If doing the same thing this Lent as in Lents past seems a bit hollow to you, two Catholics’ experiences with doing something different might help bring a fresh perspective to your own Lenten practice.
A few years ago, dissatisfied with the “same old” way of moving through Lent, Gary Jansen decided to blend what he does for a living with a new Lenten practice. An editor and author (“Station to Station” and “Life Everlasting: Catholic Devotions and Mysteries for the Everyday Seekers”), Jansen started a daily gratitude journal.
“A gratitude journal is a meditative exercise that helps you slow down and pay attention to things you might pass by in your daily life,” says Jansen. “I listed everything I was thankful for: the sky and the air we breathe, the shoes and clothes I wear, the water and food I drink. At the end of the entry, I would just write, ‘Thank you, God.'”
Reframing our approach to life through gratitude can help us better appreciate family, too, including others in our faith communities. Lenten activities that draw us together, whether at home or at our parishes, can bring profound blessings beyond the finite days of the Lenten season.
“The most meaningful Lenten journey I can recall as a child,” says Jeanne Loftis, a busy mother, wife, and attorney in Portland, Oregon, “involved my dad sitting all of us kids down and reading to us from the family children’s Bible. I can still picture where we were all sitting in our family room, and the warmth and love in the room as we gathered around my dad.”
Her childhood experience inspired another family Lenten practice seven years ago when she and her husband Blair signed up for a parish weekly Lenten prayer group and included their son Joey, who has Down syndrome.
“Prior to joining the prayer group,” says Loftis, “we didn’t know any of these people, despite having been parishioners for over 20 years. The discussion allowed us to get to know our fellow parishioners better, and the inclusion of our son in the weekly gatherings helped all of us understand better the wonders of God’s love in Joey’s unique and open way of embracing others.”
Unlike chocolate, dessert or another thing given up during Lent but taken up again once the season of sacrifice is past, both Jansen’s and Loftis’ experiences had deeply lasting effects.
“We have sought out other prayer groups,” says Loftis, “including one that we are now going to participate in at the same house as the one seven years ago.”
Jansen says, “It’s easy to forget God is present in everything we do. (The gratitude journal) makes me mindful of the blessings so many of us have.”
For those who are daunted by keeping a daily journal, Jansen offers an alternative suggestion:
“Set an alarm on your smartphone to go off at 3:00 p.m. every day. No matter where you are, at work or in a meeting, take a few seconds to say the name of Jesus three times and touch your heart. Be consistent. Calling on Jesus to enter your heart is transformative.”
Involving others in our Lenten goals is helpful, too.
“From time to time,” says Loftis, “it is important to realize we all need help to stick to our goals. Involve others in learning your goals and helping you reach them. We do so much better when we are able to create a community of success.”
“Cultivating a Lenten spirituality,” says Jansen, “is really about cultivating an awareness of God’s unrelenting presence in our lives.”
And as we journey through Lent, mindful of that presence, we build strength within and draw closer to God and others for months and years to come.
Pratt is a columnist for Catholic News Service.
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