncomfortable as I realized the doctor/nurse/technician has seen it all before, there’s nothing shocking or surprising. And, perhaps more importantly, each examination, scan, and test–invasive or exposing as it may feel–is a necessary step on the journey toward ridding my body of this toxic cancer and restoring my health.

Being a Christian woman, perhaps it’s natural in draw a parallel between all the physical examinations I’ve experienced lately and the spiritual practice of examen. They both involve taking a closer look to see what’s going on inside. Mind you, examen is not something I routinely practice. Self-examination in front of God, identifying and confessing sin, asking God to “search my heart”? That’s a bit scary–makes me feel awkward, uncomfortable, exposed. What are we going to find, God and me, if we go poking around? But, sins and wrong thinking can be just as toxic to our spiritual life as a cancer tumor is to our physical health. Only through exposing them and letting God do his transforming work in those areas can we begin to heal, grow, and become more of who God intends us to be. And just like the health care professionals I’ve encountered recently, God has seen it all, he already knows what’s going on inside spiritually–he’s not going to be shocked or surprised. So maybe it shouldn’t seem so scary.

I’ll have some periods of rest and recovery on this cancer treatment journey. And while I’m sure I’ll use some of that time for napping, reading, and watching bad daytime TV, perhaps I can use some of it to engage in the practice of examen. Maybe I’ll think of it as a mammogram for my soul (except God probably won’t make me put on a hospital gown, ties in front!).