As Lent wears on, practice gratitude.
By Lisa Lawmaster Hess
I am one of those people whose Lenten resolutions … evolve. Ash Wednesday often sneaks up on me, catching me without an answer to the question, “What are you giving up for Lent?”
When I was younger, I saw Ash Wednesday as a sort of deadline. If I didn’t have my Lenten resolutions figured out before then, I would race to come up with something. Soda. French fries. Chocolate.
You know. The usual suspects.
As I got older, I got more defiant. Nothing. I’m not giving anything up. Maybe lima beans. (I hate lima beans).
As I got older still, I came to realize that whether or not I’m prepared for the arrival of Ash Wednesday, it’s not a deadline. Any day is a good day to make a resolution that draws me closer to God. This realization made me more comfortable with my evolving resolutions, though adding even the best possible Lenten practice partway through the 40 days always sparks a twinge of guilt.
Whether we make our resolutions prior to Ash Wednesday or partway through Lent, as the season wears on, it’s easy to lose our resolve. We may find ourselves tempted by the notion of free passes on Sundays (“It’s okay to have what you gave up for Lent on Sunday”), or even extending that concept, intentionally or otherwise, into other days that end in “y.”
If we, as adults, struggle with these things, how must our students feel?
Though Lent is a season of sacrifice, Easter is a season of gratitude. At Easter, we give thanks to our Lord Jesus Christ for making the ultimate sacrifice, the one that grants us not soda and chocolate and French fries, but eternal life.
These middle-of-Lent weeks leading up to Easter offer us the perfect opportunity to prayerfully consider the concept of gratitude. To move beyond what we’ve given up, to pick ourselves up if we have fallen down in the promises we have made and to appreciate all that God has given us.
Gratitude is a wonderful tool in that it benefits both the giver and the recipient. It helps us cope with difficulty and spurs altruism as well as a sense of purpose.
Opportunities for gratitude are all around us — in our families, friends, God’s creation, the food we eat, and even our possessions. Helping students to recognize the blessings that fill their lives is not only a perfect way to look at the challenges of Lent from another angle, but also a way to acknowledge our everyday blessings as a way of preparing for the enormity of the blessing we receive at Easter.
Often, the best Lenten resolutions take the form of adding in — adding in prayer time, adding in family time, adding in a spiritual practice in which we have fallen short. Adding in gratitude practices might just be a way to sustain us when our own resources run dry during this time of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
Five Gratitude Practices
Prayer. When we pray, do we give thanks or do we ask for stuff? Focusing on gratitude is one way of helping our students to find a balance between the two. First, encourage students to consider all of the ways they give thanks to God. As an extension, perhaps ask them to create petitions that acknowledge what they have while praying for others who are not as fortunate. These can be included in a daily prayer in the classroom.
Gratitude journals. Ask students to keep a gratitude journal, writing down one thing they are thankful for at the end of each day and expressing why they are grateful for it. These entries can be kept brief, particularly for younger children (“I’m thankful for my mom because she makes us macaroni and cheese”) and the journals can even be kept private. The idea is to establish a practice of acknowledging gratitude — one that can have long-term positive effects.
Make a classroom gratitude jar. You provide the jar, they provide the contents and maybe even the guidelines. The idea is to create a visual — the more gratitudes your students (and maybe even you) write down and drop into the jar, the more we see how very blessed we are. How many gratitudes per student, whether or not the slips in the jar are shared, and how long the activity continues can be modified to fit the needs of each class.
Thank-you notes. Ask each student to write a thank-you note to someone for whom they are grateful. These are not thank-you notes for things (“Dear Grandma, thank you for the socks you gave me for my birthday …”) but rather expressions of appreciation for people who matter. With younger children, you may wish to provide a template (“Dear **, I am grateful for you because …”) while older children may express their appreciation in words of their own choosing.
Gratitude collage. This can be used in place of a thank-you note for younger children, or as a means of artistic expression for older ones. As with the thank-you notes, have students identify someone for whom they are grateful, then have students use photographs or magazine clippings to create a collage demonstrating their thanks. These can be presented to the honorees on Easter.
Want to extend gratitude beyond Easter Sunday and into the Easter season? Use one of these activities as a Mother’s Day or Father’s Day activity, or simply continue a practice that works for your classroom.
Lisa Lawmaster Hess is an adjunct professor of psychology at York College of Pennsylvania and a former elementary-school counselor.
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