Shawna Atteberry

Writer, Editor, Researcher

Keeping Lent in the Pandemic: Practicing Contentment

Contentment

Last year in February I started planning my birthday. It was my 50th, and I planned a bash. We rented out our building’s Party Room, planned the menu with my good friend Kim Callis (an excellent personal chef), sent out invitations, and The Hubby and I were shopping for party favors and decorations. A week and a half before Shawna’s 50th Birthday Bash, we canceled–the state of Illinois was shutting down and sheltering-in-place for two months (hah!). I thought I could reschedule for June. Then a friend with a yard talked about having a cook-out for those of us who had pandemic birthdays at the end of the summer. Now I’m looking at my second pandemic birthday still sheltering-in-place. Needless to say, I haven’t done much planning this year. I did see a cool cake recipe on Nadia Bakes that I am going to make for myself Friday.

As you know I was determined to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and practiced joy that week. I feel pretty ambivalent about my birthday. But practicing ambivalence doesn’t sound like a practice I should intentionally do.

It’s the Little Things

So I’m practicing contentment. Am I going out for my birthday this year? No. Will I see my friends? No. That’s OK. I am content. My husband and I are healthy and so are our families. Our moms and older family members have all been vaccinated. We are having gorgeous spring weather in Chicago (I have windows open as I write this). We are financially sound and have a comfortable home that is more sanctuary and less prison to us even after a year of this. I have plenty in my life to be happy about and feel content about. So maybe a party next year.

Like gratitude and joy, you have to be paying attention and be mindful to practice contentment. Once again it is normally the small things that bring the most contentment: a hug, a smile, sunlight through the window, a cup of coffee before anyone else is up, enjoying the quiet.

Contentment and Consumerism

I think this is an important practice to cultivate in our consumer culture. We are constantly told we aren’t enough, and we don’t have enough, or what we have isn’t good enough. But this company’s product will solve all of our problems! I think one of the most counter-cultural actions American Christians can practice is to be content–being content with who we are and with what we have. Not to say we shouldn’t have ambitions and plans, but those ambitions and plans should be about more than getting another tech toy or car or another diet to lose 15 pounds.

I am content with my quiet birthday at home this year. I’m also content with another virtual Holy Week and Easter. I am looking forward to being vaccinated and finally seeing and hugging (there will be a lot of hugging) my friends and finally returning to our church building and worshiping in Grace’s sanctuary. I am also looking forward to not being anxious when there are too many people around. But until I can do that safely for all of the people I love, I am content to shelter-in-place and celebrate (hopefully my last) pandemic birthday.

What about you? What are feeling content about? Where do you find contentment in your life?

Keeping Lent in the Pandemic: Practicing Joy

practicing joy

When a few different friends told me they weren’t sure if they were going to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this year, I knew what Lenten practice I was going to focus on for this week: Practicing Joy. Of course, I celebrate the day differently than most people. I don’t go out for amateur hour bar hops, and green beer really just doesn’t interest me. I treat St. Patrick’s Day like I do any other holiday: I cook and bake and have people over. It sucks I can’t have friends over this year, but I have a terrific menu lined up for The Hubby and me, and we will be celebrating Wednesday.

Joy in the Little Things

The longer the pandemic went on the more and more obvious it became how important the spiritual fruit of joy–and noticing the joy in my own life–was going to be to help live with the depression, anxiety, and obsessing over how long this new way of life was going to last. Just as I found ways to practice kindness and gratitude, I found little things every day that brought me joy: learning a new recipe, writing a haiku, cuddling with my husband, and reading a good book. Like kindness and gratitude, I discovered practicing joy also depended on paying attention to the little things. If I waited for big things like going to church, seeing our families, or traveling, joy was going to be hard to come by.

I noticed my friends also taking joy in the little things. A wonderful friend out in Galena, IL, Cindy, posts her morning walk pictures on her Facebook and Instagram accounts. Her photos always include the sunrise, and honestly, it’s the only way I see the sunrise. Monique found great joy in getting her second Covid-19 vaccination. The weather filled Kate with joy when it actually acted like it was spring in March in Chicago, and she dug out her lawn furniture to enjoy the sun in her yard. My husband finds his joy on Friday Night Pizza Night complete with homemade pizza.

Practicing Joy Chicago-Style

The resilience of Chicagoans being able to find joy always impresses me. Last month when we had over four feet of snow, and the temperatures dropped to single digits, a person was photographed joyfully skiing through Grant Park. The kids didn’t care how cold it was, they were sledding and building armies of snowmen in all the parks. Two incredibly talented people sculpted the Eiffel Tower out of snow in the Logan Square neighborhood. Even Paris took joy in that!

I remember when I was younger, very little brought me joy. As Yoda described Luke Skywalker: “All his life has he looked away… to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing. Hmph. Adventure. Heh. Excitement. Heh.” I was the same in my 20s (aren’t we all?)–always looking for something else somewhere else to make me happy. Rarely noticing what was right in front of me. One of the blessings of being middle-aged is being able to see what is right in front of me and appreciating it. Taking joy in it.

What is right in front of you these days? When you stop looking to the future and notice the here and now, what is giving you joy? How will you practice joy (and celebrate St. Patrick’s Day) this week?

This article is part of an on-going series Keeping Lent in the Pandemic. You can also read about Practicing Kindness and Practicing Gratitude.

Keeping Lent in the Pandemic: Practicing Gratitude

Practicing Gratitude

Practicing gratitude is this week’s theme? I can already see you roll your eyes. Yes, I know this is a cliched buzzword, which probably explains why I had only one friend respond to my inquiry on how are you practicing gratitude these days.

In Chicago, we’re coming up on the one-year anniversary of the governor’s shelter-in-place order. This coming Sunday my church will observe the anniversary of shutting our doors and going online at our bishop’s command. On Friday my husband and I will celebrate sheltering-in-place for a year in a 970 square foot condo. Guess what? We still like each other! We still get along! We aren’t in marriage counseling, and we are not heading toward divorce. If you would’ve told me that incredible man could be locked up with me for a year and still want to be my husband, I wouldn’t have believed you. And that’s why gratitude is so important. It reminds us of how important the little things are. If we will only stop and see them.

James Reho notes that the New Age “attitude of gratitude” is “associated with a surface-level, Pollyanna type of spirituality that avoids the hard facts and sets us up on a pink cloud. The attitude of gratitude often presents as nothing more than a platitude.” That is why I’ve rolled my eyes in the past, and you are now rolling your eyes over this week’s Lenten practice. But The Rev. Reho goes on to say: “…deep strands in Christian spirituality and other spiritual traditions—highlight gratitude and thanksgiving as an integral part of spiritual maturity. St. Paul links giving thanks to joy in life: ‘Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess 5:16-18).'”

Practicing Gratitude in Action

Last year I decided when I prayed Compline* my personal prayers would be thanksgivings and gratitudes. We just started sheltering-in-place, and I knew my cynical, sarcastic self needed limits on how much grousing I did. I spent my time in Morning Prayer and through the day asking God for what I wanted (and telling God what I thought she ought to be doing). I decided before bed I would thank God for what I have and what she’s done.

Soon, I started noticing how this practice made me more mindful of my day. I realized many of the things I was grateful for were little things. The sun shining through the window after a few cloudy, gray days. The smell of bread baking. My husband’s smile. Hearing my mom’s voice. Seeing my family on a Christmas Zoom call. I thought it would be difficult for me to come up with three things I was grateful for each night, but it was a rare night I only had three things to be grateful for.

Miracles of Ordinary Life

This is why gratitude leads us into spiritual maturity: it makes us see what is right in front of us, name it, and thank God for opening our eyes to the multitude of miracles that happen to us every day. In “Thankful for Being Here” The Rev. Leslie Scoopmire writes:

Miracles surround us, but we miss them most of the time. We make it harder on ourselves to see the abundance of miracles that crowd around us because we too often look for the dazzling, the shockingly out of place.

Today, of all days, may we give thanks for the quotidian miracles of each day, each breath, each worthwhile task that fill sour days with purpose, each lesson we’ve taken away when something didn’t go as we planned. Perhaps this is the thanks that we should be giving.

I like my practice of gratitude because it makes me aware of the little movements of the Holy Spirit in my life. It is all too easy to be cynical. Buying into the negativity that drives our national life and culture is far too easy. It is a discipline–a spiritual discipline–to practice gratitude. But when we do, we notice the many ways God is moving in our lives. We notice a multitude of things right in front of us. We can be truly thankful to a God who meets us in the little, ordinary places in our lives.

*Compline is the Night Prayer Service in The Book of Common Prayer that is prayed before bedtime.

This is part of a series on Keeping Lent in the Pandemic. You can read the first article on practicing kindness here.

Keeping Lent In the Pandemic: Practicing Kindness

Practicing Kindness

Last year when we began to social distance and shelter in place, we said it was “the lentiest Lent we ever lented.” Little did we know Lent was going to last for a year (at least). As we now walk through our second Lent during this pandemic, many of us entered this season thinking: Oh hell no. I’m not giving up anything else. (Yes, I was one of those people.) Friends reminded me Lent was not just about giving things up, but also adding practices, like practicing kindness, that bring us closer to God.

They reminded me of this after I joked that I wasn’t giving up baking. Baking is how I’ve survived this pandemic. So I didn’t give it up. I found a way to add to baking when I discovered Give Us This Day: Lenten Reflections on Baking Bread and Discipleship.

As a result, I decided to be kind to myself and find God in what I was already doing. That got me thinking that maybe what we need to do this Lent is this: discover ways to find God in the wilderness we’ve been in for the last year, and this includes practicing kindness–both self-kindness and kindness to others.

As this world crisis continues, I need to make space for all of my feelings and be kind to myself. This does not come naturally for me. I am a slightly obsessive-complusive perfectionist with clinical depression. After four months of sheltering in place, I realized I was going to have to cut myself some slack. I needed to learn self-compassion if I was going to make it through this (not to mention if my husband was going to make it through this).

Practicing self-kindness

How am I kind to myself? I tell myself:

I wanted to see what others were saying about self-kindness and discovered The Mayo Clinic has a good, short article with several ideas on how to be kind to yourself. They recommend you choose one idea to practice this week. If you want a more in-depth read, head to The Kindness Blog (yes–there is an entire blog on kindness!), to read about 40 ways to be kind to yourself. Here are the ones I thought of off the top of my head:

  • Deep breathing to offset stress.
  • Have one person you can call or text anytime and be honest with.
  • Create a support network: spread all of the kindness you can!
  • Indulge in your hobbies.
  • Permit yourself to binge on the streaming service of your choice.
  • Remember: naps are a good thing.
  • Just because Shakespeare wrote whatever play during The Plague doesn’t mean you have to create a masterpiece. (That meme got old real fast: this is NOT practicing kindness.)

These are extraordinary times

I also asked friends what they were doing to be nice to themselves. They echoed some things I had thought of and other things I hadn’t. Chris told me unapologetically that she had taken a long nap that afternoon and didn’t care! Melissa wrote, she’s “giving myself permission to eat what I want, making myself go on longer walks with the dog, and being honest with friends when I’m feeling shitty.” And Kate said “I’m trying to get all the sunshine I can. I get outside a little at lunch and sometimes move my computer to the back window, which gets full sun in the mornings.” Of course, her cats have a different idea about who should get the sunny window.

Criselda went on to say it’s OK to go to “Sonic nearly every day for a drink or cup of ice so that I also have some safe interaction with someone.” (Likewise, my mother-in-law goes through the McDonald’s drive-thru for her Diet Coke for a safe way to get out of the house for a while.) Meagan is reading more intentionally to deepen her relationship with God, and Beatrice is forgiving herself. She says, “Right now is HARD, and I can’t make things better for my kids. I can’t fix it. We just have to get through, and if that means we play video games for three days, then we play video games for three days. It doesn’t make me a bad parent, these are extraordinary times.”

As Beatrice said: “These are extraordinary times.” Yes, they are. So what about you? Are you walking through this Lenten season differently this year? What are you telling yourself? And most importantly: how are you being kind to yourself?