Monday Author: Susanne Skinner
Between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, many Christians observe a 40-day period known as Lent. Considered a time of reflection and faith, it is often marked by the tradition of giving up something.
Growing up in an old-school Catholic family this practice was encouraged. I complied, or tried to, by eliminating chewing gum other sugar-based treats. Its meaning is too opaque for young children and I never understood it well enough to benefit from it.
I found a kinder, gentler faith in adulthood, but ingrained habits linger. Lent is still an important piece of my spiritual practice, with modifications. In lieu of giving something up I add something in. During this Lenten season I am focusing on improving a character trait within myself by offering a kindness or compliment every day. Saying or doing something meaningful for someone else is my Lenten Redux.
Forty Days of Lenten Discipline
Prior to downsizing and move to Florida I embraced a Lenten idea called Forty Bags in Forty Days Challenge. It’s a concentrated Marie Kondo effort to reduce clutter and find meaning in items that remain. Focusing on one room, one closet or one drawer at a time allows you to consider each item and the space it fills.
Creating order in your space creates order in your mind. I absolutely love this practice and continue it on a much smaller scale to maintain an uncluttered home.
But this year my Lenten resolve is directed outward. Extending kindness in the way of a gesture, good deed or compliment is my 40-day Lenten commitment to mindfulness towards others.
It requires conscious effort to make these interactions meaningful. By raising my own awareness, I hope to develop more sincere, compassionate and open communication.
Turning Intentions into Practice
It’s not hard to say nice things to people we know and love—but what about other people? A grocery store clerk, waitstaff or even the Amazon delivery driver can be thanked with sincerity. It takes a few extra seconds for a personal acknowledgement that lets them know you appreciate their work.
Last week I was struggling with an application for guardianship through the county probate court. Multiple phone calls yielded conflicting responses, and the website only increased my confusion about forms and costs.
After a stressful day trying to figure it out, I gave up and drove to the courthouse hoping for in-person assistance.
The young lady at the window looked at my completed paperwork and declared, “These are the wrong forms.” I felt my heart sink, and for a hot minute I wanted to make it her fault. When I looked down at the papers she was handing back, I could not help noticing the amazing artwork on her fingernails. Each nail was painted with a miniature and detailed celestial theme.
I found myself staring and saying I’d never seen anything quite so stunning. She shared how hard it is (during Covid) to communicate through a mask and a plexiglass barrier. Nail art is her way of “dressing myself up each day.”
Five minutes later I had the right forms along with her assistance in completing them and a senior manager confirming it was ready to be filed.
Not So Random Acts of Kindness
Kindness is an easy habit to pick up and share. Our imposed virtual world means much of our communication occurs in real time but not in real space. We Zoom, Skype, text and email. Why not use these platforms to share compliments, joys and encouragement? All of us have a strong need to belong, be recognized and feel appreciated. Starting or ending virtual gatherings with intentional kindness makes everyone feel better.
Being thoughtful is nothing more than the willingness to applaud someone else’s happiness or successes and share in the pain of their sorrow. It allows us to be present for others even when we are forced to remain physically apart.
I love to bake cookies and recently I sent some to a dear friend through the mail. Her delight when she received them made my day! It is such an easy thing for me to do, but in gifting them I got an unexpected gift in return.
Every day presents opportunities to make the world a better place—for others and ourselves. One of the easiest ways to build this momentum is paying it forward.
Pay it Forward
In 2014, a single act of kindness by a woman in a Starbucks drive-thru created a 378-person-long chain of paying it forward.
A woman drove up and paid for her iced coffee at 7:00 a.m. and asked to pay for the drink for the driver behind her. That person did the same for the next customer, and the pay it forward chain continued. Starbucks employees kept a running total by the pick-up window and by the end of the day 378 people had paid it forward.
I see the same thing at my local Aldi supermarket where a grocery cart costs a quarter. Shoppers often hand off their cart to someone arriving at the store or leave the quarter in the slot for the next person.
We make the world what it is through our daily actions and inactions. Each day presents opportunities to impact the people around us, both positively and negatively.
Kindness begets kindness. A compliment, a kind word, or any act of humanity is its own reward. The world needs more appreciation and gratitude and during these forty days of Lenten reflection I’ve invited kindness to be my guide.