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It no longer feels like penance

By Darcy L. Fargo

Darcy Fargo

April 28, 2021

It’s one of the toughest penances I’ve ever been given, and it’s been given to more than once.

After hearing my confession, a particular priest of our diocese, one I’m very fond of, has instructed me to “make a list of 10 things you love about yourself” as penance.

This priest has given me that penance at least twice. Each time, his instructions elicited a groan and a look of disgust.

As someone who tends to dwell on my weaknesses and sinfulness, that penance is tough. Knowing how I’ve struggled with that penance, I don’t know what I was thinking when I committed to this year’s Lenten exercise.
In a previous column, I noted that I was committing to an exercise of gratitude to try to combat that part of my personality that focuses on negatives. My plan was that each day, I’d “make a list of three things for which I am grateful – one gift/talent/positive attribute I see in myself, a place I see God working in the world around me and one non-defined reason for which I am grateful (a free space of sorts).”

As one reader wrote to me in response to that Lenten practice, “it’s deceptively easy, until it isn’t.”

He wasn’t kidding. While I’ll admit I wasn’t perfect in that commitment, and I didn’t complete the gratitude exercise every single day of Lent, I really tried to stick to it. The first week or so were relatively easy. In fact, I found it relatively easy to find “a place I see God working in the world around me and one non-defined reason for which I am grateful” nearly every day. Predictably, it was finding that “gift/talent/positive attribute I see in myself” that was difficult as the weeks continued.

Despite the difficulties, the practice proved to be fruitful. I wrote most of these gratitude items in my journal, and I’d often flip back through my previous entries to ensure I expressed gratitude for something different each day. There were days it would take me 15 to 20 minutes of praying and reflecting to come up with a “gift/talent/positive attribute” I hadn’t already used.

God helped me find something for every day. Honestly, that shocked me. It also helped change me.

While I’ll likely always battle that part of me that dwells on my weaknesses and sinfulness, through that Lenten practice, God has equipped me with additional strength and grace to wage that battle. He’s helped me see myself more honestly, and he’s helped me see the multitude of gifts he’s given me. And focusing on where I see God working in the world has made me more grateful and more joyful.

Even though Lent is over, and we’re celebrating the Easter season, I’m trying to continue the gratitude exercise.
Seeing the fruits its bearing in my life, it no longer feels like penance.

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