I apologize in advance if someone wiser than I has already come up with this idea and in my ignorance I have now aped someone’s originality.
But a number of years ago, I was introduced to an activity called an “Affirmation Circle.” What happens is that people gather in a circle and one person is chosen. Then everyone in the circle goes around and says at least one thing they like, admire, or generally think is good about that person. The person chosen can only respond, “Thank you.”
I don’t know about you, but I tend not to be a big fan of these touchy-feely exercises. My patience for them is limited. But despite that, I have witnessed the power of this activity.
We often only hear or allow ourselves to hear the negative things about ourselves. Sometimes we not only have to face our fears, but we have to face our hopes. It is amazing to me how some people never recognized the good effect they are having on others. When I participated, I learned things, surprisingly good things, about myself.
Giving thanks is an essential part of who we are as Christians. I always think of the tenth leper who Jesus healed:
While He was on the way to Jerusalem, He was passing between Samaria and Galilee. As He entered a village, ten leprous men who stood at a distance met Him; and they raised their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When He saw them, He said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they were going, they were cleansed. Now one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice, and he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine—where are they? Was no one found who returned to give glory to God, except this foreigner?” And He said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:11-19)
I cannot tell you how often I go through my life like the other nine lepers, having momentary gratitude and then moving on and forgetting the amazing gifts given to me.
But I don’t want to be that anymore.
So I would invite all of you to join me in The Tenth Leper Lenten Challenge.
Lent is a time of fasting, prayer, and penance. All of these things are good for the spiritual health of the soul. But remember what it says in the Prophet Isaiah:
Is this not, rather, the fast that I choose: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking off every yoke? (58:6)
Again, fasting from food is not a bad thing. But our changes should be internal, rather than external. We should be changed this Lent into more loving people. And as a sign of our love, we should show our gratitude.
So here is the Challenge:
1. Take 5 minutes a day to thank God in prayer.
I know that many of us do this already, but it is important to lay aside special time just to focus on gratitude. Let this be a time to go over and reflect upon all of God’s graces.
This is especially important when we are suffering. It reminds me of the song from White Christmas about counting our blessings instead of our worries.
2. Become thankful for the Cross.
When spending time reflecting on The Passion (either through The Stations of the Cross, the Rosary, etc.), cultivate a strong sense of thankfulness.
Is the thing that I am most thankful for the fact that Christ died on the Cross for my sins? Can I move my heart to be forever grateful for this gift?
Here I don’t mean trying to feel an emotion, which may be beyond your control. Nor is this like part one, where we speak our thanks. This is more about trying to orient our minds and our wills to bend towards being more and more grateful for the Cross.
3. Affirm others.
This is the most time-consuming part of the Challenge. Each week of Lent you are to pick a different person. And you are to contact that person (letter, email, Facebook post, phone call) and let them know that you are thankful for them.
Speaking more to this third part, I can tell you that one of the most gratifying experiences I’ve had as a teacher are students contacting me out of the blue years after graduating and letting me know that something I did or said had a positive impact on them.
Quite often I am surprised at the thing they reference. I remember one person after he graduated said that he started to change because of something I said on the very first day of class.
My point is that I have been blessed by the good works and example of so many other people. I don’t think I’ve ever properly let them know. Sometimes it isn’t until years later that I look back and see how I’ve been changed. Now I have to be the tenth leper and give them my gratitude.
You can choose anyone. But I would suggest mixing it up. Think outside the box. Don’t feel awkward about contacting someone you haven’t seen or heard from in years. Your message will be welcome.
Remember, even though you are letting this person know how they have impacted your life, the message is not about you. You are there to emphasize and affirm them.
For example, I intend to write to my former boss who fired me from my first job. At the time I was very upset. But I can see now God’s plan at work through him. I can already see the challenge of writing in a way that doesn’t come off as arrogant or snotty. The point is to express real, sincere gratitude for how someone has had a positive impact on your life, whether they knew it or not. Who knows? Maybe this person has been burdened for many years and you are now giving them sweet relief this Lent.
Take time to be specific with each person and let them know how your gratitude is aimed at them and them alone (in the Lord). Celebrate their unique contribution to your life. You don’t have to write a book or recite a long treatise, but do what the Spirit moves you to do.
And even if you do not receive any positive feedback from your words of thanks, that is okay. The tenth leper is revered not because he receives outward praise for his gratitude. He is revered because in his heart he is a changed man.
Let us all be so changed this Lent. God Bless.
Copyright 2015, W.L. Grayson