Gratitude that Grows Us

by Kathleen Gerwin

Lent just might be my favorite season. That’s not something I advertise and certainly not something I lead with at cocktail parties. When most people hear the word “Lent,” it usually brings to mind images of Girl Scout cookies deferred and pizza every Friday for a month, not to mention oh-so-fun terms like sacrifice and self-deprivation.

This used to be my view of Lent—40 days of chocolate-less Facebook deprivation. For the past few years however, I have been picking a different Lenten commitment to practice over 40 days and it has caused me to fall in love with this beautiful, misunderstood season.

This Lent, I chose gratitude. When I set out to practice gratitude, I had no idea the riches I would discover. I knew that grateful people were happier, healthier, lived longer, and were just more enjoyable to be around. I was excited to focus on all of the riches in my life that I often miss because I’m “too busy” or unaware. What I was really interested in, however, was how this practice might help me to become more thankful for the things that I’m not naturally inclined to be grateful for, like that co-worker who just won’t stop talking while I am furiously working, or the fender bender on my way to  class . . . or even the relationship where my trust was betrayed.

As I have practiced gratitude over the last 30 days or so, I have not found that the interruptions, disappointments and hurts have ceased—if anything, I am even more aware of them. What I have found is that these moments where gratitude seems impossible have opened me up to the opportunity that the moment presents. American Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron writes beautifully on this topic. Rather than being originally sinful, Sr. Chodron sees people as originally wounded. Each one of us has a tender place of vulnerability or hurt that we go throughout life trying guard. Sometimes we’re successful at guarding the spot and we feel like life is good and everything is as it should be. Sometimes, however, we fail to defend our wound and stuff gets in—people annoy us or disappoint us or even fail us and we have to experience the pain of our wounding all over again.

It is at these times, however, that we are offered the opportunity to really heal  ourselves. When stuff “gets in” and our defenses break down, that is when we have the chance to become our authentic selves and connect with the fact that we are worthy and loved just as we are and there is no need to go through life with walls up. Suddenly, life becomes more spacious and gentle. The universe is a kinder, more joyful place to be. And that is certainly something to be grateful for.

My Lenten Journey: A Personal Catholic Perspective

On February 28, 2013, our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI became the first pope in 600 years to retire as head of the Catholic Church.  As I reflected on what this meant for me as a Catholic, I realized what a great act of submission this might have been for our Pope Emeritus, and the significance of it occurring during the holy season of Lent.

In my youth, Lent was synonymous with personal deprivation. We were expected to give up something meaningful and to abstain from meat and poultry on Ash Wednesday and on Fridays. Any digression warranted a trip to confession. Although I still abstain from meat on the required days, my Lenten practices have transitioned from deprivation to thanksgiving.

Lent culminates with Easter, which celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is significant because it brings meaning to our faith. St. Paul reminds us that if Christ had not been raised, our faith would be useless and we would still be in our sins. Therefore, I strive to make my Lenten journey less about what I give up and more about what I can do. It is about preparation, thanksgiving, and being engaged prayerfully and reflectively to celebrate Jesus Christ’s victory over sin and death.

Options for Lenten practices include community prayer, such as Stations of the Cross, daily Rosary recitations, and daily Mass, or personal prayer and daily devotions.  Another means of service is to contribute to the Catholic Relief Services Rice Bowl project, a simple yet meaningful way to fulfill St. James’ directive in his New Testament letter:

If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?  So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:15-17).

This is my personal perspective, and one that I feel honored to share. It is not intended to represent the views of the Pastoral Counseling program at Loyola University, Maryland, which is home to many faiths and Christian denominations.

As the journey towards Easter continues, I encourage everyone to be mindful of each other, and the blessings that we have individually and collectively received. I pray for our Pope Emeritus, that his decision was one of acceptance of God’s will. I especially pray that we acknowledge God’s favor in our lives with generous and prayerful acts of thanksgiving.