Lent is a major showdown between you and the narcissist who has been gaslighting you.
One way to look at Lent — and the Christian life in general — is to see it as a major showdown between you and the narcissist who has been gaslighting you.
As you decide what to do in your spiritual life, think of it as a process of standing up for yourself at last.
What is gaslighting?
Gaslighting is a colloquial term from pop-psychology, not a clinical term from mental health care.
It’s called “gaslighting” when a manipulative person subtly (or not so subtly) tries to twist reality to control another person — whether it’s a friend who always plays the victim to get their way or a competitor at work explaining why you shouldn’t want the promotion you’ve been working for.
It’s often mentioned as a narcissist’s control tactic.
But Scripture describes the gaslighting tactics of the original narcissistic manipulator: Satan.
The Genesis story of the fall of Adam and Eve is a perfect example of gaslighting.
“Did God really tell you not to eat of any of the trees of the garden?” Satan asks, insinuating that God is the kind of tyrant who would do that.
Eve falls for it. She correctly says there is only one forbidden fruit, but then follows Satan’s lead, saying God would kill her if she even touches it.
Satan attempts the same kinds of tricks with Jesus during the first Lent in the desert. He insinuates that a good God would let him turn stones into bread, prevent him from suffering, and give him power separate from God’s.
Jesus refuses to fall for his tricks, and the Church gives us Lent to follow his example.
Satan says we deserve pleasures that God wants to keep from us. Lent is a reality check.
We don’t have to imagine Satan whispering in our ear to understand how this works. Our bodily appetites in our fallen state do this already. We see empty calories and our body wants to consume them; we see something seductive and desire it; we see a time-waster and we indulge it.
Then Satan gaslights us, saying: “God is a tyrant who doesn’t want you to enjoy your life. Ignore him and grab what you can!” But the reality is that God fills our lives with pleasures of every kind — he created them all — and following his laws will increase our enjoyment of life in the long-run, not decrease it.
Lenten fasting resets our understanding of the world and tells Satan — and ourselves — “Pleasures are a part of life, not the purpose of life. I live for God, not pleasure.”
Satan tells us money is our savior. Lent says to give it away.
Satan gaslights us into thinking we will be lost without money. We believe him. What would we do without money? We are convinced we need more and more.
We work hours for money, to pay off endless debts. Then we spend more, piling up possessions and sinking us deeper into debt. Money fills our thoughts all day; it interrupts our sleep at night. We never have enough and we always fear losing it. We put all our trust in money and it always betrays our trust.
Lenten almsgivingstrikes a blow to Satan’s lies about money by taking down our idol and cashing it in to spend on God’s true image — the human beings in need all around us.
Satan also gaslights us the exactly the way he gaslights toddlers.
We all know how silly it is for toddlers to throw a tantrum when they don’t get their way. But then we do the same thing, convinced that denial of our will is an afront to our dignity.
Then we start becoming manipulative people trying to get our way. We get our family to do what we want instead of doing what they want; we arrange things at work so that we get maximal credit and minimal blame; we make ourselves the center of every conversation, sidelining others.
Lenten prayer is an opportunity to put Jesus Christ back in the center of our lives. By spending time speaking to him, we rekindle our friendship, and shape our selfish will to his loving will.
So stand up to Satan’s gaslighting this Lent.
He’s lying. God created us to be happy, tailor-made the world for us, and God’s laws show us the way to make the most of it.
Lent pushes back against Satan’s lies so that this Easter we can start a whole new life with God.