Thoughts on Lent and kindness


Photo by Sandrachile . on Unsplash.

What does a minimalist liberal devout Catholic who can’t eat anything anyway give up for Lent?

That actually sounds like the start of a bad joke, now that I think about it, and yet, that’s my life. Eh, it could be worse.

The answer: Social media sites (Instagram and Twitter; I have to be on Facebook for my job, but I only look at the newspaper’s page, not my personal account. And I am keeping Snapchat because it’s Abby’s primary communication method) and a game (Hay Day. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I’ve been playing that since Johanna was in second grade; my farm looks amazing). I spend a lot of time online after work just messing around. It’s a habit that I’ve been looking to break. I’ve given up a lot of sites, but I can’t seem to shake them all. The threat of eternal damnation is just the thing I need to make it stick.

I’ve also given up the non-dairy, no sugar “ice cream bar” that I’ve become attached to because … I don’t need one every night, that’s a lot of packaging waste, and that’s the only thing I could think of that would be truly a bummer. I look forward to that bar!

Anyway, Lent officially started March 6 with Ash Wednesday, and so far I’ve finished two books. I guess you could say my social media fast is working.


I am on Austin Kleon’s newsletter list, and I enjoy the posts he puts up. He’s a thoughtful, creative type that I’d like to have coffee with. All of that is just to say that I found his “You’ve got to be kind” post (HERE) on March 9 a breath of fresh air.

I am a judgmental type. This helps me in numerous ways: I am able to sense and defuse situations before they become awkward or heated, I can read people easily when we’re face to face, and I can make quick decisions that I’m able to stick to.

But I can also be unkind. Instead of giving people the benefit of the doubt, I shove them in a box, label them (usually “idiot”) and move on. I mean, sometimes they deserve it. (Thinking of you, driver who pulls out in front of me and goes 10 miles under the speed limit. There’s no one behind me, why not just let me pass? IDIOT.) But mostly, they do not.

Without going into too much detail, my mother shared with me last year an experience that made her see people differently: Sure, they just pulled out in front of her and are going under the speed limit, but maybe they’ve had a stressful day. They just cut in line at the grocery store, but maybe it’s because they’re preoccupied thinking of something that’s life and death. She resolved to be more patient — a kindness.

We don’t know the burdens other people are carrying. And while we are the stars of our own lives, we are merely extras in everyone else’s. This is something I have been trying to remember and act on. I have limited success on a daily basis, usually because I make a judgement against someone and then remember I’ve resolved not to. (Also, why are all my judgments negatives? I suck, you guys.)

Anyway, I copied two quotes from Kleon’s article above into my journal that I’d like to share because … well, they got me thinking that maybe I’m looking at Lent all wrong:

“Kindness” covers all of my political beliefs. No need to spell them out. I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this, and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.

— Roger Ebert

There are two ways to think about kindness. You can think about it as a fixed trait: either you have it or you don’t. Or you could think of kindness as a muscle. In some people, that muscle is naturally stronger than in others, but it can grow stronger in everyone with exercise.

— Emily Esfahani Smith

What’s more beneficial in the long run: Opting to be kind or opting to give up a fake ice cream bar? (This is also mentioned in Kleon’s post — he’s linked a video by a Jesuit who talks about being kind for Lent. I don’t want you to be under the pretense that I’ve come up with an original thought here. No, I’m reporting on what I’ve learned!)

I’m too … Catholic … and it’s too ingrained in me that you give something up that’s concrete. (We’re also asked to be charitable and pray. It’s not just about abstaining from what we’re attached to.) But I really, really love the idea of working on my kindness muscle this Lenten season.

I just have to remember BEFORE I am unkind. Wow, that’s hard.

P.S. Our priest mentioned in a sermon that we could also give up someone who we’re too attached to, and I looked at Eric and was like, well, looks like you’ve got to go. He’s still here, so … I guess that one’s not on.

9 thoughts on “Thoughts on Lent and kindness

  1. Mary Ann says:

    I’m with you on the driving issue. My patience with driving has gotten so bad over the past few years. I tell myself it’s because other drivers have gotten so bad (get off your phone people!), but I’m sure it’s partly me. So I could do better there. But as I have gotten older, I realize that if you are too kind, you can be taken advantage of and things become expected of you. I have finally learned to speak up for myself, and though I could and should be a kinder person, I don’t want to go back to the person I was.


    • Trisha Walker says:

      I know what you’re talking about, although in my mind, it’s more an issue of boundaries than kindness — something else I’m working on, incidentally. I can be kind without being a doormat. Mostly I’m a doormat because I take too much on without comment or complaint, and would rather suffer than make someone else uncomfortable. (Personality trait. Bummer.) Kindness, rather, for me, is giving the benefit of the doubt, to err on the side of patience and not rush to judgement. I’m sure interpretations vary. Editing to add: I’ve yet to master kindness by my own definition …

      I’d rather not go back to where I was in my younger years either. I think that’s just life lessons. There’s a benefit of getting older! And I tell you what, my 40s have been AWESOME.


  2. Diane says:

    I have started doing the examen in earnest every night and I find it helps with my behaviour. For example, this morning I was driving in to my Busy Students Retreat (where a few of we Spiritual Directors give the students a small taste of Lectio Divina and spiritual direction) and I also got impatient with slow drivers and made an unkind comment to myself – and immediately realized I was going to have to ‘fess up to that in my examen. It kind of makes me very aware of my behaviour throughout the day.

    On another note, I had only one student in my catechism class on Sunday so we joined another group where the activity was to write down our promise for each category of “prayer, fasting and charity” for Lent. Now it’s up on my fridge door where I have to see it several times a day so . . . **sigh**.

    BTW – did you know Sundays don’t count in Lent. Maybe I shouldn’t have told the students that? 🙄🤔


    • Trisha Walker says:

      Sundays off are controversial in our household — Eric is an overachiever and doesn’t believe in them, but I like having a day off. (Plus if you don’t, that’s 46 days. And it’s supposed to be 40 for a reason! So I’m doing Jesus’ will. Take that, Eric.)

      I was thinking I should start a journal for Lent. The examen is a great idea! Editing to add: Have you heard of Bishop Robert Barron? We get his Lenten Reflections (and Advent Reflections … and daily reflections, we’re fans) in our inbox. He has questions that go along with that day’s gospel reading for Lent (and Advent). I should be journaling using those prompts as well …


  3. Ess-Kay says:

    Oh, the drivers! I drive 3 hours a day on back roads in Pennsylvania to get to and from my seminary classes. The trucks that pull out in front of me just kill my spirit. Lent is always an interesting time of reflection and renewal. Wishing you a meaningful journey.


  4. sarahn says:

    I’m Anglican with a very catholic overlay. I decided to work on charging my phone outside the bedroom for lent. I feel good talked policing happens enough already.

    I write this from church – as I’m not currently employed I offered to assist in verging which is the service of being in the church during the working day for homeless and others to drop in. I “trained” on Monday and Tuesday I was asked to fill in that afternoon and the following Monday! It’s no different to being at home – save for I can’t take a nap! But I feel it’s perfectly timed to Lent and to helping others.


    • Trisha Walker says:

      Oh, that’s a great idea — that’s one of my cues, go to bed, plug in the phone, do one last check of the various sites. I mean, was before Lent started. I’m not even tempted during Lent because I know I can’t. If I find myself falling back into my old ways, I’m totally keeping this in mind.

      And it’s also awesome that you’re there for people who need a place to go — that’s quite the calling, and quite the service. And quite needed.


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