Once again I am a bit late in deciding what my Lenten discipline will be this year. It's not that I hadn't been thinking about it - I had. I thought at first that maybe I would give up media at home: I've done that before, just really focused on time with my kids without computer, phone or TV interruption. But this year with the Olympics it isn't so easy since the kids and David also want to watch these. I thought about giving up sweets, but again, can't get the kids on board with this particular practice and it is really hard to do this when others are not limiting their sweet intake.
But finally the universe conspired to show me what it is I really need to do for my Lenten discipline this year.
First, I saw a clip from Oprah in which she was talking to a young woman about deciding what kind of energy she would choose to keep around her: positive energy in the form of kind, helpful people or negative energy from angry, attacking, abusive people. The young woman said she wanted to do good by helping the negative folk to become more positive. Oprah said, "that's great, but..." and went on to talk about how others' negative energy can really impact us in harmful ways if we do not also have people around who boost us up, affirm life and remind us of the good in the world. Second, I saw this paragraph posted on a friend's FB page, "You are holding a cup of coffee when someone comes along and bumps into you, making you spill your coffee everywhere. Why did you spill coffee? You spilled coffee because that was what was in your cup. Had there been tea in the cup, you would have spilled tea. The point is that whatever is inside the cup, that is what will spill out when it is bumped. When life comes along and shakes you (which will happen), whatever is inside you will splash out. It's easy to fake it until you get rattled. So, we have to ask ourselves, "what's in my cup?" When life gets tough, what will spill out? Joy, gratefulness, peace, and humility? Or will anger, bitterness, harsh words and violent reactions come out? Today let's work towards filling our cups with gratitude, forgiveness, joy, words of affirmation, kindness, gentleness and love for others."
And finally, I read several comments in response to posts on FB that were, frankly and simply, unkind. There was no reason for the cruelty, there was no reason for the unkindness. In one post a mother shared the joy of having a 19 month old boy who was doing very well. Her post was a happy comment about a joyful boy and it ended with "tell me the wonderful things about your children and what they do that makes you proud!" This very positive, affirming post was met with attacks accusing her of bragging and trying to make others feel bad. It was absolutely unkind. And as a result, she left the mothering group that I was part of, saying she joined for support and was leaving because of the unkindness she found instead. I understand her experience. I had to leave a group of pastors recently (yes, pastors!) because one of the administrators of the group was attacking and unkind to me when I shared something very vulnerable, very personal, and very hard.
All three of these events coincided in a way that made the discipline of this Lent a clear choice for me: I will be focusing on kindness. I will work hard not to respond to others, even to people who are being mean, with anger. I will look hard for the kindness that surrounds me. I will focus on the good, the positive, the life-giving joy and beauty in each day. I will delight in what is lovely and on actions of grace and unexpected generosity. I will live into what is wonderful each day. And I will do my best to pass on kindness and care to others.
Towards this end, I may have to turn off much of the negativity, stay away from FB at times unless it is to post something positive, but I will work hard to surround myself with those who are gentle and humble and kind.
I find that once I start looking for the good, for the kind, that it surrounds me constantly, and often comes in unexpected ways: David spinning my daughter down the aisle in the grocery store, my children saying silly things that bring the deep gift of laughter, kind comments of appreciation, beautiful stories of generosity towards others, smiles from strangers, the offer of help with the simple things: carrying in a large box, taking off one's coat, getting out of a car.
It is not only easy to see kindness once we start looking for it, it is also easy to participate in it. Ask people how they are, not as a brush-off salutation, but with genuine interest. Bring a flower to someone. Write a thank you note just saying you appreciate another person for being who they are and doing what they do. Offer a meal, offer a prayer, offer a shoulder to cry on. Take a moment to compliment someone, to offer an affirmation of caring and support. Pick up a piece of garbage and throw it away. Wash an extra dish, one that isn't yours. Take an extra minute of time to be with someone else.
The power of kindness increases with every moment of attention we give to it. Seeing, noting and giving attention to the good and then taking time to pass it on or to offer gratitude for it: these make a difference.
I begin my Lenten practice of noticing and participating in kindness then by thanking all of you who read my blog. It is the highest of affirmations to know that my words and thoughts are read, that they matter to someone else. It is a vote of confidence and support that does not go unnoticed by me. I am grateful that you spend that time with me in this way. I am grateful that you feel my words and my person are worth your attention. Have a beautiful day. And do not underestimate the power of your kindness to me, or to others!