Each year I find a weird way to observe the season of Lent. If you’re new to the blog, I think there’s still a search bar over there somewhere on the web version. Type “lent” in there and feast on the ridiculous Lent-y things I’ve done in the past. If you’re too busy to be bothered by such labor intensive tasks, just know that I’m relatively new to Lent and while I understand it is a sacred and respected thing for many, I have decided to take my own approach to giving up or taking on things for the 40+ days in the hopes that I’ll come out a slightly better version of myself on the other end.
This year I failed a bit. I mean, maybe I’m a slightly better version of myself, but I will admit to taking the easy way out this year. Let me explain that.
Through Instagram this year, I started to notice posts from “morning.gratitude” featuring daily lists regular people would post about things they were thankful for. Or things for which they were thankful, depending on how you feel about grammar. I was intrigued by the idea of being challenged to list 10 things you were grateful for every day. I should say, I consider myself a pretty thankful person. My parents taught me the importance of saying “thank you” to people and as a spiritual person, I get to express my thanks for the things in my life daily. This is something I tend to do when I run early in the morning when it’s just me, the deer, rabbits, skunks and God awake. But going to the trouble to write it down seemed like it could be a good idea. So I decided just before Ash Wednesday I would accept the challenge and even go one step more…I would list 11 things each day instead of 10 because there are a lot of great things and this would help me be even more mindful.
So each morning when I sat down with my coffee at the table I would look out the front window and be quiet. Zeke would circle the table, alternating between looking out the window and waiting for me to give him a chunk of banana. I would eat a granola bar or a waffle and then pick up my cool little gratitude book. As serendipity would have it, Violet gave me a small hardback journal type book for Valentine’s Day (pictured above). It’s a Taylor Swift journal with a young T-Swift slinging a guitar on the front cover. There are flowers and lines on each page, so you know, it’s perfect. And each morning with only two exceptions, I sat there in my coffee ritual and started my day by listing 11 things I felt very grateful for at that moment. The word “coffee” made a ton of appearances, naturally. “Family”, “friends” and “running” also got a lot of pen time. But there were also less frequent but awesome visitors. “Wagging tails” was a good one. “Finding out my license expired before the end of the grace period” was another good one. “Goo Goo Cluster Lattes” and “glitter” were additions I never saw coming but I’m so grateful that they did. So many things to be grateful for.
I mentioned two exceptions. One morning I totally blanked on the routine and forgot to make my list. I kept my book on the table every day so when I came in to eat dinner that night I remembered and made my list late. Another day I was rushed by a changed morning schedule and had to come back to the gratitude list at lunch. But I did make the list every day of Lent. And I actually haven’t stopped doing it yet.
I’ve noticed a change in how I think during each day since making the daily lists. I’ll make that list in the morning and I’ll return to those thoughts throughout the day. Somehow it keeps the ideas and the gratitude circulating. I’ll be honest and tell you that this is no magic potion that makes all your days merry and light. I’ll still get fed up and impatient and go off on someone in my head (and sometimes in person), but there, mixed in with the sudden burst of negativity is all that good stuff and I believe it helps to return me to a happy mental place quickly. Even in traffic. So I’m calling the gratitude list a success and I’m planning to continue it…at least until my cool book fills up.
But I mentioned I failed a bit. I should tell you about that part too.
See, making the list each day was most of my Lent commitment, but not all of it. I also planned to do something kind for someone each day. Any act of kindness would be fine. It could be large or small, free or expensive, it just had to be kind. I loosely defined “act of kindness” for this experiment as something intentional I do for someone. Intentional and kind. I figured keeping the definition loose would be helpful, not to make it easy, but to help me keep an open mind about different ways to be kind. I felt that these acts needed to be out of the ordinary for me. Something I don’t do every day. I didn’t want to wave or smile at someone and feel like I was off the hook for the day. So that was the plan and each morning I would reflect on the kind thing and write a name or action under the gratitude list.
I started strong. I sat down and typed out an email to a good friend after a busy day. I mailed grits to Canada. I gave meter money to a mom scrambling for change. And I kept going for about 10 days. But I started to feel weird about it. I just felt like these were things I should be doing anyway. Ok, maybe mailing grits to Canada was strange, but I had a friend who had never experienced grits and I just couldn’t let that go. But one day a thing happened and I went away from it thinking, “Alright, that’s your kind thing for the day” and that just felt wrong. It also felt wrong to record the kind things. After writing a few of them down I couldn’t see the good in recording it. It felt good to be observant and to find an opportunity to do something kind. It felt good to do the kind thing. But that felt like a natural end to it. So I stopped recording them. I stopped writing them down and I even stopped thinking about it. I’m not sure if I did an intentional kind thing every single day…at least not one that was out of the normal range of behavior for me.
My job provides many opportunities to interact with people and I feel a personal responsibility to show love and kindness to those people. Basically, I mean I try not to be a butthole on a daily basis. I try to be kind whenever possible, I just couldn’t get behind tracking a kind thing every day. So I failed that part of my Lent exercise.
There’s an expression I used to hear old, southern people say when I was younger. It was “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. The gist of the phrase is that if you walk around looking for a particular thing, you’ll figure out a way to see it everywhere. You find what you’re looking for. This is part of the power of the human mind. When your head is filled with negative or anxious thoughts, you’ll spend your entire day focusing on the negative, anxious things around you. If you’re focused on the positive things, those are the things you’ll see. Since Ash Wednesday I’ve spent my days walking around looking for the good things in my life. That has kept my mind on the good things. I also have to point out that several great things have happened to me and around me during this time. Coincidence? Serendipity? I guess it really doesn’t matter does it? I’d just like to keep the positive things happening so I’m going to keep focusing on those things.
It looks like my little book is about halfway full now. I think I’ll fill it up.