Lenten disciplines are similar to dieting. It’s easy to start off strong, invigorated by the prospect of making a real change. Yet, when the impact of the sacrifice isn’t as fast or obvious as we might hope, keeping up with the discipline becomes more of a challenge. A little cheat here and another there and the slippery slope takes over. Some Lents I have done better than others, particularly when giving up something manageable. But, in the years that I have vowed to take on something more than just deprive myself of m&ms or diet coke, I inevitably have a point of total failure. This was my week to fail.
Early in the year before Lent was underway, I realized that I was in need of an attitude adjustment. The glass was half empty a lot more than in was half full, a perspective I have rarely succumbed to. Nonetheless, I wasn’t feeling very grateful. I was focused on all that was wrong instead of what was good, all the blessings that sustained me in the midst of a challenging adjustment after my deployment. Lent could not have come at a better time. This Lent was going to be all about remembering gratitude.
It’s easy to want to live more gratefully, but the practice of gratitude has to translate to something tangible otherwise it’s too theoretical of a discipline to actually do. Years ago I prayed for a different person each day and wrote them a letter. It worked, at least most of Lent. So, a letter of gratitude each day seemed like plausible. My forty days of wilderness started off well. I didn’t miss any days, and wrote even when I was falling asleep and my penmanship was abysmal. Many of the people early on my list were easy to write to so most of the time I wanted to write. It wasn’t a chore.
A week or so into it, I would miss a day here and there, but make up for it by writing two letters in a day. The recipients would never know the difference, so what would it really hurt. Sometimes I would miss two days, but always by the end of the week, I would be totally caught up and ready for the next round. I should have realized that my slips would eventually get the best of me. This week was a complete fail. I wrote no letters. I didn’t practice gratitude at all.
I have been disappointed with myself throughout the day, particularly because I have no real excuse for my failure. I had plenty of time, in fact more time than in other weeks. Yet, I experienced what happens to many of us when our disciplines don’t take priority. After a while, it becomes easier and easier to forget them, often not even intentionally. They fade so far into the backdrop of our lives that they are hardly left on the radar. We find ourselves back where we started in the first place, in need once more of some real perspective.
I have always loved Lent because it is a season which helps us get back on the wagon. Because it’s got a beginning and an ending it is also easier to make a commitment. The hope is that the practice over forty days and night might become a real fixture in our daily living. I am sure for some this works. As a Lenten failure, I know that my struggle for gratitude will only intensify once Easter has come and gone. And, at this rate, I will likely have multiple letters left to write, too.
Throughout this week, the National Public Radio station have been highlighting stories from service members who served in Iraq. When one female Soldier was asked what she missed most about her combat tour, she said, “Being grateful, every day, for my life.” It shouldn’t take a deployment to make space for that kind of perspective, but I know that I rarely give thanks for that profound yet simple gift. Despite my Lenten failing, I still want to live more gratefully. In the end, I know it is a practice that leads to faithfulness, and I have a long way to go.