Many people during Lent (which starts on February 14 and remember that you need to be in church on Ash Wednesday) will focus on giving up certain things. There are many things that are worth giving up for 40 days. We all could improve our eating and drinking habits. There’s a lot of noise in our lives – like car radios and 24 hour news – that we could give up for a while. Most of us could benefit from less screen time. Yes, there’s a lot that needs to be given up and Lent is a good time to do with less and see what sort of difference that makes in our lives.
There’s also the practice of taking things on during Lent that many find transformative. Try writing a thank you note every day during Lent and see what changes in your heart. Try taking up a consistent exercise routine and see how much better you feel. Try reading scripture and sitting in silence and watch your level of peace and clarity rise. There’s as much that needs to be taken on as there is that needs to be given up.
This year during Lent, we’re inviting everyone – children, youth, and adults, individuals and families alike – to take on a practice of gratitude and connect that with the simple habit of filling mite boxes. It’s an idea that’s easy to dismiss as too small or too silly. But what might happen in your life if you took on a daily practice of giving thanks for your blessings and deposited a bit of change in a box as an act of thankfulness? Feeling grateful when a wave of appreciation washes over you is one thing, and not a bad thing at all. Practicing being grateful, really working hard each day to come up with something for which you need to be thankful, is even better. If I work hard enough I can find many things in my day to criticize: there are a myriad of things that others do, and I do, that need improvement. If I work a little harder, I can find little things going on that are better for me than I readily appreciate. If I were to work hard at pouting and complaining for 40 days, I’m sure people around me would be affected. If I were to work hard at giving thanks and expressing gratitude, I’m willing to bet those people would be affected even more considerably.
For years the United Thank Offering has been an effort of the Episcopal Church Women to raise money for outreach projects. Its origin, however, was not based in fundraising. It was based on the practice of giving thanks. People – men and women – would keep little blue U.T.O boxes on their desks or in the kitchen window and, as they practiced being thankful, they would put a little change in the box. As we deposited change, we were to pause and think about the things in the day that were blessings. Twice a year the boxes would be emptied and the money brought to the church as an expression of gratitude. All the monies, across the country, would be gathered together and special grants would be issued to ministries which were doing good work. Millions of dollars of change have been collected over the years and many valuable projects have been funded.
The main value of the U.T.O. over the years, however, has been the change it has produced in the givers rather than the receivers. The act of putting a little change in a box each day encourages me to think of the goodness God provides for me each day, goodness that can be overlooked if I’m not diligent. The practice also helps me think small in a very helpful way. We tend to think that the bigger things in life are the most important. We tend to think that only large gifts help the needy. Thinking small is an act of humility. As I think small, I find tiny things in life that I had never noticed. I might see a little act my spouse performed, not as her job but as an expression of love for me. I might see a little bug, not as something just to get out of my house but as part of the wonder of creation. I might see a little expression on my child’s face as evidence of pain I need to ask about.
Every year we give mite boxes to little children and ask them to fill them up with change and bring them on Easter morning to be decorated with flowers and placed in a cross. This year, we’re asking adults to do the same thing. Blue U.T.O boxes will be available at church beginning this Sunday. If you want us to mail you one, let us know and we’ll be happy to do that. On Easter Day we’ll collect all the mite boxes and see how much money we all contributed together. But maybe we’ll see, as well, that each of us is a little more grateful than we are today.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.